Every morning dozens of men visit the Gillette Research and Development Labs in Reading just to shave. There they are watched by scientists through two way mirrors in little booths to see how exactly how they perform the act.
“Everyone is different,” explains Troy Nimrick, Director, Gillette, Global Blades and Razors R+D . “Some take just around 100 brush strokes and are finished in a couple of minutes, others take over 700 brush strokes and are shaving for over 20 minutes.”
Everything about the way these men shave is measured from the pressure they apply when holding a razor (anywhere from 100 grammes to 1Kg) to the angle of the blade as it comes across their face. Apparently, some men even drag the razor across their lips when shaving which, considering it is many times sharper than a scalpel, shows a little too much faith in the product for my liking.
“It’s just as well everyone is different, otherwise they wouldn’t need us,” jokes Troy before taking a group of journalists from all over Europe off to the labs where around 120 people are responsible for bringing us the latest cutting edge technologies (get it?).
3D Motion Capture
Unfortunately we’re banned from using mobile phones and digital cameras on the premises (they say it’s because of fears of chemical combustion but I notice staff members have their own mobiles so can only assume they are paranoid we are going to run off and sell their industrial secrets to Remington or Bic). So instead it’s back to the good old days of notebook and pen! Nevertheless it’s a surprisingly interesting day – who would have thought that so much could go into producing the humble razor?
Included is a visit to a 3D Motion Capture department where users are fitted with sensors on their skin like those used for special effects in movies or video games to see how they move their arm when they shave, how they hold the razor and how they move it across their face.
The results are then plotted on a computer screen, analysed and shared with other departments including design to ensure the optimum shaped razor is produced for all types of users. There’s even a 3D printing department (see image left) that can make prototype razors out of polymers for testing and which one day may be sophisticated enough to produce the razors themselves.
While the adverts tend to show hi-tech graphics where the blade chops through straight hairs like a woodcutter ploughing through a dense, flat forest of trees at high speed, the reality of shaving is actually very different and a lot more gruesome. Using advanced filming techniques at 30,000 frames per second (compared to 25 frames for standard film and TV), Gillette is able to see exactly how the blade interacts with the skin.
“It’s a bit like trying to cut copper wire in jello (jelly),” explains Gillette’s Troy Nimrick. Hairs, which are very tough, grow out of the skin at all sorts of strange angles and even when the first blade tries to cut through them the chances are it won’t take them out completely. Wetting the skin prior to shaving is essential because it makes the hair a lot less brittle and easier to cut through but it’s still clear that multiple blades are better than one.
Whether that means you need to have five blades is another matter. Gillette introduced its first five blade razor, the Gillette Fusion, back in 2005. And while some cynics at the time were critical of the need for five blades, and the high cost of the blades, Gillette insists the solution was technologically far superior than its predecessors.
“We only ever introduce products where our research shows that twice as many people like the new design more than the old,” insists Troy Nimrick. Interestingly, Gillette points out that the patent for the first five blade razor was actually filed by Italian Mino Pelizzola back in 1929, but it has taken this long for the technology to catch up with the concept – in particular the ability to produce multiple blades in a single device which are close enough together for an optimum cut (apparently just 1.05mm between the blades).
Style and sensitivity
Though Gillette remains tight lipped on what’s next for the humble razor it’s clear that products which style facial hair – as well as other hairs on the body – are one key area of development. Launched last year in time for prostate cancer fundraiser, Movember, the Gillette Fusion ProGlide Style was developed in conjunction with Braun Technologies and is a powered razor designed to capitalise on the trend for more sculpted facial hair (as opposed to the old straggly beard look).
Another important focus for Gillette is sensitive skinned men. Once seen as something only women suffered from (or at least admitted to), sensitive skin is clearly a massive problem for men too.
Approximately 70 per cent of men wet shave on a regular basis with 52 per cent admitting to doing so less often as a result of having problems with sensitive skin. While perhaps not surprisingly Australia has the lowest number of men ‘admitting’ to sensitive skin (around 50 per cent) this figure rises to around 60 per cent for men in the UK, over 70 per cent of men in Russia, Poland and Spain and over 80 per cent of Italian men. Environmental factors such as UV, wind and cold are seen are seen as the major contributing factors as is stress.
Gillette Fusion Silver Touch
As a sufferer of sensitive skin myself I thought I’d try Gillette’s latest solution to the problem: a Gillette Fusion ProGlide Silver Touch razor. I was also supplied with more tubs of cream than the wife has around the side of the bath – and that’s a lot. As well as the sensitive skin shave gel there’s also Sensitive Balm and Moisturiser (though I must admit I couldn’t bring myself to use the Moisturiser because it just sounds, well, too girly to me). What’s really good about the razor, apart from that it’s much easier to get out the box than previous Fusion Razors that I’ve used thanks to recycled packaging, is that it is powered with a single Duracell AA battery (included).
Although I think wet-shave razors give you a much cleaner shave than electric shavers, I’ve always been a bit wary of them thinking they are going to scrape half my face off. Which is why I tend to shave infrequently, usually only a couple of times a week at the most. To me the Fusion Silver Touch seems like a good solution to the problem. It has the five blades of the Gillette Fusion (actually six if you count the one on the back which you can use for your nasal hair – I only just found that out). But because it’s powered you don’t have to press so hard on your face to shave the hairs off. It’s a bit like the difference between a standard toothbrush and a decent electric tooth brush. And what’s more at around £10-£15 it’s not much more in price than a standard non-powered razor (there is a manual version of the same razor for those who don’t like the electrical noise/feel).
I have to say I was pretty impressed. I thought the manual Fusion was a good razor when it came out a few years ago, but always a little rough on my skin especially when tackling a few days growth. In contrast, the Silver Touch seemed to chop through a week’s growth in an instant and didn’t feel rough at all. I didn’t even have to hold the razor that hard for it to work well. I still can’t imagine shaving every day – it’s such a chore and blades are so expensive- but at least I’ve found a razor that works really well and doesn’t leave me feeling like a Ronnie red face!