Why Are Razors So Darn Expensive?

Because shaving is a science.

Gillette's tktk in Fort Point/South Boston. Photo by Melissa Malamut

Razors are made here. Gillette’s Plant in South Boston. Photo by Melissa Malamut

Why are razors so expensive? Because shaving is a science.

There are more than 150 scientists with PhDs in topics like physics, materials science, and engineering in Reading, UK, that are watching people shave. Right now. Seriously, they are sitting behind a two-way mirror in a lab watching more than 80 people a day (locals, friends, employees) shave. The scientists are studying how much pressure people apply when shaving, how they hold the handle, and exactly how the razor moves in their hands. And all of this studying costs money. People with PhDs don’t work cheap (I assume).

Dr. Kristina Vanoosthuyze, a principal scientist at the Gillette Innovation Centre in Reading, has worked for both Olay and Gillette on skin care sciences and is an inventor on 20 published patent applications for various skin care technologies. She says that watching people shave is a very important part of the innovation process. “We know that no two men or women shave in the exact same way. There are guys that take 30 strokes and some take 700 strokes,” she says. “Some people take 30 seconds, some take 30 minutes.”

The amount of pressure people apply differs, and the skin and hair characteristics between people are also different, Vanoosthuyze says. There are also differences between cheek and neck skin, underarm skin and leg skin, and leg and bikini skin, and all of this must be taken into account when designing razors.

The razor section at CVS is not small. Photo by Melissa Malamut

The razor section at CVS is not small. Photo by Melissa Malamut

The South Boston Gillette campus was built in 1905 across Fort Point Channel from Downtown Boston. It consists of 24-interconnected buildings, and in 2005, thanks to a $200 million investment from Procter & Gamble, which is Gillette’s parent company, there’s new office space, a brand new lobby area, and an employee fitness facility. The plant, known as the Gillette World Shaving Headquarters, is 33-acres and currently makes a lot of Gillette’s most popular products like the Fusion ProGlide. Razors like the ProGlide take years of study before a prototype is made and tested.

“The complexity, length of time, and the cost of the [research and development] process is what factors into cost,” Vanoosthuyze says. “It looks so simple and so intuitive, yet it is so complex in its design and development process. The small details and dimensions go far beyond what the naked eye can see. For the ProGlide, to give you an idea of the scale of consumer testing that we do, 30,000 guys were involved in testing the innovation process,” she says.

So let’s do the math. In the photo above, a women’s package of razors costs $18.79 for five cartridges. If each cartridge lasts about a week, that comes out to about 54 cents a shave. Seems pricey, but what exactly goes into making a razor? Those stainless steel blades that you see are only a small part of the final product.

Vanoosthuyze says that the stainless steel blades alone are not strong enough to cut beard hair, so coatings of diamond-like carbon are applied to each blade for added strength and then a lubricating polymer layer is applied for comfort and a smoother glide along the skin. In all, four layers of complex coatings are applied to each blade.

Five years ago, three blades was all the rage, then it was four, and now, five. Are five blades really necessary? Do they do the same job as three? Vanoosthuyze says that more blades means a better shave. She also says that the blades are incredibly thin and that is on purpose for a closer shave. “More blades translates to better closeness and better comfort,” she says.

The price of razors for men and women are both high, but women’s razors seem to be more expensive. But Vanoosthuyze says that this is because men and women shave differently. “[For women’s razors] the elastomer materials in the grip points, finger rests, and how women hold the razor are different and more comprehensive,” she says. “It’s important to make the razor ergonomic to use, because women typically shave in a fairly wet environment. And for women, shaving can be like acrobatics, trying to get the ankles, back of the legs, knees, etc. We want the handle to have good control so she can move it around in her hands.”

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  • Theresa Marie

    I have been dying to learn the answer to this gruelling question. Thank you , thank you, thank you.

  • Steve Niemyer

    I call bs. I can buy 100 double edge razor blades for less than 30 bucks that are made by Gillette and shave closer than the mach III. Look at all the money Gillette spends on athlete endorsements like Tiger Woods and Roger Federer that is why Mach III razors cost so much.

  • Name

    I would buy all that crapola, but I don’t. I’ve been shaving for over 30 years. I’ve had nearly every razor made by Gillette up through the Mach III Turbo, until I switched to a Schick Quattro a couple years ago to save a few cents on cartridges, and as long as a model is new to the market, the blades are sharp and the shave is just fine and dandy. But when the companies want to introduce a newer, more high priced model, for some reason a new pack of blades for the older model just doesn’t cut as well as they used to. I started noticing this pattern 20 years ago. I think they purposely make blades less sharp when they want to introduce something with a higher price tag. And all this about people shaving differently with different angles, etc.? When I switched from the Gillette to the Schick, I immediately noticed that the angle was different and I had to adjust my technique. Guess what? I did just fine and I get just as close a shave. Plus, I recently tried the disposable version of the same Schick razor. Why is it the disposable versions of the SAME RAZOR cost 30 to 40% less than just the replacement cartridges? Exactly same razor, except the disposable ones come complete with a handle yet cost much less.

