Monday, December 26, 2011

A look back at the Gillette Trac II razor

In 1971, Gillette introduced the world's first multi-blade razor system to the North American market: the Gillette Trac II Twin Blade shaving system. It consisted of 2 blades placed closely together in a plastic cartridge. Instead of changing the blade directly, shavers slid the cartridge onto the handle.

Gillette advertised the Trac II pretty heavily. Check out this 2-page ad from LIFE magazine (December 10, 1971); it features the slogan "It's one blade better than whatever you're using now."
The TV spots often featured athletes, and each one emphasized the special advantages of having 2 blades instead of 1.

You can find other Gillette ads from the 70s at; it makes for some fun viewing.

One of the claims Gillette made in most of their ads was that 2 blades shaved closer than 1 blade due to what they called the "hysteresis" effect. That is, the first blade would cut a hair and, in the process, pull it out a tiny bit from the skin. Before the hair could snap back to its regular position, the second blade would come along and cut the same hair just a little bit closer than the first blade had, resulting in a shave that lasted longer than a single-blade shave.

Was the claim true? Hard to say. Certainly, many people think that the hysteresis effect was more hype than science. For instance, this "Straight Dope" article by Cecil Adams from November 25th, 1983, goes at the question in depth.

Gillette claims to have done slow-motion microphotography that shows hysteresis actually works. In an Esquire magazine article on this subject some years ago, a spokesman for Bic, one of Gillette's chief competitors, admitted his firm couldn't prove hysteresis _didn't_ work. Nonetheless, years of testing by consumer magazines and by the razor blade companies themselves have never demonstrated any clear superiority for twin blades--at times, quite the contrary.
Some people (especially those with very thick or curly hair) report experiencing ingrown hairs more frequently with multi-blade razors than with single-blade razors - the hysteresis effect is sometimes cited as the reason why multiple blades increase the incidence of ingrown hairs.

Whether people believed the hysteresis explanation or not, they definitely bought the razors, and the Trac II was a great commercial success.

Gillette still makes cartridges for the Trac II; I can buy them locally in all of the supermarkets and pharmacies that I regularly shop at, for instance, and there are plenty of sources online. Finding a handle is a bit trickier - Gillette doesn't seem to sell them any more, at least in North America. So if you want to try out Trac II cartridges, you'll have to find a handle some other way.

The Trac II was marketed as the GII in Europe; I've found a few G2 handles listed on eBay. You can also find handles made by other manufacturers online, and sometimes in stores. There are a number of clones available that fit Gillette's Trac II cartridges too. I found a fairly solidly-built plastic handled version called the Precision Twin 2 razor at a local Dollarama (5 cartridges plus the handle for $1) which shaves great, for instance. In many Wal-Mart stores in the US (and on, you can find the Bump Fighter razor, which also fits Trac II cartridges.

A number of manufacturers also sell cartridges modeled after the Trac II, usually naming them "Twin" or "Twin Plus" razors, and usually charging a fraction of what Gillette charges.

So, is the Gillette Trac II still relevant in the age of 5+ blade razors? I think so. One of the complaints I read about frequently is the cost of modern razor cartridges. It's a complaint I can sympathize with; at local stores, a Gillette Fusion ProGlide cartridge averages somewhere around $5! Trac II cartridges, on the other hand, can be had for around $1.50 each, and you can find knock-off cartridges for less than half that.

And the shave? Well, the most important part of getting a good shave isn't the razor, it's the preparation. If you ensure your hair and skin are very wet, and you've got a good shaving lubricant properly applied, then any good, sharp razor will do the job. I've been trying out Trac II and generic Twin razors recently, and getting the same type of close, comfortable shaves that I'm used to from the more expensive Mach 3 and Sensor razors that I've used previously. Definitely worth checking out, if you're looking to cut costs but keep your shaves close and comfortable!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Guest review: Wahl Balding Clippers

Recently, I got some email from Albert asking me about Wahl clippers. He purchased some, and after using  them, sent me these comments (which he graciously permitted me to share):

Well I did it.  I'm now part of the bald headed club.   This specific Wahl is the Wahl Professional Balding Clipper Model 785110.  I first used the the 1/16 cutting guide to get the the longer hair out of the way.  This step was very easy and the shaver cut the hair like it wasn't there.  I then removed the cutting guide and started again taking off the peach fuzz that was left.  The shaver motored through this step again. 
What was left was a VERY close shave that I guess would be like a 2-4 day growth of hair.  I then took my Mach 3 razor that I use to shave my face, lathered the head and started with the razor, 15 minutes later I had a smooth head and NO cuts.  With the excitement, I was going for the "Mr Clean Look," I lathered my face and shaved like I do every day before work and cut myself in 3 places.  Go figure. 
Overall I'm very happy satisfied with the Wahl and would recommend it to anyone that needs to get their hair down to the length that can be then handled by a razor.

I've used Wahl clippers myself; in fact, I still have the same clippers I bought around 20 years ago, and they still work brilliantly. I used those clippers to buzz my hair down the same way Albert did. Wahl makes some solid, solid products.

Looks like Amazon has them for around $40 as I type this, which seems like a great value to me.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Preview: Pacific Shaving's All Natural Shaving Cream

Just received a tube of Pacific Shaving Company's All Natural Shaving Cream in the mail. With any luck, I'll have a review posted within 2 weeks.

Pacific Shaving's one of my favourite shaving-related companies. Their shaving oil is still my favourite shave oil - light, with a pleasant, mild scent, and it always gives me a great shave. If you haven't checked them out, visit them online at today!

