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Monday, March 27, 2023

Gillette's Heated Razor Warms Your Face While You Shave

For years, innovation in men’s razors seemed to center on adding more blades. More recently, with the advent of upstarts like Dollar Shave Club and Harry’s, the focus has shifted to affordability. Gillette’s latest product rejects both of these trends. The Heated Razor adds not a blade, but a “warming bar” that keeps its cartridge toasty throughout your shave. And at $150, it’s unabashedly priced for a premium crowd.

“In the end, the search for warmth, the heat, has always been a constant,” says Donato Diez Guerrero, global brand manager for Gillette. “What we’re trying to do with the Heated Razor is providing them that consistent, sustained warmth that gets distributed over the face in an even way.”

It achieves that through some clever—and yes, safe—engineering. In fact, the most surprising thing about the Heated Razor may be how closely it resembles a more traditional model. At a glance, the cartridge looks quite a bit like other top-end Gillette options, and while the handle appears to add a little bit of bulk to accommodate the heating element, it’s still in line with what you’re used to.

The difference-maker is a heating element near the top of the handle, where it connects with the cartridge. Once you activate that, with the push of a button, it takes less than a second to heat the warming bar to either 113 or 122 degrees Fahrenheit, temperatures that Gillette senior engineer Stephanie Niezgoda Moss says will have the broadest appeal globally, depending on just how hot some like it.

“As far as keeping that consistent temperature, we have four sensors that are in the warming bar that are constantly monitoring the temperature, so as heat is transferred to the skin, the handle’s continuing to replenish that heat to the warming bar,” says Moss. “It’s in a constant feedback loop to make sure it’s staying just hot enough, but not too hot.”

'We want to take [shaving] from an everyday activity to something that you can actually look forward to.'

Stephanie Niezgoda Moss, Gillette senior engineer

If it sounds simple, it’s not. A patent filed by Gillette in March 2017 details previous ill-fated attempts others have made to bring heat to the home shaving experience: warming shaving creams, air-heated blades, even individual blades within a cartridge. All of these fall short. “The drawback with heated blades is they have minimal surface area in contact with the user's skin,” the patent reads. “This minimal skin contact area provides a relatively inefficient mechanism for heating the user's skin during shaving.”

By focusing instead on a warming bar with constantly maintained heat, the Heated Razor aims to give off a consistent warmth.

It will do so for a steeper price than you’re used to in a razor with disposable blades. While the cartridges themselves will be comparably priced to Gillette’s existing high-end lines, the initial cost of the system is $150, which gets you both the Heated Razor and a wireless magnetic charging dock to stash it in. When you’re on the road, the lithium-ion battery battery inside should last for six shaves without a recharge.

The Heated Razor will also initially be available in limited quantities, and as an Indiegogo campaign that launches Tuesday and will run for 45 days. The razors have an expected delivery of February 2019. Crowdfunded products don’t have the best reputation—but this isn’t some concept or prototype. Gillette knows the Heated Razor works; it wants to to use Indiegogo to figure out who actually wants one, and how to fine-tune it from there. (It's currently offering it at a discount; you can get one for $109, plus $20 for a pack of replacement cartridges.)

“You have the consumer side, which is, we want to learn deeper about the insights, and make sure that this product is even better for them," says Diez Guerrero. “And then there’s the second side, where we see whether there is a market for this.”

That extends beyond just the Heated Razor. It’s the idea of premium razors generally, which Gillette is investing in through its new, high end-focused GilletteLabs division. Assuming the Heated Razor finds an audience, expect more premium products close behind.

A lot may be riding on it, especially in a world in which companies like Harry’s have steadily chipped away at Gillette’s market dominance. “Online retailers and subscription services are definitely causing disruption,” says Olivia Guinaugh, an analyst at Mintel who focuses on home and personal care. “Overall the market is very price and value driven.”

Men’s shaving is a $2.8 billion business in the US alone, according to Euromonitor International. Gillette parent company Procter & Gamble owns just over 47 percent of that market. While still overwhelming, that number has ticked slightly down in recent years. Gillette has a subscription plan of its own now, but the Heated Razor and GilletteLabs let it compete not just on the low end, but also establish a premium tier all its own.

“What we’re trying to do here is really elevate the experience of shaving,” says Moss. “We want to take it from an everyday activity to something that you can actually look forward to.”

No matter what the bells and whistles—or temperatures—a $150 razor might wind up being a hard sell. But the Heated Razor at least gives the shaving industry something it hasn't seen in a while: A push not just for lower price points, but for innovation.

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