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Journey to Waste Reduction: A Woman’s Guide to the Straight Razor

Tomi Milstead Shaving Her Legs with  Dovo Pearlex and Shaving Soap

With each new year comes a set of new resolutions. There is a great divide between those who participate in the annual ritual and those who think resolutions should be made throughout the year. While regular self-assessments are ideal in a utopian society, it isn’t that easy for some of us to ponder all the ways we can become better people throughout the year. The masses can only afford to entertain progress once a year, and I humbly lump myself into the masses. I don’t see anything wrong with starting my year off by meditating on all the ways I want to grow. We have to start somewhere. Right? Eventually, that annual ritual may turn into a semiannual ritual and even a quarterly ritual. Whether genuine or not, we’ve all partaken in creating a list of goals that may never be met.

My Waste Reduction Resolution

While making my resolutions for 2019, I jotted down “zero waste.” A major hurdle of new year’s resolutions is the overwhelmingly lengthy lists we try to tackle. Our lists can circle the earth four times—which is about the same amount a year’s worth of plastic water bottles thrown away in the U.S. can circle the earth. Along with the length of our lists, our goals are often set at unachievable heights. We set ourselves up for failure right from the start. Considering my circumstances, going zero waste was a bit of an ambitious resolution. I live in a small town at the very bottom of Louisiana. The only things down here you are buying in bulk with zero waste are shrimp and crawfish. If there was any chance of making progress, I needed to revise my resolutions. I took a step back and decided to focus on waste reduction instead of zero waste.

New Year 2019 Resolution

Is Environmentalism a Derogatory Word?

Maybe you are part of the school of thought that believes environmentalism is just some hipster bandwagon everyone is jumping on, our planet is self-healing, and efforts to reduce waste are a money gimmick. Nature has given us hell for centuries, let’s pay her back tenfold! You certainly wouldn’t be wrong for thinking those things. Environmentalism is a current trend, our planet is incredibly resilient, and lifestyle changes do drain your bank accounts. However, trends aren’t always a bad thing, there is an extent to a self-healing planet, and a lot of things are a big money gimmick (how many of you are reading this from an iPhone?).

My purpose isn’t to convince you to make a lifestyle change. Change is only successful when we decide it for ourselves. I merely want to share a piece of my journey and explain why I believe there is a necessary balance to be found. Maybe you’ll agree with some of what I say, or maybe you’ll have a fantastic antithesis that demolishes my methods. Whatever your reaction is, at least I’ve sparked your curiosity one way or another.

I’ve found my balance by looking at where we’ve been as a society and how we’ve gotten to where we are. A conversation about waste reduction with my grandmother arose during a luncheon in which I refused a single use straw. My grandmother and I are similar in that we are very particular about everything, especially cleanliness. In response to me bypassing the straw and drinking straight out of the restaurant glass, she gave an exaggerated eye roll and said, “I’ll never understand.” I knew exactly what she meant she would never understand: waste reduction. In all actuality, my grandmother understood waste reduction very well. She reuses take out containers, refills reusable kcups, and patches her torn clothing. The environmental movement she thought was purposeless is one she actually puts into action. Because environmentalism is so closely interwoven with political agendas, she never associated her practices with the movement.  

The Climax of Disposable Products

Plastic use really peaked in the 60s, twenty years after my grandmother was born. At the time plastic appeared in every household across America, the Baby Boomer generation already had a foundation built on conservation. By the time Generation X grew up, they were fully immersed in disposable items. As generations continued, so did single-use items like kcups, diapers, razors, and paper plates. Where the Baby Boomers had a balance between convenience and conservativism, our balance is now extremely offset.

One of my dearest friends is in her early twenties, has two daughters under the age of two, and works a full-time job (I’m not saying she is Super Woman, but I’ve never seen her and Super Woman in the same room at the same time). She is entitled to the luxury of using disposable diapers, but in return, she grows a large garden and produces a lot of her own food. I’m a freelancer with no children, so I have oodles of time that other people don’t. I can opt out of disposable dinnerware, make stovetop coffee, fill reusable water bottles, and grab my own grocery bags. My point is we have to pick up our slack where we can and reject convenience whenever possible, and that looks different for each individual.

Why I Chose a Straight Razor Despite its Inconveniences

One of the first changes I made was my shaving practices. While most “low wasters” opt for the safety razor, which most closely resembles the disposable razor, I went right to the straight razor. There is nothing convenient about the straight razor. It has a single blade that has to be honed, stropped, and polished regularly, and it adds about 30 minutes to your shaving time plus 10 minutes of maintenance.

For something that can effortlessly slice through a carotid artery, she’s a pretty delicate tool that requires a load of maintenance. Sure, the safety razor has replaceable blades, but what’s more Warrior Archetype than shaving your legs with a single, exposed blade? Nothing.

