Razor Blade Material Analysis—Genuine vs. Counterfeit Razors [Application Note]

Our CEO purchased some “knock-off” razors and wanted to know how they were different from the name brand. Read on to learn about our razor blade material analysis.

Manufacturers sharpen shaving blades through a process called honing. Honing refines the blade’s edge to be sharp and smooth, allowing for a clean and comfortable shave. While professional barbers may sharpen their straight razors more traditionally, the mass production of disposable blades has resulted in a finely tuned and fully automated honing process.

Leica Emspira 3 digital microscope

Machines use fine-grit abrasive materials and precise angles to produce a reliable and repeatable edge for the consistency that consumers have come to expect from these blades. The blades are first loaded into the tool, then pass over a coarse sharpening medium to remove dullness and refine the edge. Depending on the blade material, price, and target geometry, the blades are then passed over progressively finer media until we achieve a suitable blade edge. Lastly, the blades may be coated with various materials to positively affect shaving comfort and lifespan.

Razor Blade Materials Analysis: Knock-off vs. Name Brand

Leica DM2700 M compound microscope with Leica K5C digital CMOS camera

For this project, our CEO, John Hubacz, approached us about his recent purchase of a set of disposable blade refills that were clearly imitations of a well-known name brand. John ordered these blades from a popular discount shopping website. He was unhappy with the performance of the blades and requested that we compare the “knock-off” blade to the brand name blade they were mimicking to see what differentiates them.

Inspection and Imaging

We first inspected the blades using a Leica Emspira 3 digital microscope and then documented them using a Leica DM2700 M compound microscope with a Leica K5C digital camera.

razor blade materials analysis - name brand
Name brand shaving razor edge
razor blade materials analysis - off-brand
Off-brand shaving razor edge
Sensofar S Neox optical profilometry system

The off-brand razor blades have a visible iridescent layer at the honed edge and what appears to be a thicker residue spanning the more coarsely polished region. At this scale, the sharpened edge is difficult to compare.

We scanned the polished blade edges using the interferometry mode on our Sensofar S Neox optical profilometry system.

razor blade materials analysis - profilometry
Name brand razor edge, 20x objective (left) and 50x objective (right)
Off-brand razor edge, 20x objective (left) and 50x objective (right)

While our initial suspicions were that the off-brand razors had a fine layer of lubricant, we can see that there is, in fact, a significant discernible texture to the off-brand blade edges. We attempted to remove this layer from the blades to verify whether it was a liquid. We first wiped the blades with a soft dry cloth, followed by a mixture of water and detergent/surfactant.

With no changes observed, we wiped the blades with isopropyl alcohol and finally again with acetone. None of these methods had much impact beyond affecting the polymer housing. Whatever this material is, it is neither a liquid nor readily removed by detergent or basic laboratory solvents.

Razor Blade Material Analysis—SEM Imaging

Next, we coated the two blade refills using a thin layer of AuPd and imaged them using a ThermoFisher Apreo S scanning electron microscope (SEM).

ThermoFisher Scientific Apreo S scanning electron microscope (SEM) with Oxford Ultim Max 100 energy dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDS)
razor blade materials analysis - SEM imaging at 500x
500x SEM images, razor edge: Name brand (left) vs. Off-brand (right)
razor blade materials analysis - SEM imaging at 1500x
1.5kx SEM images, razor edge upper coarse polished region: Name brand (left) vs. Off-brand (right)
razor blade materials analysis - SEM imaging at 8000x
8kx SEM images, razor edge: Name brand (left) vs. Off-brand (right) – 8kx

Finally, we performed a quick EDS scan on the off-brand residue, and we detected C and F. The blades are likely coated in a fluoropolymer. Manufacturers typically apply coatings to improve shaving comfort through reduced friction, or to extend the blade’s lifespan, often by preventing corrosion. In this case, due to the uneven application, it is unlikely that the coating will have either impact. Interestingly, this coating also obscures the blade edge, making it difficult to qualify the edge quality.

The True Cost of Off-Brand Products

While we all occasionally purchase inexpensive copycat products, we should carefully consider the risks before doing so. In the worst-case scenario, using a “knock-off” razor blade may result in shortened useful life, skin irritation, or a severe cut to your skin. So, in the case of razor blades, the old saying “You get what you pay for” is true. John paid about $9.00 for a pack of 5 blades, and they lasted one use. The name-brand product was 3X as much, but they are suitable for at least a month of smooth, comfortable shaves.

We did not perform a final test since our razor blade material analysis provided the answer we were looking for—why did the off-brand blades feel and perform so differently?

John had a few choice comments after we completed our study, “Why was I so cheap”… “I’ll never do that again!”… and “I know a couple of other guys who shave; they might find this useful.” As expected, he stated that the difference was clear after a single pass. The off-brand blades were catching, pulling, and generally performing poorly. Therefore, they are now in the garbage!

Check out John’s LinkedIn post #razorblades.

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