NEW RAZOR'S FIVE EDGES IS A SHARP IDEA
By Laurie Hanna
EVER since Neanderthal man started plucking his beard, the search for the perfect hair-removing tool has been relentless.
The average man spends more than 3,000 hours of his life in front of the bathroom mirror - so it's hardly surprising that the razor industry has become a cut-throat business worth billions worldwide every year.
For more than a decade, razor giants Wilkinson Sword and Gillette have been locked in a ruthless battle to win the war of the whiskers.
And this week, Gillette launched its latest offensive... Fusion, a razor with FIVE blades.
"Gillette Fusion is more than just a next generation shaving brand," says company chairman James M Kilts. "It's the future of shaving. It's a breakthrough platform that will continue to drive our category leadership."
Today, the razor market is worth almost a quarter of a billion pounds every year in the UK alone. And razor blades regularly top the list of the nation's most shoplifted items. It's all a far cry from the flint blades that have been dated from as long ago as 30,000BC.
For thousands of years it was women who worried about being too hairy - and in 4,000BC women were using depilatory creams made from arsenic, quicklime and starch.
But things were changing for men at the same time and experts in Egypt and India had developed copper razor blades.
By 500BC, Alexander the Great made shaving fashionable when he ordered his soldiers to shave before going into battle so their enemies couldn't grab their beards. But the birth of the modern-day barber is believed to have occurred in 300BC when rich Greek businessman Publicus Ticinius Maenus brought his professional barbers to Rome.
By 50BC, Roman men were copying Julius Caesar and having individual hairs plucked out daily while depilatory creams were being made from asses fat, bat's blood and powdered viper.
And for centuries afterwards it was all simply a question of finding the sharpest blade - and scraping.
Then, in 1770, French barber Jean-Jacques Perret published his bestseller - The Art Of Learning To Shave Oneself and by the late 1800s, Victorian men had started to use shaving soaps and aftershave lotion to make their daily task easier.
But the razor industry only really became a serious business in 1895 with the invention of the world's first T-shaped safety razor by a wonderfully-named travelling salesman King Camp Gillette.
For years, there was little to choose between the brands until 1989, the razor wars began in earnest when Gillette launched its Sensor range.
Here we chart the race to win the biggest slice of the market:
Hair raising: The war of the whisker
1989: GILLETTE SENSOR
WITH the launch of its Sensor, Gillette began to set the standard for modern razors.
It was the first razor with twin blades that were mounted on "highly responsive springs that continuously sense and automatically adjust to the face".
The opening salvo in the razor wars had been fired...
1992: WS PROTECTOR
WILKINSON Sword quickly hit back by unveiling unveiled its "intelligently designed" razor.
The design incorporated "unique microfine guard wires" that protected against nicks and cuts, while the new Aquaglide strip offered a shave of "unsurpassed smoothness".
And the offer of a razor in your Premier League team colours was an added bonus for football fans.
1994: GILLETTE SENSOREXCEL
NOT to be outdone, Gillette revealed its own improvement on the two-blade razor with the SensorExcel.
It featured an innovative skin guard, made up of five soft and flexible microfins that preceded the blades.
They caused the beard hairs to "spring upwards as the blades closed in", allowing a closer shave.
Then a four-year break in the intense competition followed as both companies took time out to develop the next step - the three-blade razor.
1998: GILLETTE MACH3
GILLETTE landed the next blow when it unveiled the revolutionary Mach3.
The firm used cutting-edge technology to develop the three-blade razor, which had thinner edges than ever before, allowing men to shave with less drag and less irritation. Three years later, Mach3Turbo was released, which added anti-friction blades and a new patented lubrication system.
2001: WS XTREME3
THE Mach3Turbo soon faced competition from Wilkinson Sword's own innovative three-blade razor. The Xtreme3 promised an even-closer shave than before, thanks to its three pivoting blades, along with a lubricating strip that contained Aloe Vera.
But the most innovative factor was that increased cartridge mobility meant the blades moved left to right as well as up and down.
The new, non-slip rubber handle also offered precise control.
2003: WS QUATTRO
IT was only two years until Wilkinson Sword launched its next revolution - the FOUR blade razor - upping the stakes once again.
The Quattro boasted that its "advanced pivoting action allowed all four blades maximum contact over the contours of the face".
And a new safety system promised that nasty nicks would be a thing of the past as micro-fine guard wires over the blades would protect the skin.
Meanwhile, the pressure-adapting blades would retract if too much pressure is put on the skin while shaving.
Even Wilkinson Sword realised that the race to increase the number of blades had become ridiculous, joking: "And let's face it, three blades was never going to be enough!"
And it wasn't. Not only did the razor kings start piling on the blades and pumping up the lubricants, electronics began to play a role in the next generation - vibrating shavers
2005: GILLETTE FUSION POWER
ENTER Fusion and Fusion Power! Gillette had already upped the stakes with its battery-operated M3Power last year.
It "micropulses to stimulate hair up and away from the skin".
The regular "powerless" Fusion's five blades have however been spaced 30 per cent closer together while an extra single blade on the back of the cartridge allows men to "easily trim sideburns and shape facial hair with increased control and precision.
Gillette is proud of the fact that the Fusion Power is the first razor to bring advanced electronics to wet shaving.
Apparently it has a micro-chip which "optimises the performance of the razor by regulating the voltage."