TRIED & TESTED / For Bare-faced Cheeks: Which razor is the smoothest and safest? Our panel take on the stubble-shooters

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King C Gillette invented the safety razor in 1895. Then came the throwaway plastic disposable. Today the 'shaving system' - the razor with replacement cartridges which removes the need ever to touch a blade - rules. If you're a wet shaver, the chances are that your razor was made by either Wilkinson Sword or Gillette, which between them account for the majority of razors sold in the UK.

We asked a panel of shavers to put four of the rival razors to the test - two from each company - plus a traditional razor (with screw-in blades) and a basic Bic disposable. Our panellists are all people for whom going to work with a plaster on the chin would be tantamount to professional suicide - so which did they choose? Read on to find out which really is the best a man can get.

THE PANEL

Yvette, drag hostess at the London club Res-erection; Paul-Scott Godfrey, model with the Storm agency; Kieran de Lange, restaurant manager of the Blueprint Cafe at the Design Museum, London; Michael Wilson, presenter on GMTV; Ian Bergin, retail co-ordinator of Paul Smith menswear shops.

THE TEST

The panel marked each razor out of 10 for closeness and smoothness of shave, how safe it felt, how easy to handle, and value for money. Scores were converted into a best- buy star rating.

BIC DISPOSABLE RAZOR FOR SENSITIVE SKIN

84p for 10 razors

In this case, cheap really did mean nasty. Testers rated it poorly all round and, surprisingly in view of its low price, not even particularly good value.

'This razor is hopeless,' said Paul-Scott Godfrey. 'It's difficult to control and about as safe as a chocolate fireguard. Advantages? Er, none.'

A Bic shave wouldn't do much for Yvette's image: 'With a Bic

every day I'd end up with a skin resembling an assault course.'

Michael Wilson commented: 'Took six minutes to shave properly, which is too long. I thought television was a cut-throat business until I tried this.' Ian Bergin cautioned against being tempted by its price: 'When you finish, your face looks like a battlefield. Razor burn, pink blotches, cuts - a bloody awful shave.'

*WILKINSON SWORD CLASSIC

pounds 2.99, includes five blades

The traditional razor your father or grandfather might have used and, to judge by our panel's reaction, one piece of nostalgia not likely to enjoy a revival. Panellists thought the razor with its naked blade looked more dangerous than modern razors.

'The old-style blade does not inspire confidence,' said Kieran de Lange. 'Dodgy]' commented Paul-Scott Godfrey. 'How I avoided ending up in casualty I don't know.' The razor brought back bad memories for Michael Wilson: 'I'm never very good at handling naked razor blades, especially at 3.30am - but once the blade was screwed in, the shave was less frightening than the first lacerating experiences I had with these sorts of razors when I was shaving off pimples and bum-fluff.'

Despite reservations about

safety, the razor scored well on closeness and smoothness of shave. 'This was fairly good but looks old-fashioned,' said Yvette.

**WILKINSON SWORD PROTECTOR

pounds 2.99, includes three cartridges: further cartridges, pounds 2.85 for five

The Protector has a special safety feature, a thin guard wire bound over the blades. The razor was given a high score on safety - although it was equalled by the Gillette Sensor - but it only did fairly well on the other criteria.

Ian Bergin thought its design bizarre: 'I couldn't work out what the little spongy bits were on the end of the handle nor where the blade met my skin. But I didn't cut my throat as I usually do.' Kieran de Lange commented: 'Fine clean shave, odd design.'

Yvette liked its style: 'A must for the minimalist bathroom. I didn't like this but I used it as a swizzle stick for my vodka cocktails.' Paul-Scott Godfrey was the most enthusiastic tester: 'Great design. A good razor for the morning after the night before - not too much effort required.'

***WILKINSON SWORD PROFILE FIXED

with Aquaglide strip. pounds 1.99, includes three cartridges; further cartridges, pounds 2.20 for 10

This razor came a close second to the Gillette Sensor, but didn't score so well on handling and control, perhaps because it has a fixed rather than a swivel head. 'I prefer the Sensor's flexibility and this isn't that much cheaper,' said Michael Wilson. 'Good for smoothness and closeness but difficult to control and handle. Not a razor to be used in haste,' commented Paul-Scott Godfrey. Ian Bergin voted it his favourite: 'For someone with sensitive skin, this was the best shave. The blade felt really sharp and the shave was really exact.'

The razor also suited Yvette's requirements. 'Sometimes I have dressing-rooms with no hot water so I need a razor blade that cuts through a tough beard. This one does. Also quite good for trimming the fringe on the odd wig.'

***GILLETTE GII PLUS

pounds 1.99, includes two cartridges; further cartridges pounds 2.29 for five, pounds 4.35 for 10

Gillette's fixed-blade razor scraped in a few points behind its rival, the Wilkinson Sword fixed-head Profile. Paul-Scott Godfrey was one tester who preferred the GII: 'This razor shaved much like the Wilkinson Sword Profile but it gave me a closer, smoother shave.' Ian Bergin wasn't so keen: 'It was difficult to get into those awkward places. Not a favourite.'

For Yvette, though, the GII clearly had the edge: 'I used it Thursday night in Vienna, my Clinique make- up base was as smooth as my . . . I always use a Gillette Sensor but will change to this.'

****GILLETTE SENSOR .TX.- pounds 2.79, including two cartridges; further cartridges, pounds 2.99 for five, pounds 5.62 for 10

Very popular with our testers, it got top marks on everything except value for money.

Kieran de Lange and Michael Wilson voted it first choice: 'Well balanced, good blades, clean, close shave,' said Kieran de Lange. For Ian Bergin, the Sensor was 'a cracking shave' and almost lived up to its advertising slogan. 'Was it the best a man can get? Probably not, but it was pretty good all the same. I felt just like those Ivy League types in the TV ad - it made me want to wear cords and sports jackets.' 'Very good, but very expensive,' commented Yvette.

(Photograph omitted)

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