Razor Aggressiveness Basics

When you start exploring double-edge safety razors, “aggressiveness” is a term that quickly enters the conversation.  Generally speaking, aggressiveness is how much the razor allows the blade to “attack” the hair it is cutting.  In this post we will discuss some of the key characteristics that make a razor mild vs aggressive and we’ll recommend some good mild razors for the beginning DE shaver.

Mild razors err on the side of protecting your skin.  They reduce the risk of nicks and irritation, but that comes at the expense of a closer shave.  Aggressive razors can remove more hair in a single pass (even thick hair) and they theoretically can give a closer shave, but they also increase the risk of irritation.

Aggressiveness is difficult to define for a couple of reasons.  First is that aggressiveness is subjective.  I have thick hair and sensitive skin, so what I view as aggressive may be a walk in the park for someone with a thin beard or skin that is more forgiving.  The second (and more important) reason its hard to say that aggressiveness is hard to define is that there are many factors that contribute to aggressiveness including:

  • Blade gap – the distance between the blade and the safety bar (below the blade)
  • Blade exposure – how far the blade sticks out beyond the cap and blade
  • Blade angle – whether the razor positions the blade to approach at a steep or shallow angle)
  • Comb type – whether the safety bar is open (like a comb, which allows more skin exposure to the blade)
  • Razor weight/length – how much force the razor itself applies

I’ll break down two of the key issues that make a razor more mild vs more aggressive.

Blade Gap

Merkur Futur on 1 vs 6 v2

The blade gap is the distance between the blade and the safety bar, which is the bar below the blade.  The safety bar is intended to protect your skin from the blade digging in (hence, a safety razor).

Narrow blade gaps often indicate a more mild (less aggressive) razor.  Very mild razors often have a blade gap of around 0.5mm.  This small gap gives some protection against poor technique.  Even with a little too much pressure on the razor, the safety bar shields your skin from from the blade and minimizes cuts and razor burn.  However, a narrow gap can reduce the closeness of the shave.  You can still get a very nice shave, but it may take a little more work.  Also, the narrow gap can clog up quickly, especially if you have thick hair or a little bit of growth.  As a result, you may need to take short 2-inch strokes and rinse the razor frequently.

Large blade gaps contribute to a more aggressive razorSome adjustable razors, such as the Merkur Futur, allow the gap to be increased up to 1.75mm.  A larger gap requires extra care and technique, but it allows the blade greater ability to come in contact with your skin.  With good technique a larger gap can allow you to get a closer shave in fewer passes, but you are more likely to get little nicks and razor burn if you are not careful.

Blade Exposure

Blade Exposure

Blade exposure is different than blade gap.  To understand exposure you have to think of an imaginary straight line between the cap (the top of the razor) and the safety bar.  If the blade extended far beyond this imaginary line you would have huge blade exposure and the bar/cap would serve no purpose.  If the blade edge was located behind this line it would never come in contact with your face.

The differences in blade exposure are often tiny (fractions of millimeters), but you may feel and notice the difference.  A razor with more exposure requires more attention to technique .

Blade Angle

Blade Angle 2

The head of a safety razor bends the blade along a contour so it approaches your face at a shallow angle.  Many razors hold the blade at similar angles allowing for a consistent and predictable shave.  But others hold the blade at a larger angle which contributes to a more aggressive feel.  If the angle is large you need to pay more attention to technique and control the angle over all the contours of your face.

Consider the contour around your chin.  If you are using a very mild razor with a small angle your greatest risk is usually losing contact between your skin and the blade, requiring a touch-up pass.  With an aggressive blade angle you run a greater risk of getting too large of an angle and getting a nick.  This is a generalization – poor form can cause you too lose contact or dig in with any razor.  But these are some of the considerations regarding blade angle – especially for beginners.

Choosing a razor based on aggressiveness

We have covered some of the things that contribute to razor aggressiveness, so how can this information be used to select a razor?  Unfortunately, manufacturers don’t typically list the specs of their gap, exposure and angle when they market their razors.  These are helpful variables to understand but they won’t exactly help you pick the best razor to start with.

Fortunately there is a large community of DE shavers on forums like Badger & Blade who discuss any razor you can imagine in-depth.  A little googling can give you a great understanding of virtually any razor you may consider buying.

But if you don’t want to spend a lot of time doing your research, consider these thoughts:

  • Beginners should start with a mild razor before they try increasing aggressiveness
  • Often the most popular razors are sufficiently mild for beginners to use
  • Save the more unique features for after you are comfortable with a mild razor (open comb, adjustable razors, slant heads)
  • Any of the razors below should be a good start for the beginner

Dorco Prime – Only $20, very mild and a great introduction to DE shaving.

Edwin Jagger DE89 – Around $30, very mild and a high-quality razor.

Merkur 34c – Around $40 and slightly more aggressive than the Dorco and Jagger.  One of the most popular razors around.

Further Reading

The purpose of this blog is to share how double-edge shaving can help men get better shaves and clearer skin.  Here are some additional posts you may find interesting:

Intro to Wet Shaving – A primer on how DE shaving helps give better shaves and clearer skin

Shaving Technique – A “how-to” guide for shaving with a safety razor

DE Shaving Cost Comparison – Analysis comparing the cost of DE shaving vs cartridge shaving (spoiler: DE razors are cheaper than dirt!)

Gear for Beginners – The low-cost tools that introduced me to DE shaving

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