Shaving Science: Tech Digest visits Gillette's R+D centre

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High Speed filming.jpgEvery 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.

Rapid-prototyping-facility.jpg3D Motion Capture

We’re here at Gillette’s Research and Development centre in Reading where about 120 people are responsible for bringing us the technology (and there is quite a lot of it) that goes into 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 that can make prototype razors out
of polymers (ie. plastic) for testing and which one day may be sophisticated enough to
produce the razors themselves.

Jelly face

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 their high cost, 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, as Gillette points out, 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. 

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 several types of gels and balms.  As well as the
sensitive skin shave gel there’s also Sensitive Balm and Moisturiser. 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).

gillette silver light.jpgAlthough 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 though of course the blades aren’t cheap. There is also 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 without leaving me with a sore face every time I shave.

shinychris

2 comments

  • If you want a comfortable, close shave, try using a safety razor and double edge blades. They give me far better shaves than the Fusion ever did, and the blades cost around one-tenth the price of Fusion cartridges. The Merkur and Edwin Jagger razors are particularly good. Mantic59’s videos on YouTube and Sharpologist blog are a great place to learn more, as are The Shave Den and Shave Nook forums.

  • If you want a comfortable, close shave, try using a safety razor and double edge blades. They give me far better shaves than the Fusion ever did, and the blades cost around one-tenth the price of Fusion cartridges. The Merkur and Edwin Jagger razors are particularly good. Mantic59's videos on YouTube and Sharpologist blog are a great place to learn more, as are The Shave Den and Shave Nook forums.

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