  • David R

    The best shave I ever had was at a barbershop, they used an old fashioned single blade sharpened on a strap. Was my closest shave ever. So much for all that technology crap.

  • LocalCitizen

    Of course you would say their price is reasonable they are a local company of yours.

  • bill t.

    Okay so “Dr. Vanoosthyze” is apparently a pharmacist graduate of a University in Belgium. Her field of study was residues of illegal drugs in animal breeding. Don’t ask. As spokeswoman for Gillette though I’ve never heard such a line of BS in all my life. Of course that’s probably why she got the job. 150 “Scientists” watching 80 people somewhere in England right as I type this. Really? Been doing that ever since product roll out? Wow, how impressive. 4 layers of coating on a blade that’s so thin it wouldn’t cut without it? Sounds like they’re spending money on something cheaper than metal product. After all it’s big buisness. The biggest problem is called “monopoly” with Schick and Gillette the only players. Surprised China hasn’t jumped in yet. But they’re probably too busy making real money charging reasonable prices.

  • Leonardo Flores

    Here’s another good question: Who is the scientist that watches women shave their vayjays?

    • Juan Outtamany

      Dr Muffy McSnatch

  • Phil

    It’s all BS, scientists my arse!

    Even if the initial research cost a lot, human evolution isn’t changing so fast that you need to constantly do new research – human skin, human hair, shaving habits, etc.. don’t continuously mutate to something new each year.

    The ridiculous cost of razors should have more than recouped the initial costs of researching human physiology and grooming behaviour years ago. So why does the cost of razors keep going up and up every year?

  • geofflivingston

    How about that NFL sponsorship and Clay Matthews?

  • Jeff Dowdy

    Check out a company called “Dorco”. Excellent blades at reasonable prices. I’m a customer. Very tired of the gillette prices.

  • Broman1

    I STRONGLY suspect collusion on price and product by Schick and Gillette. About 15 years ago, one of them began to sell a up-priced “diamond” coated version. I paid the premium price, and was amazed to discover not that they cut any better (the pitch) but rather that they stayed sharp a VERY long time. Like, two months; for each cassette! I loved them. So, did the other company have to start also offering a similar product to stay in the game?? No! In 6 months, neither company had diamond-coated blades for sale, at any price. Why? Because profit margins on long-lasting blades suck compared to the short-lasting uncoated versions. Neither Gillette or Schick wants to compete at the low margin, so just privately agree not to make such a product. They make products that (they claim) give a cleaner or faster shave. They don’t try to make a product that lasts longer.

    Harry’s: make a LONG LASTING blade!!! Not a cheaper one.

    It is likely that the diamond coating provided a sharp cutting edge that was impervious to corrosion at the edge. Contrary to what the company spokesmen dwell on (coarse hair, thin blade), Corrosion is the main cause of dulling with normal use. (you can get current blades to last 2-3 times longer simply by drying them aggressively after each use.)

    • Jeremiah

      You are a smart thinker. Corrosion and left over water residue on the blade is the enemy. Wash them thoroughly, I mean thoroughly and shake them of any left water residue, Then blow on the blades a couple of times to “air dry” them. I have been using a Gilette 5-blade cartridge for over a year. Yup, the one same blade because I take care of corrosion and water residue. After one year it is “Almost” as sharp as new. Psssst, don’t tell Gillette or Shick about this secret, they never tell you how to clean the blades, only to buy new ones. Shhhhh secret !!

  • Alice

    We’re a shaving company called Dorco, and we think everyone should be able to afford high quality razors. Check out our prices and read our customer reviews for yourself at DorcoUSA.com. Don’t be a victim of the Great Shaving Ripoff any longer, and Demand More for Less!

    • 848484

      APPEARS EACH REFILL IS JUST A LITTLE LESS THAN $5. IF I’M WRONG, PLEASE SET ME STRAIGHT.

      • Saad Ahmad

        One refill of gillette proglide = $4.92
        One refill of dorco pace 6 + = $1.93

        Price difference is pretty clear I say.

  • Bill

    So people managed to shave with reasonably priced razors for decades, but now we need people with phds to watch? They don’t accomplish anything but driving the prices up. I was able to shave NO PROBLEM when prices were reasonable.

    • Saad Ahmad

      Apparently the shaving companies and the article writers believe that we have an IQ of 2 year old.

  • Pat McBride

    I’ve tried the fancy new ones when they are on sale, but I refuse to pay for the refills so I buy the older design instead.
    Did that figure into your expensive research?

  • Steve Stone

    So why can Persona sell 5 blade cartridges under the name of Magnum 5 for 75 cents at Costco?