Shorter, riskier skirts of the flapper era in the 1920’s meant more exposed skin. With this, female hair removal grew in popularity. As the 1940s rolled around, female hair removal was almost standard. It isn’t until recently that many women have begun shaking up this beauty standard. I’m personally still for removing my body hair; it’s what makes me feel beautiful. But it is no less beautiful to embrace your body hair! In fact, if you’re going to begin using a straight razor, you’ll want to learn to love your body hair because you won’t want to shave as often. Trust me.

Things to Consider When Shopping for Straight Razors

Type of "Straight" Razors

After I used the last of my disposable razor reserve, I kicked it to the curb and went on a hunt for a straight razor. I tried purchasing from a few barbershops around town to support local business, but they only kept shavettes in stock. It’s good to know that the straight razor and shavette are two different tools. Shavettes provide a similar old fashion experience to the traditional straight razor but are a more sanitary option for businesses because they have disposable blades.

Straight Razor vs Shavette

The Price Point

After checking with a handful of local shops, I turned to the internet. I was greeted by an endless selection of straight razors as well as the daunting paradox of choice. This worked out in my favor because I was forced to research the product I was going to purchase. Straight razors range anywhere from $20 upwards to $800, but I found an averaging price to be $150. Although a hundred-dollar blade is still a pretty penny, this is a purchase that should last a lifetime.

Point and Blade Size

The next factor I considered was the point and size of the blade. The point is the very end of the blade, and each point style takes a different shape. There are Round Points, Square Points, Irish Points, French Points, and so on. The size of the blade goes by width, not length. Because I am shaving more delicate parts like legs and yes, my armpits, I wanted a rounded point and a skinnier blade size. A smaller and rounder blade seemed the least dangerous to maneuver around hard to reach spaces. I’m not entirely sure why someone would want to shave with a lumberjack’s axe (apart from it being extremely impressive), but my guess is that wider blades may be more durable when cutting through thick beards. Unfortunately, I can’t report on thick facial hair.

Straight Razor Anatomy

The Handle

The last determining factor was the scale—or handle—of the razor. I wanted to avoid scale materials that would hold moisture. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Louisiana’s humidity drop below 60%. While wood provides some of the most gorgeous scales, my climate makes it difficult to maintain wood.

I Chose a Straight Razor Made by Dovo

Once I weighed price, point, size, and material, I had my search narrowed down. I decided to go with the Dovo Pearlex. It has a faux mother of pearl scale, a 5/8” blade with a rounded point, and ran me about $160. 

Dovo Straight Razor

Let's Talk About the Shaving Kit

Shaving Bowl and Brush

The straight razor isn’t the only item you’ll need in your starter kit if you are trying to go low waste. You’ll want to replace that can of shaving cream with a shaving bowl, soap puck, and brush. I thrifted a Paul Revere style shaving bowl a few years before I had any idea I’d ever be using it for its intended purpose. Any small bowl will work, and they are a dime a dozen at thrift stores.

Boar Shaving Brush and Bowl

Shaving Soap

Finding the perfect soap was another challenge. I wanted something that was low waste and low chemicals. I have sensitive skin, so I try avoiding artificial fragrances at all cost. I stumbled upon Men’s Soap Company, and their product was a no-brainer. Their soaps are natural, ethically sourced, cruelty-free, and they are actively cutting back their packaging waste!

Lavender Shaving Soap

I’ve had my first puck for almost half a year, and I still have more than half the product left. Considering how long it’s lasting me, their price is well below the average canned shaving cream. I had a difficult time choosing between a boar brush and one with artificial bristles. I went with the boar bristles because I couldn’t find any quality brushes with artificial bristles that wouldn’t fall apart, and I didn’t want to have to purchase another brush down the road.

Oh, and Maintenance Kit

If you know anything about maintaining straight razors, you’ll notice I left out a few essentials in the starter kit: a strop and blade oils. I learned about these the hard way, so I’ll share my experience to save you the heartache. After about a month of using my blade with no strop, it dulled really quickly even though it was only shaving finer body hair. So, I ordered a honing stone. Honing is no easy task but neither is shaving with a straight razor. Long story short, I didn’t ruin anything, but I was left with a dull and unusable blade.

I humbled myself and accepted the fact that I can’t do it all. I scoured the internet for companies that provided honing services to fix my mistake and found Razor Emporium. A $30 honing service was worth restoring a razor I had already invested so much in. Along with restoration services, Razor Emporium sells leather razor strops made in the USA. At $75, this was another pricey purchase, but I knew it would save me costs in the long run.

A strop is a way to maintain, sharpen, and align your blade. It has been six months since I’ve sent my razor off to be honed and started utilizing my strop. The strop alone has kept my blade perfectly sharp, and I haven’t had to send it back for another honing. I predict that sending off my razor will only be a yearly expense.

