Given that these were relatively crude devices that were fed from early mains electricity, it’s no surprise that the first razors were only meant for dry shaving. Even today in the 21st century we still haven’t made electric devices universally waterproof.
Wet shaves are, however, generally superior, and if the electric razor was going to really compete with the venerable straight razor or even cheap safety razors, it was going to have to provide the option of a wet shave. Unbelievably, it took until the early 2000s before waterproofing was ready for the mass market.
So today we have razors that can be rinsed and used with shaving creams and gels. For a large part of the electric razor’s history, however, you had to make do with special moisturizers that helped the skin deal with this new way of shaving that lifted and cut hairs.
Free as a Bird
Today most electric shavers are cordless, battery-operated devices. This seems like such an obvious feature that it is hard to imagine that in the beginning the only option you would have was a corded model.
We first started seeing battery-powered razors in the 1950s, but of course the technology was awful at the time. They only started becoming usable and popular in the 1960s.
Remington was still at the forefront when it came to these developments. They not only brought battery power to razors, but rechargeable batteries. Even today, disposable batteries quickly become unaffordable, so making them rechargeable early-on was a revolution of sorts.
In general, battery power solved the main drawback of electric razors in that they were not portable. If you traveled at all they weren’t really an option, but batteries made it possible for businessmen and other frequent travelers to keep a clean shave wherever they went without having to pack a whole bathroom.
Until only recently, battery power has still been a bit of a pain. The way it all worked meant that the voltage would drop over time and as the battery depleted the razor would become slower and weaker. Modern batteries don’t make the blades slow down until they are empty, maintaining the voltage until the end.
In the late 1960s rotary shavers got a kick in the pants with the introduction of a third rotary head. Until that point rotary shavers only had two heads. Today the triple-head design is iconic and the two-head shavers are the outliers. It’s mostly travel shavers that still use this design, because it is more compact.
The triple head design would become even better in the early 90s when better technology allowed for a flexible head that would follow the curve of the skin. This helped rotary shavers catch up to the closeness that was possible using a foil shaver, which was at the time better at following the contours of the skin. Of course, floating heads are now common for both types of razor.
Today electric razors are affordable, convenient, easy on the skin, and rival manual razors in the closeness of the shave, getting down to as little as 0.5mm. The future is anyone’s guess, but maybe it will involve lasers or something.