Friday, February 01, 2008

Evaluating Toiletry Technology

I am shopping for an electric razor. Years ago—maybe 20—my father gave me one for Christmas and last month a small piece shielding the blades broke off. Looking for its replacement, I’ve discovered the popularity of rechargeable shavers…for manufacturers, who want customers returning more often than every few decades. Nearly everywhere I shave, I find a power outlet, so a rechargeable would bring me only the extra weight of batteries and their limited life. While batteries wear out with every recharge, my shaver’s power cord shows no signs of fatigue.

Evaluating shavers economically or ecologically turns me away from rechargeable. I suspect that shoppers are lured by marketing that promotes rechargeable as somehow better or they are simply frustrated that fewer corded shavers are available.

What could be worse economically or ecologically than rechargeable? Not empty-able. I found a low (initial) price on the Remington CleanXchange Razor (pictured), but when it fills with hair stubble, you can’t simply empty it into your sink. Advertising presents this as a feature, not a bug:

  • Convenience: Messy cleanup is a thing of the past. When the cartridge gets full, simply eject the shaving head and replace with a brand new one.
  • Performance: Each time you replace a shaving cartridge, it is like getting a brand new shaver. This means you never have to worry about worn-out blades again!

It is not like “getting a brand new shaver” because the rechargeable batteries are not replaced. What quality of steel dulls from cutting no more stubble than fills the shaving head? The blades in my old shaver are cutting fine after mowing decades of stubble...which decomposes unless encased in countless tiny metallic shaver heads. Remington facilitates your packing small and rather mundane time capsules for your great-great-grandchildren.

This pitch to save me “messy cleanup” and “worry about worn-out blades” in exchange for higher monetary and ecological cost reminded me of when saline manufacturers invented the “no rub” feature. Saving me the effort and calories of rubbing my contact lenses between thumb and forefinger, I could simply squirt saline at the lens for five seconds (about the time it takes to rub). I doubt that spraying works as well as rubbing, but I’m sure it uses far more saline, costing me more and sending more plastic bottles to the landfill. In the US, the last thing we need to save is calories.

These technologies would not exist if someone did not evaluate them as good. I am interested in your comments on this (post below). Do you use an electric shaver while backpacking or in developing countries without power outlets? Have you seen the documentary The Story of Stuff? It streams from their website, where one can also buy the DVD. Please share your stories of stuff and how you evaluate it.

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  • Miguel, as always, a very perceptive observation. Razors I think are the tip of the iceberg I think for personal care products and waste, poor use of raw materials.

    I too have a battery(non-rechargeable) based razor, I use it on my hair rather than my face. For my face I wet shave.

    I've considered getting a new razor for my hair, but as you have observed they are over loaded with features, most of which are likely to cause a breakdown sooner rather than later.

    For facial hair I have long been a wet shaver. I am constantly amazed and annoyed at the bait and switch of the companies that make and design these. The low price or give away of the razors, to seduce the customer, followed by the outrageously priced blades. Then every few years bring out a new model of blade, more expensive and age out one of the older models.

    This sort of practice must come to an end surely? Where is the innovation that makes me want to buy a new electric razor because it has 30-year warranty, you can send in the head for machine resharpening and get a refurbished one at half price?

    There is surely nothing to stop these being designed for easy service rather than easy profit!

    I've got one up on them though for wet shaving of facial hair. Typically if you look for shaving oil, you find small, expensive 2oz bottles for something like $22. Aura Cacia Sweet Almond Natural Skin Care Oil works just as well and a 4oz bottle is just $5.99.

    Finally, you might want to check your blog posting. The last 3 posts have no subject.

    By Blogger triman, at 3:20 PM  

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