A safety razor is a razor where the skin is protected from all but the very edge of the blade.
These razors are referred to as "safety" razors as opposed to the straight razor which is sometimes referred to as a "cut-throat razor." It is often thought that the safety razor was designed to eliminate the possibility of a user from injuring him/herself with the open blade of the straight razor.
Prior to the invention of the first safety razor most men used a straight razor. These razors are still available today from several different manufacturers, but they are not very popular, because they require skill to use properly.
Described as a razor where "a small blade is held in a suitable frame and provided with a guard to prevent the edge of the razor from cutting into the skin", the first American safety razor was patented in 1880 by the Kampfe Brothers. The new razor featured a wire-skin guard along the razor’s edge. Only one side of the actual blade is used to shave, and it must be removed often for sharpening.
In 1901, the American inventor King Camp Gillette, with the assistance of William Nickerson, invented a safety razor with disposable blades. Gillette realized that a profit could be made by selling an inexpensive razor and generating a market for disposable blades. This has been called the Razor and blades business model, or a "loss leader", and has become a very common practice for a wide variety of products.To realize his idea, Gillette applied for a patent on December 3, 1901, and was awarded US patent #775,134 on November 15, 1904.
In 1903, Gillette manufactured its first razor and began its climb with total sales of 51 razors and 168 blades. In 1904, sales skyrocketed with total sales for the new safety razor reaching 90,000 razors and 123,000 blades. Gillette's particular innovation of safety razors with disposable blades beat out competitors. Gillette's thin blade was covered by the razor housing, thus protecting the skin against deep cuts. This enabled the majority of people to safely shave themselves for the first time. Before this, shaving was done often only by family members or barbers. Other razor manufacturers—such as Wilkinson, Ever-Ready, and Valet—produced similar safety razors but with resharpenable blades. These used a new version of the old leather strop or a stropping machine which the blade was passed through.
Safety razor is a name given to a wide variety of razors. A less common variety of the safety razor is the single-edge razor. This razor is so named because the blades have a single edge, rather than double edges. These razors are no longer being made, but are still available worldwide. The most common of the single-edge razors were made by the American Safety Razor Company under the name EVER READY, and by the Gem Safety Razor Company under the name GEM. Some individuals today still prefer the single-edge designed razor because it yields an excellent shave and the blades are widely available today in drugstores under the company name Treet. It is possible to use common hardware-store blades for shaving purposes as well, although those who use single-edge blades recommend use of blades that are made strictly for the shaving purposes.
An innovation was the replaceable blade cartridge containing the blade which reduced the risk of the user receiving a cut from the unprotected blades used up until then. These took the form of a cartridge, with the blade fixed within a plastic enclosure of the type still in use today. In 1965 Gillette introduced the Techmatic razor which utilized a cartridge with a steel strip that could be wound forward to expose a fresh section of new blade.
It is often debated why Gillette, ASR, and Schick transitioned to the cartridge type razor. One explanation for the shift was that it gave companies control over the blades that were used with their razors. Before the introduction of cartridges, as many as thirty different companies world-wide were making blades that could fit Gillette's razors, thereby engendering intense competition, driving prices and, consequently, profits down. Currently there are as many as twenty companies world wide making double-edge blades, including ASR, Dinosaur, Goldcow, Bic, Merkur, Wilkinson, Gillette, Panda, Feather, Derby, Crystal, Astra, and many more. However few of the companies who were making blades when Gillette introduced the Trac II razor are believed to still be in business today. If control could be maintained over the blade, the producer could raise prices at will, something that is not possible with safety razors. At the current time it is possible to find cartridge blades at a price of $3.24 per cartridge while a double-edge blade can be had for as little as $.10
The most popular of the single bladed razors are the Merkur Heavy Duty and the Gillette Super Speed. The Heavy Duty is still made today by Merkur and the Super Speed can be purchased on eBay.
Gillette subsequently introduced the Atra twin-blade razors, which featured a pivoting razor head that the company claimed would more closely follow the shape of the face. The Trac II Plus and Atra Plus blades introduced later incorporated a "lubricating strip".
Gillette followed the Atra system with the Sensor system (known as Contour in many parts of the world), which featured twin blades that were individually spring-loaded to adjust to the contours of the face. The Sensor system was later enhanced as the SensorExcel system.
Schick responded with the Quattro, the first four-blade cartridge razor. These innovations are marketed with the message that they help consumers achieve the best shave as easily as possible. Another impetus for the sale of multiple-blade cartridges is that they have high profit margins. With manufacturers frequently updating their shaving systems, consumers can become locked into buying their proprietary cartridges, for as long as the manufacturer continues to make them.
Gillette has also produced powered variants of the Mach3 (M3Power, M3Power Nitro) and Fusion (Fusion Power and Fusion Power Phantom) razors. These razors accept a single AAA battery which is used to produce vibration in the razor. This action, as advertised by Gillette, was intended to raise hair up and away from the skin prior to being cut. These claims were ruled in court as "unsubstantiated and inaccurate. Schick also offers a powered version of their Quattro product called the Schick Quattro Power.
Razors are generally marketed in men's and women's versions; the exact difference between the two varies from color only for most disposable razors to completely different design principles. By and large, men's and women's razor blades and disposable razors are interchangeable; however, there is sometimes a difference in ergonomics; women's razors either have a longer handle for longer reach or a paddle-shaped handle to allow for a lengthwise grip. Specialized handle designs also exist, for shaving such areas as the head or the bikini line.
Single-blade safety razors come in a variety of configurations including the classic sandwich type, adjustable, and the Twist to Open (TTO) model. The sandwich type has a head that may be unscrewed from the body of the razor and disassembled for inserting a new blade. Adjustables may also be sandwich type, but typically have a ring below the head of the razor that may be adjusted to allow for greater or lesser blade exposure, which affects the level of aggressiveness of the shave. TTO razors require the user to twist a knob at the bottom to open butterfly doors where the blade is. The most popular TTO razor is the Gillette Super Speed. Safety razor blades are available from a variety of makers through out the globe from American Safety Razor Company (ASRCO), Merkur, Derby, Feather, Dorco, Treet and Gillette.