When King Camp Gillette first introduced the single bladed safety razor in 1904 it quickly became very successful, and after all the US troops were issued with one during the First World War Gillette dominated the shaving market. The design was brilliant it got you an extremely close shave. The safety bar that reduced blade exposure made shaving far safer, which was particularly welcome for troops in the field. The blades were disposable, so when you had used them a few times you could discard the blade and load up a new one. There was no need for the sharpening, honing and stropping that was required with a traditional razor. The single bladed safety razor, with it’s double edges and replaceable blades, stood the test of time and was sold by Gillette for over eighty years. So why the change to multiple blades?
In a nutshell, other manufacturers started to produce double edge safety razor blades that would fit the Gillette razor, and Wilkinson Sword made a particularly good stainless steel blade. This meant that Gillette and other razor manufacturers had to differentiate themselves or lose market share. They started producing cartridge systems that locked you into a particular brand. Gillette started with 2 blades, quickly adding Aloe moisture strips to help alleviate the irritation caused by the new multiple blade systems. Accompanied by massive marketing campaigns over the years the blade count has gone up to 5. Is more better though?
The multiple blades in these cartridge systems are extremely closely spaced which causes a number of issues. It makes it very difficult for the razor to cut the hair cleanly often requiring several passes across the skin. The multiple blades and close spacing causes tugging and pulling of hairs, particular with longer stubble and heavy beards. This is a major cause of discomfort, skin irritation and ingrown hairs. The close spacing between the blades also means these razors are very easily clogged.
The single bladed safety razor, in contrast, tracks your skin and cuts the hair cleanly without pulling or tugging the hair. This means a close, comfortable shave. The double edge safety razor is not easily clogged so there is no problem removing a few days growth, if you prefer not to shave everyday. As well as the superior shaving experience, double edge safety razor blades are far cheaper, typically less than a tenth of the cost of a single multiblade cartridge, making shaving far more economical. The performance and cost benefits have lead to a resurgence in the popularity of the double edge safety razor.