An important concept in wet shaving is reducing your hair follicle length with what is referred to as “multiple pass reduction”. This is commonly referred to as a “ Three Pass Shave ”. This consists of reducing your beard using multiple passes of the razor from different angles of attack. Shaving with multiple passes helps the user achieve a closer shave without irritating the skin.
Benefits of a Three Pass Shave
While it is tempting to apply a little bit of pressure while shaving, DON’T DO IT!. You don’t need to apply pressure to achieve a close shave. By applying a light touch with your razor and reducing the hair follicle in an incremental and controlled manner we do not abrade the skin and can eliminate razor burn and other common shaving related issues. When you apply pressure to your face you damage your skin and can end up cutting the hair follicle so that it is below the skin line. While this results in a smooth feeling shave it often results in razor bumps (ingrown hairs) that need to be treated in the future. This is particularly prevalent in individuals with very thick/curly/kinky hair. More information on razor bumps and ingrown hairs can be found at How to shave with Ingrown hairs and razor bumps.
Three Pass Terminology
When describing your shaving routine, sometimes it is helpful to use a common terminology. A three pass shave is normally accomplished by performing a “With the Grain” (WTG) pass, followed by an “Across the Grain” (XTG) pass, followed by an “Against the Grain” (ATG) pass.
Many times people use the cardinal directions (N,S,W,E) to describe how they perform their shaving passes. For example if all of your hair follicles face downward we would say that your beard runs from North to South over your entire face. This would be the ideal beard to have as you would not have to deal with any funky direction changes. The cardinal points can also be used to describe how you perform your different shaving passes.
Using our previous ideal beard, we can describe our WTG pass as going from North to South, our XTG pass as going from East to West (or vice versa), and out ATG pass going from South to North. Unfortunately most of don’t have such well behaved hair follicles and have to deal with many different directions in our beard mapping.
Three Pass Shave Example
Using my own beard as an example, the hair on my upper face (sideburns and cheeks) runs roughly North to South and is a pretty easy shave. I have two trouble spots on the corners of my mouth were the hair direction seems to change depending on how I move my lips. On my neck things get a little wonky. The West side of my neck runs from West to East, while the East side of my neck runs more in a South East to North West direction with a 1/2” strip under my ear that runs the exact opposite direction.
Over the years I have learned that a two pass shave with a touch up pass works best for day to day shaving. My shaving routine consists of the following routine:
- First Pass: Complete North to South pass over face and neck. This accomplishes a WTG pass on my face and a XTG pass on my neck (for the most part).
- Second Pass: Perform an East to West pass on my face. This accomplishes a XTG on the face area. I then perform a South to North pass on my neck. This accomplishes a second XTG pass from the other direction.
- Touch Up: Lastly I perform a touch up pass which consists of hitting the areas that need a touch of work with a splash of water and a pass of the razor. This is usually along the jawline/chin or the hollows of the throat
Prevailing wisdom is that to achieve the closest shave you need to shave ATG of your beard. (If you need help mapping your beard growth, check out the Mapping Your Beard article). However, if you have ever tried to shave against the grain without first reducing the length of the hair follicle you will quickly find the razor requires MUCH more effort to shave and can result in much greater skin irritation. By sequentially reducing the hair follicle with each pass, we can achieve a smoother, closer, and more comfortable shave on the last ATG pass.
Do what works for YOUR face
Just a note, but while a lot of people will describe using a standard three pass shave, many people have found that performing a second XTG pass from the other direction serves them better than an ATG pass. A few people can even perform an ATG pass without preceding it with a WTG or XTG pass. There is no right or wrong in what works for YOUR beard. Keep trying different things and see what works. Leisureguy (a well known shave blogger) posted some results of a survey he ran up on Reddit. The survey, and comments on the post, show that many people have found that while using multiple passes works well for them that a number of people have changed up thier routine and no longer do a traditional WTG, XTG, ATG routine.
Well I hope I haven’t rambled on overly much. As always please let me know if you have any questions. Please do me a favor and leave a comment and share this if it was helpful.
Have a great day and a smooth shave!