An eco-friendly shave

First published April 2009, last updated January 2013

Shaving is one of those personal care issues that we can probably all green a little more. I’m writing this from a guy’s perspective, but I’m sure some of this applies to the ladies as well :)

Back in my late teens, I used disposable razors until I was given a hand- me- down electric razor from my father. It served him for years and then me for a couple more. It was great in that I wasn’t dumping so much shaving related waste (but there’s the electricity consumption of course). However, each time I buy an electric razor since that original hand-me-down, the time span before buying yet another new one seemed to be getting shorter.

My next shaver lasted me several years before it required a new head. Then cheaper cordless/rechargeable ones started hitting the market and it’s been a downhill run ever since.

Even some of the more expensive and well known brand names I’ve bought seem to be rapidly degrading in quality. Granted, I’ve never bought one of the $300 – $500 models, but given my experiences to date, there is nothing that leads me to believe they’ll be worth the money, or the waste.

What I find rather disgusting is that the cost to replace the head or battery on an electric razor can be comparable to buying a whole new shaver – so what do many people do? Dump the 1 – 2 year old shaver and buy a new one. I’ve been guilty of this myself. A head and screen for my last razor was going to cost $60 and the battery was starting to go as well, so I simply bought a $150 shaver that was marked down 50%..

Even that electric razor didn’t last. It was a well known brand, but one of the cutter bars somehow fell off and I couldn’t find a replacement part. This is by no mistake or oversight, it’s called planned obsolescence.

So after over a decade of electric razors, it was back to blade shaving for me, but that presented other challenges.

Disposable razors

The disposable plastic handled razors are still ultra-cheap, but create a lot of waste – even if you can squeeze a number of uses out of them. 2 billion disposable razors are purchased annually in the USA.

There are also many replaceable head brands, but what happens with those is that after X period, the blades can be discontinued.

Extending disposable razor life

You don’t *have to* throw out a disposable razor after the first use. There’s no law against using it until it no longer serves its purpose. To extend their life, as a disposable razor blade rusts quite rapidly and it’s this corrosion that speeds up the dulling process, you can slow the degradation down by rinsing the razor after use, flicking off the excess water and then placing it in a container of olive oil.

What about shaving cream?

This is another scary area and one we don’t have to deal with when using an electric shaver. I tried making do with vegetable soap and water in my latest blade razor ventures, but it was pretty rough going and time consuming. For guys that have thick facial hair or rapid growth rates, it would be even tougher (actually, impossible); so shaving cream is the obvious answer.

But have you seen what’s in canned shaving cream? Here’s an example list of ingredients from a well known brand:

Palmitic Acid
Stearic Acid
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
Sodium benzoate
Lauryl alcohol
Stearyl alcohol
Irish moss
Dimethicone PEG/PPG-20/23 benzoate
DMDM Hydantoin
PPG-1-PEG-9 Lauryl Glycol ether
PEG-40 Hydrogenated castor oil
Iodopropynyl butylcarbamate

That’s just frightening – some of those ingredients such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate are particularly nasty in an aquatic environment and given most of us shave over the sink, waterways are where all this gunk ends up.

A more natural shaving lather

So how the heck did our forefathers achieve a comfortable and effective shave? With a soap bar and bristle brush for lathering. The soaps used back then were quite environmentally friendly, consisting primarily of vegetable oil. If you type the following into google:

natural shaving soap

.. you’ll find it’s not all that hard to source and is quite reasonably priced. If you are more adventurous, try searching on

shaving soap recipe

… and make your own :).

Another option is extra virgin olive oil. I recently began trialing this and while it’s not as comfortable as using a shaving cream, it certainly works – although I wouldn’t like to leave it too long between shaves. All you need to do is to dampen your face, apply a small amount of olive oil, rub it in and then hook in (carefully) with your razor. When done and after washing your face, it may feel a little greasy; but that sensation disappears within minutes. The olive oil will also act as a moisturizer.

Shaving brushes

Shaving brushes pose a bit of a challenge as well.

The best quality shaving brushes are said to be made from badger hair – and that hair isn’t obtained through the badger having a hair cut unfortunately. As badgers are a protected species in North America and most of Europe, most badger hair comes from China where in some places they are considered a nuisance. Boar hair or horse hair is also used in some brushes.

If you’re concerned with animal welfare issues; the only option might be a nylon bristle brush – which is plastic; so it’s a case of being caught between a rock and hard place, but a good brush should last many years.

While taking a more earth friendly approach to shaving certainly won’t save the planet on its own, it’s one of the many small things we do that in total do make a positive difference and slightly reduce our impact.