Electric Shavers vs. Manual Razors

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Every razor has its strengths and weaknesses.  Both the electric shaver and manual razor are no exception to this.

Below is a fact-based comparison between these two popular shaving tool categories.

You will learn how they differ based on the following:

  • Expected Costs: The initial investment vs. long-term costs.
  • Ease of Use: Relative learning curve for both razor types.
  • Versatility: What the device can and cannot be used for.
  • Portability: Travel-friendly nature.
  • Speed: How long it takes to shave in the morning.
  • Skin Ailments: Which razor type is best for oily, dry, and sensitive skin.
  • Hair Texture: Some hair types perform better with specific shaving tools.
  • Assessment: Ultimately, to determine which is right for you.
  • Where to Buy: A list of resources.

Let’s start.

Expected Costs

Costs vary significantly for both electric shavers and manual razors.  Here’s a breakdown of the initial investment cost of each:

Initial Investment Cost

Electric Shavers

As we previously discussed at length in our head-to-head comparison of foil and rotary shavers, electric shavers have a extensive price range.  Here’s a look at the price distribution of foil shavers:

Price Distribution of Foil Electric Shavers

And here is the distribution of rotary electric shavers:

Price Distribution of Rotary Electric Shavers

As you can see, foil electric shavers skew a little more to the left, favoring a higher price point.  However, you can still find affordable options for whatever your budget may be.

Lastly, the average price for a foil shaver is $104, and the rotary shaver has an average price of $74.

Manual Razors

For the scope of this pricing analysis, we are only considering safety razors and cartridge razors.  We believe that disposable razors and straight razors are too niche to warrant a detailed analysis.

Here’s the price distribution for safety razors:

Price Distribution of Safety Razors

As was the case of foil electric shavers, the safety razor skews left to more expensive options.  However, many well-made options do exist under the $50 price point.  The average price for all safety razors we researched was $74.

For cartridge razors, the selection is limited.  Additionally, many cartridge razors include a few starter blades, which may increase the price.  Here was the price distribution of cartridge razors from the leading brands:

Price Distribution of Cartridge Razors

The average price across all the cartridge razors was $11.  

Lastly, a note on selection bias: notably absent from our research were many off-brands or knockoffs – particularly when it comes to electric shavers.   Therefore, the only electric shaver brands we reviewed included Braun, Philips Norelco, Panasonic, Remington, BaBylissPRO, and Wahl.

Long Term Investment Costs

It’s common knowledge that cartridge razors have a low price to start but make up their money through pricey cartridge refills.  Below, we forecast the expected costs you will incur when owning any of these systems for five years.

Let’s take a look at what we discovered:

Total Cost of Ownership by Razor Type for 5 Years

As you can see in the chart above, the total cost of ownership for a cartridge razor over five years is the highest at $456.25.  Safety razors, relying on cheap or expensive razor blades, still have the lowest long-term costs of ownership over five years at $43.80 and $138.70, respectively.

The electric shaver head doesn’t need to be replaced until year 2 of ownership.   Therefore, the total cost over five years is as follows: Estimated Annual Cost * 4 = Total Cost.

Here’s the supporting data for our analysis:

Razor TypeQuantityPricePrice per BladeShaves per BladeCost per ShaveEstimated Annual CostTotal Costs – 5 Years
Safety Razor – Feather Blades100$38.00$0.385$0.08$27.74$138.70
Safety Razor – Derby Blades50$6.00$0.125$0.02$8.76$43.80
Cartridge Razor – Fusion58$24.00$3.0012$0.25$91.25$456.25
Cartridge Razor – Mach38$18.00$2.2512$0.19$68.44$342.19
Electric Shaver Replacement – Braun Series 71$44.00$44.00365$0.12$44.00$176.00
Electric Shaver Replacement – Philips Norelco Series 50001$35.00$35.00365$0.10$35.00$140.00

Assumptions

  • Shaves Per Blade: Per our previous analysis here, we assumed how many shaves you can realistically expect from each razor blade type.
  • Price: The cost was rounded and current as of April 2021.
  • Estimated Annual Costs: Based on shaving 365 days a year.  