Straight Razor Strop

Blade oils are used to coat the metal blade after each use to prevent it from rusting and tarnishing. Any blade oil should do the job if the blade is properly prepped. Spots will appear if the blade isn’t fully dried before oiling. I use Renaissance Wax Polish as an extra protectant when I don’t plan to use my blade for long periods. This wax is meant for protecting museum metals and not blades that will come into contact with skin, so I make sure to clean the wax off before shaving. If the humidity in your area is low and you properly dry and strop your razor before oiling, you may be able to skip the wax protectant.

Straight Razor Care Oil and Wax

The Methods to Straight Razor Shaving

As I’ve mentioned, shaving with a straight razor isn’t a quick or convenient task; it’s a slow and meditative practice. Like taking the time to get a morning workout in or schedule a manicure, we have to allot time to shave with a straight razor. Because the straight razor requires more time and precision, it isn’t a good idea to wait until the end of the day to shave. When my nighttime bath finally rolls around, I’m much too exhausted to fool with a deadly blade. I’ll either cut myself or not get the chore done altogether. So, I try to set aside time in the morning or before it gets too late. If the only time you can spare for yourself is at night, try shaving before you take your bath rather than after so that you aren’t too relaxed and distracted.

Creating Lather from Shaving Soap

Soap lathering is one of my least favorite steps of the process because I have by no means mastered it. I’ve experimented with a few different ways to create lather. The easiest and quickest way is to place the soap in a shaving bowl, wet your brush and circle it in the soap until it begins to lather. You can wet your brush again if the lather is too thick or continue pulling in more soap with your bristles if the lather is too thin. This is the method I typically use because it is quick and simple, but you don’t always get a perfect lather. Thin lather isn’t an issue for me because my leg hair is quite fine.

There is a second method if you’re looking to achieve that perfect lather every time. I was given this tip by Men’s Soap Company. You’ll want to cut off a piece of the soap puck and melt it in a microwave-safe bowl. Then you can begin creating lather with your damp brush the same way you would with solid soap. This method requires a few more steps, but I get a photo worthy lather each time. There is no right or wrong way to create lather. Practice and experiment to find what works best for you.

Shaving with a Straight Razor

Once I’ve prepped everything to shave, I fill my tub with about four inches of water. This allows me enough water to rinse my blade without risking nicking it on the bottom of the tub but not have my legs fully submerged. I start at my ankles and lather my legs in sections so that the lather doesn’t get washed off. You’ll want to open the razor wide so that the spine of the blade and back of the scale make a ninety-degree angle, and you can hold the blade by its tang and tail. I like to pull my skin so that the blade has a smooth, taut surface to glide over. The blade should meet your leg at a thirty-degree angle to get a close shave without slicing through the skin.

I continue this method for each section of my leg and rinse my blade between every few passes so that I can see where the blade meets my skin. I apply slightly less pressure around my shins, and I move the skin over my knees to avoid shaving over bones. Don’t go too fast, but don’t be afraid to get in there either! I cut myself way less with my straight razor than with a traditional disposable razor because I am much more intentional while shaving now.

Once you get the hang of things and build your confidence it will become a relaxing activity rather than a chore. The second best advice I have to offer is YouTube. Watching tutorials and being able to visualize how the process is done made me more confident during my first shave.

Straight Razor Care

The best part about using a straight razor is stropping. Hands down. It’s the most meditative part.

To strop, you’ll open your razor and hold it on its pivot point almost like you would a pencil and pass it up and down the strop at a thirty-degree angle with the spine leading. Rotate the blade on its spine when you reach the end of each pass to avoid nicking the blade. Your strop should have enough slack so that your blade makes a nice wispy sound. My strop has leather on one side and canvas on the other.

Straight Razor Stropping

Once I’m finished shaving, I dry my razor off with a towel as best I can then I pass it on the canvas strop about 25 times to take off any residue and moisture. The canvas side is rougher than the leather side, so it is great for cleaning and prepping the blade to be stropped on the leather side. I flip my strop to the leather side and pass it around 50 times. After my blade has been properly stropped, I coat all the metal with blade oil and store her away!

My Final Thoughts

Straight razor shaving is much easier than people think, so don’t let anyone scare you into believing you aren’t capable. I had quite a few grown men trying to scare me out of attempting the straight razor. In their defense, maybe it is more difficult to shave thick facial hair around tiny crevices and jawbones. However, 100% of the people who advised against it had never even tried it for their selves. If your mind is set on doing it, you will be successful. It’s also okay to take baby steps. If you aren’t comfortable with going cold turkey, use both a straight razor and your old disposable razor until your confidence grows to those hard to reach places. The straight razor is a process from start to finish. You can’t just rip out your razor and get your shaving over with, but you will get a better shave, eliminate razor bumps, help save the environment, and look like a warrior goddess while doing it. Good luck and happy shaving!  

About Tomi Milstead

Tomi Milstead is a freelance writer and editor. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in Literary Studies. Her aim is to diminish the stigma of feminism that was partially generated by “feminazis” and to empower both men and women in their unique individuality.

Tomi Milstead Bio Picture