New blades sweep clean – Harry’s razor/blades/shave cream

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I’m 73 now, so shaving isn’t the chore that it once was – sparser beard, slower growth – but once I started shaving I was all over anything that promised greater effectiveness without sacrificing comfort. It’s boring now, but considering I started out in the days before Gillette’s Super Blue double-edged blade was introduced, that’s a bunch of technological improvement. Now, of course, we’ve arrived at five blades per shaving head with battery vibration…or electric shavers that we use in the shower.

So when Harry’s popped up on my Twitter feed one day towards the end of February this year, it was the first time in a long time that a non-Gillette innovation had provoked me to try something new. Sorting through their product offerings, it boils down to a new blade company trying to break into the business. I say they’re a blade company because their message, when distilled to its essence, is that they sell blades for less than (*wink *wink) their competition. And that pretty much becomes the basis for my evaluation of the product, because the rest of the product system is pretty ordinary (although visually appealing).

What you see in the photo above is what you can get from Harry’s for $15: A handle, three cartridges, and a tube of shaving cream. (What? A tube of shaving cream in this day of gel and foam? Yes, and that’s also a part of the story.)

The handle

The handle is the most problematic of these bits. There is an aluminum version of the handle for $10 more and it’s shaped like the cheaper handle, but the base handle is built up from a zinc rod with plastics and lacquer. It has a very pleasant appearance and good tactile appeal; it’s nice to touch. Put alongside Gillette’s Fusion handle, it looks serene and self-confident. But in the hand of the user, Harry’s handle proves hard to shift from one angle of attack to another – it’s just too symmetrical and smooth to provide finger grips as you shave around nostrils, mouth, and eyes. When wet (how else are you going to use it?), you’re not confident that you can guide the razor without some shifting or rotation.

So aesthetically, Harry’s handle is a big winner while its functionality is less than any Gillette handle since the old straight handle on the double-edged razor. While this doesn’t affect the quality of the shave delivered by the blades, it does mean – if you want to use the blades – that you will be having a diminished shaving experience.

The blades

Harry’s blades come in cartridges with five blades, making them similar in appearance to Gillette’s Fusion cartridges although they are not compatible with Gillette gear. Harry’s blades do a good job of shaving your face. I switched to the Harry’s system completely for my test period, using two of the three cartridges for two weeks apiece. The shaves were consistently close, my face satisfactorily smooth for the entire four-week period. On the last two shaves with the second blade, there was some minor skin irritation around the base of the nose and some slight bleeding in that area.

While the shaves were more than satisfactory, someone will have to do a closer analysis of the Harry’s cartridge versus the Fusion cartridge, because there is something small in the difference between the two that has a significant impact on the ability to shave close to the base of the nostrils. I think the Fusion cartridge is slightly narrower at the sides of the blades and that it is slightly thinner than the Harry’s cartridge. The combination of these two things means that the Harry’s system can’t get as close to the nostrils and you’re left with minor stubble there. Not a huge thing, but noticeable if you touch your face during the day, which gives you a minor tingle of anxiety about how it might look to others.

The cream

Since I was shifting to Harry’s razor, I shifted to the whole system, including the shaving cream. That means, of course, that whatever results I observed were coming from the combination of handle, blades, and lubricating system. That, too, is critical to Harry’s success or failure.

I have been using foam (or gel) for years because of its convenience – easy on, a pretty comfortable shave, easy cleanup. At one point in my shaving history I used a natural boar bristle brush and a cake of shaving soap in a mug, but I gave that up because of the annoying additional cleanup steps and the additional time that it took to lather up. I’d used shaving creams, too, and given those up because shaving cream requires longer to apply than foam and it’s messier to clean up off the razor and off your face.

But I suspected that a part of the quality of results I was getting with the Harry’s system was due to the cream, in particular the smooth, moist feel of my cheeks as the day wore on. As luck would have it, my wife called my attention to a review of men’s cosmetic products in the New York Times that featured one strongly-recommended product, Proraso shaving cream. So about a week into my Harry’s experiment I switched shaving creams to the Proraso product. (I did no particular comparisons between the two; the NYT endorsement and my general impression of the two products side-by-side suggested to me that I would do better with the Proraso product.)

At the same time I bought my Harry’s setup, I sent the same thing to my son. He’s about 45 years younger and has an outstandingly tough, black beard that he wears “scruffy.” (Meaning he gets to shave every third day or so, a luxury not available to me at his age.) The idea was that we would compare notes after we’d tried the products. The shaving cream was something that he feels has improved the shaving experience for him; his tube of Proraso is arriving by UPS today.

I’m now back in a four-week test of my former Fusion razor, this time with the Proraso shaving cream. I’m only a week into it, but it seems clear to me that I am getting a better shaving experience from this combination than from the Harry’s handle and blades. My son’s experience with the Harry’s equipment has been the same as mine with respect to the grip on the handle and the difficulty of navigating the overhangs and crannies with the cartridge.

The bottom line of this endeavor has been that all other things equal I would prefer to pay less for my shaving habit. But the inequality of the shaving experience as between the Fusion and Harry’s (and the totally separate issue of shave cream versus foam) means that it’s not worth saving even dollars per cartridge for a worse experience.

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