Total Costs

Lastly, let’s overlay the two data points above, initial investment cost and long-term costs, to see where each razor type compares to one another:

Initial Investment Costs + Long Term Costs

Here’s the supporting data for the chart above, along with the total costs of initial investment and five-year costs:

Razor TypeInitial CostYear 1Year 2Year 3Year 4Year 5Total
Safety Razor – Feather Blades$74.00$27.74$27.74$27.74$27.74$27.74$212.70
Safety Razor – Derby Blades$74.00$8.76$8.76$8.76$8.76$8.76$117.80
Cartridge Razor – Fusion5$10.00$91.25$91.25$91.25$91.25$91.25$466.25
Cartridge Razor – Mach3$8.50$68.44$68.44$68.44$68.44$68.44$350.69
Electric Shaver – Foil$104.00$0.00$44.00$44.00$44.00$44.00$280.00
Electric Shaver – Rotary$74.00$0.00$35.00$35.00$35.00$35.00$214.00

In summary, the safety razor is the most budget-friendly razor.  Despite the low initial costs, cartridge razors are very expensive to use over the long term.  Electric shavers are a compromise between the two systems.

Ease of Use

The ability to learn and use a razor will vary from one person to another.  Therefore, we will only provide generalities for both electric and manual razors.

Electric Shavers

Both the foil and rotary shaver require the same technique for optimal results: hold the device perpendicular to the skin’s surface and shave against the grain.  

Where both devices differ from one another is the motion of each pass.  Foil razors are only capable of going in a straight path (up / down).  Rotary shavers must follow a circular motion.  

Foil razors are similar to shaving with a manual razor.  Therefore, this may feel more natural if you have used a cartridge or safety razor previously.  Regardless, both devices can be mastered after a few uses.

Manual Razors

Both safety and cartridge razors require some learning before first use.  Here’s what you should be aware of:

Cartridge Razor

Due to the pivoting head and narrowly set blades, cartridge razors are relatively safe and easy to learn.  Simply apply shaving cream and make passes with the grain only.

Due to the several blades on a cartridge razor head, they enjoy a phenomenon called hysteresis, also known as lift-and-cut.  Each blade works in tandem to gradually cut the hair closer to the surface of the skin.  Passing a cartridge razor against the skin may cause the hair to be cut too low, resulting in razor burn or a razor bump (ingrown hair).  

Safety Razors

Safety razors have a large learning curve.  Expect surface nicks or cuts for the first few shaves.  Safety razors lack a pivoting head and require you to hold the tool at the optimal 30° cutting angle – this can be difficult to master for certain areas of the face.  

Very little pressure must be applied when shaving – this is fundamentally different from a cartridge razor or electric shaver.

Once mastered, safety razors can be used to shave with, across, and against the grain for smooth results.

Versatility

The versatility of each of these shaving tools is limited. Here’s why:

Electric Shavers

These are intended for facial hair only.  Using an electric shaver on your body or head may result in pulling on the hair or general discomfort and is not recommended.  Should you try to experiment with using an electric shaver on your body hair, be sure to trim the hair down to stubble before use.

Manual Razors

Here are a few important notes on using manual razors elsewhere on your body:

Cartridge Razors

Cartridge razors are the most versatile razor type.  The pivoting head allows them to be safely used on your scalp, chest, arms, or groin area.  As was the case when shaving facial hair, be sure only to pass the cartridge razor with the grain to ensure comfort results.

Safety Razors

The safety razor has been growing in popularity for limited body shaving use outside of facial hair, especially with women. In recent years we have seen introductions of razors such as the Merkur 24C with a 5″ long handle made specifically for leg shaving. However, since safety razors still lack a pivoting head, they are not recommended for the scalp or pubic region.

Portability

Should you travel frequently, then you should be aware of the following portability limitations of these razor types:

Electric Shaver

Electric shavers are very travel-friendly.  Select models can be recharged via a USB connection, making them suitable for international travel.  Additionally, some electric shavers will also have a travel-lock function.  This prevents the device from accidentally turning on while in transit.  

Lastly, the battery life on most electric shavers offers a 45+ minute run time.  This should be sufficient for a few weeks of regular shaving.

Manual Razors

Here’s a summary of the portability for manual razors:

Cartridge Razor

The cartridge razor is travel-friendly.  Not only can it be packed in your carry-on luggage, but refills for the major brands are available wherever your travels may bring you.  The cartridge razor is also the lightest and smallest razor available (excluding disposable razors).

Safety Razor

The safety razor isn’t travel-friendly. While you can store the safety razor handle in carry-on luggage, the blades are prohibited by TSA. Therefore, you will either have to incur the checked luggage expense or buy blades at your destination. Blade selection at drugstores is limited.

