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Anyway you slice it, doesn't a six-blade razor feel excessive?

By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 24, 2010; C01

It has come to our attention that ShaveMate, in its efforts to break into a stubble market dominated by Schick and Gillette, has recently introduced the ShaveMate Titan 6, which has six blades. Six.

We set out to find out why.

"It's not just the blades," says Lou Tomassetti who, along with his brother Peter, invented the Titan. "It's really everything you need in one." The Titan, he explains, also comes with shaving cream in the handle and a moisture strip.

"If you go out and try to buy equipment for shaving today," Lou continues, "it's very complicated."

"You might have to buy batteries," Peter adds.

"ShaveMate is really a lifestyle change" from all that, Lou says. "It's a shaving revolution."

Lou and Peter, it must be noted, call themselves the Inventor Brothers. In addition to razors, they specialize in a wide variety of horns, such as the Dog Horn Training Tool/Attack Deterrent.

But why stop at six? Why not eight? Why not go Spinal Tap, to 11? Why not invent a 49-blade mask that clips onto your face and vibrates the hair away? Why not cut to the chase already, Tomassetti brothers, and debut Titan 7?

"It's funny you should say that," says Lou, "but we think we hit the sweet spot."

We blame Gillette.

It was Gillette that first introduced the disposable-blade safety razor, back in 1904, replacing the straight-edge razor long favored by barbershops. It was Gillette that added a second blade in 1971, and that, in 1998, introduced the three-blade "Mach3" which, in ads, equated shaving with driving really fast cars through deserts.

Naturally, there were parodies. On "Saturday Night Live," Will Ferrell hawked the Platinum Mach14; "MadTV" advertised a Mach20: "The eighth blade sends an electronic pulse, which destroys the part of the brain responsible for hair growth!"

Clearly, however, these parodies only served as inspiration, as Gillette debuted its five-blade Fusion series just a few years later. Are you happy now, Will Ferrell? Are you happy?

Let us call up Gillette and ask them to explain this madness.

"It's a scientific approach called 'progressive geometry,' " says Damon Jones of Gillette. "It's scientifically proven that multiple blades" will cut closer than just one. Shaving with a three-bladed razor is equivalent to shaving three times with a single blade -- but, Jones says, even smoother.

"We use technology that's used in the semiconductor industry and the automotive industry to get the spacing just right between blades," he says. (Note: Maybe this is why the Mach ads featured cars?) "We're talking microns," Jones says. "It's a very deep technical science."

Gillette, by the way, recently upgraded the Fusion razor to the Fusion ProGlide. "Turns shaving into gliding," the slogan says, as if the product were primarily used by ice dancers. (FYI, Dorco has been selling a six-blade razor since 2008. Crafty South Koreans.)

"I really think they peaked at three," sighs Mark Sproston, a.k.a. the Shave Doctor, who leads shaving seminars in England and who has surveyed approximately 14,000 men on their shaving habits. "But manufacturers have realized that the blade market could be worth much more than the razor market." The Fusion razor, for example, costs $10 at CVS, but four replacement blades run $16.

Manufacturers have thus taken to fiddling with the razor head instead of the handle. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, which places razors in the same category as miter saws, scissors, kitchen utensils and other "cutting tools," receives a handful of applications every year from aspiring razor inventors: Aromatherapy razor heads. Fluid-dispensing razor heads. "Razor Cartridge with Skin Engaging Member," reads the description for patent No. 20100122464. All of it made possible by a society that dictates that men's faces should resemble babies' butts.

But that sleekness, Sproston says, is not necessarily achieved through a Mach5 or even a Mach5,000. He likes the Mach3 but prefers to shave clients with a single-blade razor, which he says is the best combination of closeness and non-irritation.

In his shaving surveys, the majority of his participants respond that they have sensitive skin. But when Sproston observes his clients as they shave, he discovers that the actual number is closer to a piddling 8 percent. What they have is not sensitive skin, but sensitized skin -- irritation brought on by bad habits and bad razors, by a relentless scraping that can, in untrained hands, resemble skin grafting more than shaving.

"Men tend not to discuss their shaving habits and issues," he says, profoundly concerned. "I wouldn't say to my friends at the bar, 'What was your shaving experience like tonight? Mine was rather painful.' "

Go ahead, men. Let it all out.

"It's a lot of trauma," those mega-blade razors, says Michael Gilman, co-founder of the Grooming Lounge, a Washington men's spa. "Not to mention, some of the bigger blades, you can't manipulate as well. If you see those guys walking around clean-shaven but with four random hairs around their noses or lips," you can likely blame some beastly Zeus-size razor.

As for Gilman, he prefers a three-blade razor, reserving the more extreme ones for "guys who have faces of steel."

As for us, we took home a ShaveMate Diva -- the women's version of the Titan, also with six blades (and pink) -- and shaved our legs. Seemed to work fine. Couple of days later, the hair was back, same as usual.

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