  • Bill Brown

    Straight razor the way to go.

    • Delilah East

      Very difficult to shave my legs with a straight razor, not to mention the other lady bits.

      • MerleApAmber

        @Delilah East consider safety razor then. There are some with larger handles which help grip and control. The design helps control how much blade and the angle which it meets the hair. And, just like straight razor, you can use old fashioned shaving soaps to create lubrication and lift the hair to be cut. (I’m only a few months in after being an avowed electric shaver for 20 of the last 40 years needing to shave… it’s been a revelation.)

      • agnostic7

        uhh…could leave your lady bits alone. Nothing wrong with looking womanly over a kindergartner.

        • william Shimmin

          Sure she could, but is soooo much more sensual during sex…for both

      • Saad Ahmad

        Use wilkinson sword classic safety razor or feather popular safety razor. These both razors are very mild and skin friendly. Provided that you shave right.

  • Lawrence HardWood Brown

    BEST WAY TO DISAPROVE IS TO BUY FROM A DIFFERENT SOURCE I WAS LOOKING FOR THE ANSWER AND FOUND IT.
    POST TO FACE BOOK OR TWITTER

  • 848484

    I HAVE TWO WILKINSON SWORD RAZORS AND CAN FIND NO REFILLS.

  • TopShelf Razors

    The solution in Canada is The TopShelf Razor Company. I was completely fed up with overpaying and decided to do something about it. TopShelf Razors provides weighted alloy handles with 3 & 5 blade options for a smooth quality shave at a reasonable price. Free home delivery anywhere in Canada and a money back guarantee has been a huge challenge to accomplish but its available now at http://topshelfrazors.com

  • Fivish

    The genuine blades are made in China for pennies. They charge what the market will bear. Its pretty much a duopoly. Cheaper blades are counterfeit also from China and are rubbish. The OFT should look into the pricing as its clearly rigged.

  • Ferdinand

    The cost a lot simply because people are willing to pay it….I just bought knock off blades for $4 for a 10 pack. Razor/blade companies are ridiculous.

    • Lucky_Da_Doggie

      where? 😀

  • rufedup2

    There’s a reason the stadium in Foxboro is called Gillette stadium. The company is a robber baron — squeezing every last cent out of a market with limited competition. American capitalism at it’s worst.

  • steve

    I’m not here to support a bunch of Phd research analysts in order to buy something as stupid and disposable as razor blades. The only razor I have ever found to comfortable and give me a great shave is the Gillette Atra and that has been on the market so long that research and development should have been long gone paid for, so why am I having to pay $20 for 10 blades? Thats rediculous. Those razors with 3, 4, and 5 blades are impossible for me to use because you have to be so careful or you cut your face up easily. Those razors do not beat out the Gillette Atra at all. Why not tell us the real reason those blade refill cartridges are so expensive – damned GREED.

  • william Shimmin

    What a crock. These razor blade manufactures are trying to push the idea they have the same R&D overhead pharmaceutical companies do, and therefore have to rip people off? Are you serious?

  • Leonard Ledoux

    R&Dd may be high, however, what seems to miss the story is that once the process is defined it runs seamlessly for 7-24, mostly automated for obvious reasons. Of course the manufacturer also stops producing the last greatest innovation to focus on the newest. Were the old two or three blade option still available the development costs would be wiped out long ago and the resultant product could be sold for far less and still make a handsome profit. Obviously not as handsome as the new product at the higher price. No, the BIC razor doesn’t work as well or last as long and the ergonomics of the handle suck plain and simple. The old injector razor worked quite well, find one of those or blades. I shave everyday and I can get a month out of a Gillette Sensor. I think the key to stretching the life of the blade is a good hot water rinse, shake as much water off of it as possible and then press the blade into a facial tissue to remove the last of the water. That and soaking the beard in hot water first. To avoid razor rash, rinse the blade with hot water and then wet it with cold water before applying to face. Putting a hot blade against your skin just irritates it.

  • Saad Ahmad

    Simple question, would you pay a taxi to pick you from your spot, drop you at another place 50 meters away and charge you $16? I am pretty sure everyone would call it a rip off and absurd. In fact most will say, I can easily walk on my legs and get to that place in no time. So why pay for such an absurd luxury? Same is the case with shaving. Instead of learning shaving(walking on your own legs) with one of the most basic tool (the safety razor), people are ready to pay up $16 (using taxi) which only is going to help you “get rid” of your hair (luxury you don’t really need). I may sound harsh to cartridge users out there, but if you can’t learn to shave with a simple safety razor and take matters in your own hand then you are not respecting your hard earned money and deserved to be ripped off by fancy brand luxuries.

  • Lucius Dark

    SImple fact is that it’s a monopoly. Hard to get the materials, hard to get shelf space, all razors are produced by just two companies.