One of the more interesting phenomena that many men have experienced is that they can get a closer shave by dialing up an adjustable razor during a shave. In other words, after doing a reduction pass or two, they dial in a higher setting and that results in a closer and more comfortable shave.
This seems counter-intuitive, but there are actually really good reasons as to why this works. This little essay is intended to explain how this works.
Before I provide the explanation though, some basic facts need to be mentioned. These are as follows:
First: It is easier to shave hair when the hair that is being shaved stands up or is perpendicular to the skin. The shorter the hair the more it can be made to stand up. Longer hair will tend to flop over.
Second: There are various ways to get hair to “stand up”.
1. One can stretch the skin. Men who use straight razors use this technique.
2. One can pinch the skin with one’s fingers. The “narrower” the pinch, the more the hair stands up. That is to say that if one grips skin in a wide grip and pinches the skin more or less stays flat, or more to the point, it curves slightly and the hair does not stand up very much. If one pinches using a narrow grip, there is very little skin between one’s fingers and the skin stands up more and the hair on it stands up almost straight.
3. One can press something such as a finger into the skin, either straight in or at an angle, this causes the skin to bulge and at the top of the bulge it will be curved. At the top of the curve, the hair will stand up.
Third: Adjustable razors do not expose more of the blade when they are dialed up. What really happens is that the gap between the safety bar and the edge of the blade increases when the razor is dialed up. So there isn’t more blade exposure, what is really happening is that the blade at setting 1 is shaving closer to the safety bar and at setting 9 it is shaving further away from the safety bar.
Fourth: Skin never remains flat unless it is being pulled really hard. Skin will always bulge when any pressure is put on it. Skin is resilient and it is more or less like rubber that way. The resiliency of skin is actually very similar to oranges. At one time, medics were taught how to do stitches on skin by practicing on oranges because of the way that orange peel is similar in its resiliency to skin. And so skin will bulge ever so slightly when it is pressed and that includes the very small weight of the head of a razor.
Fifth: When a safety razor is placed on the skin, it will result in a bulge forming. Actually, there will be two bulges, just in front of the blade and just behind the leading edge of the safety bar.
Sixth: What safety razors are designed to do is to create a very tiny bulge between the blade and the safety bar. That bulge forces the hair to stand up just a bit to be shaved closely.
And this is the point that sets adjustable razors apart from every other razor: with an adjustable razor one can set the blade to cut higher up on that bulge. I’ve created a diagram that appears below to show how it works.
The diagram is of course not to scale, but what it shows is this:
1. There is a very tiny bulge in the skin between the blade and the safety bar.
2. The bulge increases as it gets farther away from the safety bar, in other words, the bulge is greatest at the top of the diagram.
3. When an adjustable razor is dialed up, it is cutting at the top of the bulge where the hair is standing up the straightest.
The black curving line shows the type of curve that happens when a safety razor touches the skin. Here we are looking at the razor from the side not from the front. What happens is that the razor will sink ever so slightly into the skin. This diagram is of course not to scale or anything like. The curve is also not 100% accurate. I do not have the computer skills to do the proper job on this type of thing. But please do note that I am here trying to illustrate a very small area. To see just how small an area we’re talking about: note that from the bottom of the “valley” to the top is the distance between the safety bar of an adjustable razor and the blade when the razor is opened up to its’ highest setting.
The yellow shape is the safety bar of the razor. It is pressing into the skin ever so slightly. The operative word here is slightly. The weight of the razor itself will do. On a proper diagram, the safety bar would be shown touching the skin. I can’t manage that with my limited computer skills.
The red line is the blade when the razor is set at its closest setting, for example number 1. You will notice that the skin at that point is more or less flat. The hair is not being forced to stand up very much at all.
The blue line is the blade at the widest open setting, for example number 9 on a Gillette adjustable. What happens is that there is a bigger gap now between the blade and the safety bar. And notice where the blade is contacting the skin. The blade is contacting the skin at the top of the curve of the bulge. And at that point the hair is being forced by the curve of the skin to stand up straighter than it stands up lower down.
In other words, at the higher settings, the blade shaves the hair higher up on the curve that is caused by the weight of the razor. And at that point, because the curve is greater, the hair is standing up straighter. Because the hair is standing up straighter, the blade can shave closer.
And this leads to the technique that works very well for many men which is to do reduction passes at lower settings and then dial up the razor for the final pass or two. And so, what at first glace appeared to be counter-intuitive is actually perfectly rational, and there are very good reasons as to why this works well
Last edited by Haiku; 10-11-2007 at 02:24 PM.
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