History of the Safety Razor

The resurgence of interest in traditional men’s shaving has led to a market for tools once almost obsolete. One vital instrument to a wet shave is a safety razor. But what IS a safety razor, where did it come from, and why is it called a “safety”?

A Brief History of Safety Razors:

Hair removal has faced some ups and downs throughout history. Beards have had their day, but so has the clean-shaven mug. Early men removed hair with tweezers to prevent water from freezing to their face and causing frostbite. Later, the Egyptians and Romans both promoted hair removal with sharpened metal blades. However, it was mostly restricted to the upper classes as they were able to employ a barber. 

Sepia color pictures of barber tools: mug, razor, towel


Not much changed significantly for about 2 thousand years. Frenchman, Jean-Jacques Perret is often credited with beginning the self-shave revolution when he put a protective wooden guard on a straight razor blade and penned a treatise, “L’Art du Coutelier”. While Perret’s razor was certainly safer, it still left a lot to be desired. The next development was in the mid 1700s when Benjamin Huntsman created a straight razor with hollow-ground blades from Sheffield steel. These types of razors are still used today. By the 1850s, William Henson had designed a hoe-shaped razor that was the forerunner of the current safety razor, but the modern push for clean-shaven, do-it-yourself barbering really took off in the early 1900s with King Camp Gillette. 

Gillette’s invention of a razor with disposable blades exploded onto the scene (with a strong push from the US Army which commissioned his razors and blades for general issue to soldiers.) By crafting a razor that could be used at home with cheap disposable blades that eliminated sharpening, Gillette revolutionized men’s grooming. As the century progressed, electric razors were developed and the safety razor evolved to plastic fully disposal tools with multiple blades. But Gillette’s tool is making a comeback as the advantages of a long-lasting tool with a single blade become apparent.

A Few Reasons for the “Safety” in Safety Razors:

Safety razors are called “safety” razors for a couple of reasons.

Row of safety razors on a wood table


First, they were/are perceived to be safer in comparison with the classic straight edge razor. Since straight edge razors are also dubbed “cut-throat” shavers, there might be some sound reasoning behind the idea of a “safer” razor. When the first double-edge safety razors were introduced, they were revolutionary as they provided a guard to guide the angle of the blade and protect the skin. Definitely a more user friendly shave. As Wikipedia says, “The initial purpose of these protective devices was to reduce the level of skill needed for injury-free shaving, thereby reducing the reliance on professional barbers.”

Secondly, they were safer hygienically. Previous to the DE safety razor, barbering was mostly done at a barbershop as mentioned above. These barbers would frequently use the same blade on multiple customers leading to cuts and infections. (Or at least the perception of that). So safety razors were also billed as “safe” in a cleanliness and hygienic sense. Not only were you the only one using your blade, but you could also change your blade frequently. 

While this tool of glinting steel and shiny chrome might appear a bit intimidating, many are falling in love with the results of a safety razor shave. How about you? Do you prefer the DE shave? Tell us in the comments below.

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