A bit more than 6 months ago, Porter Novelli sent me a Gilette Fusion razor set for what they called “the Pro Glide Challenge.” In the meantime, I have had ample opportunity to thoroughly test and compare the new Gilette Fusion technology to my Merkur HD 39C slant safety razor, which I generally use with blades from the Japanese manufacturer Feather.
First, it should be mentioned that I have extremely thick and sturdy beard hair and therefore it has always been a true challenge for me to find a satisfactory razor that would not require 45 minutes of my time in order to shave. As such, a straight blade razor was out of the question and so I decided to go with a DE (Double Edge) Safety Razor from the German brand Merkur.
My Standard Shaving Equipment: Merkur HD Slant 39C + Feather Blades
After testing a number of Safety razors, I finally settled on the Merkur 39C, which is also known as the HD Slant or Barberpole Slant. The “slant” refers to the slanted shaving head, the advantage of which is the slightly diagonal angle at which the beard hair is cut, as opposed to straight. Since a slanted razor cuts the hair more aggressively, the skin is also much more prone to nicks and consequently, many men with thinner hair would not find it advantageous to use a slanted razor.
Unfortunately, my hair is so thick that regular blades from Gilette or Personna simply do not provide me with a very close shave. As such, I generally use Japanese Feather blades, which are supposedly the sharpest DE safety blades that are readily available online or in shaving supply stores.
Shaving Cream OR Soap
Instead of using cheap foam from a can, I usually make my own lather with a little porcelain bowl, a badger hair (silver tip) shaving brush and various shaving creams. Personally, I never really enjoyed bar shaving soaps and always opted for the cream from a tube. In the US, these are not readily available in stores but you can get them on the internet.
The Gillette Pro Glide Challenge
Before I shave, I normally prepare my beard by softening it with warm water and sometimes a pre-shave cream; hair conditioner is also a great substitute. I then apply the lather and I am ready to go. Usually I shave first with the grain and then against it, especially around my neck, since I do not achieve a smooth result otherwise.
Gillette provided some additional instructions that were very similar to my existing routine, with the exception that they suggested to use their canned shaving cream.
One Day Stubble
As instructed, I used Gillette’s blue gel. For a direct comparison, I then shaved one half of my face with the vibrating Gillette Fusion and the other half with the Merkur 39C and Feather blades. With the Gillette, I felt a little more resistance but my skin felt very smooth. The new Feather blade needs to be handled much more carefully than the Gillette Fusion, so I was noticeably slower with the Merkur. The results after the first and second shave were nearly identical and my wife confirmed that she could not tell a difference. The next time, I reversed the sides, but the outcome was practically identical. Even after shaving 5 days in a row with the same blades I still got satisfactory results, although I could tell that both the Gillette and Feather had lost some sharpness. Overall, I was impressed by the performance of the Gillette Fusion. The fact that the blades on the Fusion were at all times less sharp enabled me to shave considerably quicker than with the Merkur and I did not fear cutting myself.
Therefore, Gillette took the lead.
Two Day Stubble
Given that my hair gets more challenging to shave with each passing day of growth, I waited for two-day stubble and repeated the same process. I used fresh blades. Now, the Gillette’s duller blade (right out of the box) became more noticeable and I could hear how the blade scratched away my beard (quietly, but noticeable) with every stroke whereas the Feather blade on the Merkur passed effortlessly through my hair, like a hot knife through butter. I had to change the Gillette blade after 3 shavings and the Feather after the fifth time. This time, it took me about the same time to shave, since I had to cover certain areas more often with the Gillette. Overall, this round was a win for the Merkur since it outperformed the Gillette – though not by much.
Three Day Beard and Longer
Finally, I wanted to know how the Gillette would do with an increasingly thick 3, 4 and 5 day beard.. A fresh Gillette Fusion blade was barely capable of cutting my beard without pulling on my hair, even when I slowly pulled down. The experience deteriorated as I waited longer between shaves. Not only could I clearly feel the scratch noises, but the Gillette also pulled very uncomfortably on my hair, which led me to stop using it. Luckily, I did have a proven shaving set to fall back on because otherwise I would have looked terrible. Contrastingly, the fresh Feather blade once again easily glided along my face, shaving off all the hair and leaving me with a baby-smooth face and a splendid shaving experience. However, after the third shave, even the Feather reached the end of its lifespan, because it had gotten too dull for yet another shave.
Now, this round was a clear victory for the Merkur / Feather combination and so overall, the Merkur won my personal shaving challenge. After the very first shave, I thought the Gillette could actually win because of the speed, but overall it is absolutely not an option for my thick facial hair, when it is older than a day.
Cost & Ecology
Now, so far we have only focused on the quality of the shave, completely ignoring the cost of each shaving set.
Gillette Fusion Set
A 7 ounce can of Gillette Fusion Hydra Gel Shave Gel will cost you around $4, while a 3.4 oz tube of Nivea razor cream will cost you about $6. However, for every shave, you only need about an eighth of the razor cream compared to the gel and therefore a tube will last much longer.
Online, a single Gillette Fusion cartridge will cost between $3 -$4, while a Feather blade ranges between 50-65 cents. Considering that it will often last longer, the cost of a Feather razor blade is only one eighth of a Gillette Fusion blade! In case you have thinner hair, you should be just fine with a Derby Extra blade which costs 10-20 cents each. Now, the cost for a Gillette blade is 30 to 40 times higher!
A Gillette Fusion Razor only costs about $10 while a Merkur 39C will set you back about $55.
Now, if you shave on average 150 times a year, the Gillette system will cost you $24 (six cans) + $175 (for 50 blades) + $10 = $209 in the first year and $199 the second year.
Merkur 39C Razor Set
This sophisticated Merkur Set will cost you $12 (two tubes) + $30 (for 50 blades) + $55 (for the razor) +$50 (for a badger hair shaving brush) = $147 in the first year and $42 in the second year. If you opt for the cheaper Derby Super blades, you will pay about $20 for your second year of shaving!
That is only 10-20 % of the cost for a Gillette Fusion and you get an even better result. And if that would not be enough, straight razor blades produce considerably less garbage than the Gillette Fusion system, making the classic Safety Razor the greener option of the two.
Altogether, the Safety Razor outclassed the modern Gillette Fusion not only in terms of the quality of the shave, but especially with regard to price and eco factors.
However, if speed is your only concern, you shave basically everyday and/or you do have thin hair, then the Fusion is the way to go. Also, it’s worth noting that if you are a traveler who uses carry-on baggage exclusively, you may carry on a Gillette Fusion but not a safety razor blade.
Now, I wish you all happy shaving and soon, we will be testing to see if an electric razor can achieve comparably smooth shaving results to my first-round winner, the Safety Razor. Stay tuned!