Monday, December 19, 2011

The best type of shaver for your head?

The aim of the advice and suggestions I give on is to make it easier to have a close, comfortable, and convenient shave. The question of what type of razor to use for headshaving is a pretty common one. So, what are your options?

A shavette - a type of straight
razor that uses disposable blades.
The most old-school option is the straight razor. You've probably seen one of these on TV or in a movie, but may not have come across one in real life; they're something of a specialty item. They've been around for hundreds of years, and were once the primary way that people shaved.

A straight razor requires skill and care to use - careless use can result in serious injury. Keeping the blade at a good angle (something like 30 degrees) is essential for good results. This can be a challenge sometimes even when you can see the shaving area (as when you shave your face), but shaving the scalp is even trickier. While it can be done (and you can find videos on YouTube of people using straight razors on their scalp), I don't recommend them for shaving your head.

For everyday shaving, straight razors were largely supplanted by safety razors in the early 20th century. The double-edge safety razor is enjoying a resurgence these days, with a number of forums and communities that consider the DE razor to be the best way to shave your face. The razors are still a specialty item; the only place I can find them locally is at antique shops, but a number of online retailers sell them. One of the big draws to DE razors (aside from aesthetics) is that the blades can often be had for very reasonable prices - it's not unusual to find a pack of 10 good blades for under $2 at online retailers.

Though the DE safety razor has a guard in place to prevent big gashes (making them considerably safer than straight edge razors), they do require some care and skill to use. The blade still needs to contact the skin at a good angle, for instance. Traditional wet-shaving enthusiasts usually recommend a multi-pass approach, shaving first with the grain, then across the grain (and sometimes against the grain) for a very smooth shave.

You can certainly shave your head with a DE razor (I've done so in the past), but it's not something I recommend unless you're interested in the challenge and experience of it. While you're learning, it's pretty easy to draw blood, and it's fairly time-consuming if you want a smooth shave - it wasn't uncommon for me to take 30 to 45 minutes, and that was after much practice and effort.

The razor you're most likely to see advertised in contemporary media is the cartridge razor. The current champion (in terms of TV time) is probably the Gillette Fusion ProGlide, but there are many, including Gillette's Trac II, Atra, Sensor, Mach 3, Schick's Hydro and Quattro, and various generic versions of these razors.

The great innovation of the cartridge razor is that it holds the blade at a fixed angle relative to the position of the cartridge, and that it holds the blade at a fixed distance to the skin. This essentially reduces the skill required to shave, and makes it possible to shave more quickly and with less chance of nicks or cuts (though it is still possible to draw blood; you should never be careless with a sharp blade). Some models have a fixed head, but most have a pivoting head that changes position for you as you move over the curves of your face and scalp.

Another popular shaving option is the electric shaver. Unlike the other types of razors mentioned here, electric shavers can be used without wetting the skin, which can be very convenient. Their design also generally precludes nicks and cuts, though some people do find electric shavers irritating on their skin.

It's easy and safe to use an electric shaver on your scalp. I spent most of the past 3 years using one as my primary shaving device. The only downside is that electrics generally do not shave as close as a blade razor. I've tried a number of different models over the years, and while you can get a pretty close shave, it's never quite as smooth as I really prefer.

When all is said and done, I recommend the cartridge razor for headshaving. They are easier and quicker to use than straight or DE razors, and they shave closer than electric shavers.  I also really like shaving with oil, which provides a great shave and moisturizes your head. creates some great products for Bald heads.

The question of which cartridge razor to use? As with many things, it comes down to personal preference. I've used quite a few razors over the past decade-and-a-half of shaving my head, and I can honestly say that almost all of the cartridge razors I've used are capable of giving  you a good, close, comfortable shave. Use whichever one you're already comfortable with.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bald bridal revenge

Is anything as entertaining as a good revenge story?

Angry bride Andrea Braysted was so furious after her sister Carol smushed a cream pie in her face during her wedding reception that she got three friends to help her even the score - by holding Carol down and shaving her bald as a melon!
The story describes the wedding, Carol's smushing of the pie into Andrea's face, and how they're no longer speaking to each other.

The Weekly World News is one of those sources that you have to take with a grain of salt, of course, but they do know a good story. They liked this one so much, in fact, that they ran it again in 1999, virtually unchanged. I guess the sisters must be twice as mad at each other now. :-)

Monday, December 05, 2011

How smooth?

Most of the time when I shave, I aim to get my scalp as smooth as I can. When I'm done, it's usually slick and frictionless, which feels great when I'm running my hand across my skin. It also means that my scalp is at its most reflective (ie. shiniest), which isn't always the best look. Also, my toque (knit cap, for any non-Canadians) sometimes actually slides off, since there's not enough traction to keep it in place.
Completely smooth isn't actually my favourite scalp texture, though. Somewhere between 12 and 24 hours after that first smooth shave, a bit of hair has grown back and my scalp has an entirely different feel to it that I quite enjoy. My toque stays in place, the appearance is a little more matte, and I haven't yet hit that rough-and-tough feel that I prefer to avoid.

Sometimes, especially when I'm in a hurry, I won't make the effort to shave completely smooth. Instead of shaving against the grain and going over rough spots until it's completely slick, I will stick with one pass of the razor. It's an easy, quick shave, and sticking with one pass means no irritation (as long as your pre-shave preperations are adequate, of course). It also means that I have that slightly-roughened texture sooner, which I don't mind at all. The only real disadvantage to this approach (for me) is that I usually have to shave again the next day - when I go for a completely smooth shave, I usually only shave every second day.

What's your preference when it comes to smoothness?