Speed

Should you be perpetually short on time in the morning, shave efficiency is an important consideration.  Here’s how each razor compares:

Electric Shaver

Capable of being used as a wet or dry shave, the electric shaver provides quick results with no prep.  Expect your total shave time to take no more than a minute or two.

Manual Razors

The time required to shave with a manual razor varies.  Here’s how the cartridge and safety razor differ from one another:

Cartridge Razor

With their safe and straightforward design, a close shave can be achieved quickly.  If there is any added time here, it would be in the facial hair prep before shaving.  It is recommended that you soften the facial hair with a shower, hot towel, or simply splashing warm water before shaving.  Depending on the type of shaving cream you use may also add extra time to the shaving process.

Safety Razor

Of the three, the safety razor will take the longest time to shave.  However, depending on your mastery of the shaving tool, you can get good results by making a single pass with the grain and skipping across and against the grain shaving.

When first learning, set aside a good 10 minutes per shave.  As was the case when shaving with a cartridge razor, the facial hair should be prepped before shaving.

Related: 15 Tips For a Close and Comfortable Shave

Skin Ailments

Everyone’s skin is unique.  Some may have oily skin, while others may have dry or sensitive skin.  Here are a few things to keep in mind when comparing shaving tools:

Oily or Acne-Prone Skin

Over shaving may cause an increase in oil production.  This may lead to acne or pimples after shaving.  Safety razors may be favored here as you can limit the number of blades that come in contact with your skin.  

Electric shavers may cause shaving acne, especially if the device’s head is never cleaned. Consider an electric shaver with a cleaning station to disinfect the surface after each use. Cleaning solutions are often alcohol-based.

Dry Skin

A multi-blade cartridge razor may worsen dry skin as it provides a closer cut.  Try using a cartridge razor with fewer blades.  Electric shavers and safety razors shouldn’t be a problem here.  You should consider applying an aftershave balm post-shave as it can restore a skin’s moisture barrier.

Sensitive Skin

Razor burn is often caused by poor technique or over-application of the razor’s pressure. Infrequent shaving can also make hair removal more challenging for the razor blade. Reassess your technique and the frequency of your shaving routine.

Hair Texture

Like skin, hair texture varies significantly from one person to another.  Dense and curly hair is susceptible to becoming ingrown and causing a razor bump.  Safety razors are the most effective tool to get close results while preventing razor bumps from occurring.  

Due to hysteresis, cartridge razors can make you more susceptible to razor bumps, especially when shaving against the grain.  Some electric shavers may cause razor bumps as well.  Specially made razors do exist to account for these issues, such as the Gillette SkinGuard we recently reviewed.

Assessment

Stuck trying to decide which razor is right for you?  Consider the following:

Do you want to use a razor for more than just facial hair use?

Then the cartridge razor is best-in-class here.  It can be used for face, head, and body grooming.  The electric shaver is limited to facial hair use and may cause pulling or discomfort if used elsewhere.  The safety razor is also limited in use.

For additional versatility, consider a beard trimmer, body hair trimmer, or a hybrid trimmer like the Philips Norelco OneBlade.

Are you on a tight budget or simply want to save money?

The safety razor is the most cost-effective shaving tool.  Its low long-term costs are unmatched.  The electric shaver is the best modern alternative.  If you prefer the safety and closeness of a cartridge razor, just go with an older generation razor like the Mach3 to save money.

Do you plan on traveling regularly?

If you travel frequently, cartridge razors and electric shavers are a good pick.  If you still want a safety razor, just use cheap disposable razors when on the road.

Unique hair and skincare considerations must be taken into account.

If you have acne, are susceptible to razor bumps, or have other common side effects from shaving, then you should consider selecting shaving tools to account for these conditions.  

Where to Buy

Electric shavers and cartridge razors are widely available.  They can be found at local drugstores, department stores, and supercenters.  Safety razors have a fairly limited distribution at local stores.  Only select safety razor brands are available.

Here are a few online stores that offer a wide selection:

RetailerElectric ShaverCartridge RazorSafety Razor
https://www.amazon.com/YesYesYes
https://www.westcoastshaving.com/NoNoYes
https://www.maggardrazors.com/NoNoYes
https://www.walmart.com/YesYesYes
https://www.ulta.com/NoYesNo
https://www.target.com/YesYesYes

Additionally, many companies allow you to purchase their shaving tools directly.

Conclusion

We hope that this article provided you with a detailed and helpful look at the three main popular shaving tools and how they differ from one another.  Of course, be sure to check out our other expert guides if you want to learn more about other areas of the shaving routine.