As the two market leaders battle it out in court over Schick's four-bladed Quattro non-disposable shaving system, two lesser-known rivals plan to join the blade war.
On Thursday, Los Angeles-based Universal Group - which sells the Noxzema and Old Spice shaving cream and razor brands – has announced it intends to team up with a Japanese partner.
The Kai Group, Japan's leading disposable razor maker, believes the merger will enable the new company to sell the first four-blade disposable razors.
The men's and women's products will hit shelves in May at prices ranging between $4 and $5 for a three-pack.
Four blade attack
In the context of the recent industry-wide frenzy to add bells and whistles to shaving products, the four-blade disposable is a relatively small and predictable advance.
Most of the technology and marketing attention in the shaving industry is focused on the more expensive shaving systems and their blades, rather than on disposable razors.
Still, the announcement signals yet another choice for consumers and perhaps, down the line, a rival for the two big players to think about. It also again raises the question: where will the battle of the blades end?
Gillette introduced the first two-blade shaving system in 1971, but it was Kai that broke the three-blade barrier in 1998.
That held until last year, when Schick Wilkinson-Sword introduced "Quattro," a four-bladed non-disposable shaving system that is currently the subject of patent litigation.
"Is four going to give you a better shave than three? Depends who makes it. Not necessarily. Have we done a better job with a four-blade? I think absolutely"
president of Universal Group
Gillette declined to take the four-blade bait, responding to Quattro with a vibrating version of its Mach3Turbo. Three blades are better than two, it insisted, but four is one too many.
Four better than three?
Afshin Moghavem, president of Universal Group, said he did not think four-blade razors were inherently better than three-blade ones.
However he claimed his company's product would be a cut above the rest due to its moisturizing strips and thinner and a fourth blade set apart from the other three.
"Is four going to give you a better shave than three?" he said. "Depends who makes it. Not necessarily. Have we done a better job with a four-blade? I think absolutely."
A spokeswoman for Gillette, which sold $3.87 billion in blades and razors last year and claims a 57-percent market share in disposables, declined to comment.
Jacqueline Burwitz, a spokeswoman for Schick parent company Energizer Holdings of St. Louis, said the company had expected competitors to enter the four-blade segment, and remained confident in Quattro.
"There's not a lot of interaction between disposable users and systems users," she said. "Once you're a systems user, you're a systems user."
Analysts figure the one-upmanship has its limits, but it may not be too long before a new escalation in the blade war and someone tries a five-bladed razor.