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How Low Should You Mow?

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It might sound both silly and unnecessary to consider the question: How close should one shave? Without deeper consideration, one might answer: As close as a man can get. After all, anyone who has spent any time reading the shaving boards will be familiar with the holy grail of shaves: The BBS or baby bottom shave.

Is this really what’s best for your face?

Another way to look at this is: How many passes can your face tolerate each week. Yes, I know that not all passes are created equal. Some are with the grain, some across, and some against. I will leave such a fine tuned consideration to others.
Trigger alert: simple mathematical logic to follow!
Without getting too technical, lets all agree that this is what is called an optimization problem; given a bunch of conditions, which answer, given all the sometimes conflicting conditions, works best.
So what are these conditions:

  • Rate of beard growth. Some people -the lucky ones- have sufficiently light and/or slow growing facial hair that a close shave today can translate into not shaving tomorrow (or even the day after that). I, however, being derived from good eastern European stock would have to shave tomorrow no matter how close I shaved today. It’s not like kids run screaming at the local pool when I remove my shirt, or that I need to give advance warning to zoos before visiting (don’t want those primates getting too excited), but suffice it say, I enjoy a heavy growth when it comes to facial hair.
  • How sensitive your face is. Essentially, this is asking how many passes your face can handle a week? Too many passes and you’ll have an epidermal revolt on your hands. Too few and people are going to wonder what you are doing in the bathroom that is taking so long, since it sure doesn’t look like you shaved! Also, go biblical and take a day off from shaving each week. My face is not all that sensitive, nevertheless, I only subject it to twelve+ passes/week. Be kind to your face. You two will be together for a long time: never overshave.
  • The longer the facial hair, the better the shave. Shaving a two day beard usually results in a better shave than shaving a one day beard. For me, this extends to shaving a three day beard beating out the shave of a two day beard. After that the rule does not hold: shaving a four day growth is the same as a forty day growth; after scissoring down the beard.
  • Personal grooming needs. For some, it is unacceptable to start channeling Shaggy (from Scooby-Doo) until the end of the work day. For others it may be mid-day – who knows; sporting a heavy five o’clock shadow may be how you wish to advertise your virility. Finally, some might not wish to look rough-n-used-to-be-ready until it’s time to relax with a little Late Night with Colbert. Whatever time this is for you, I like to call this your Shaggy-hour.

My analysis leads me to two possible solutions:

1) A sufficiently close shave (e.g. 3-pass with touch up) gets you through two (or even three) days. This every other day shaver doesn’t start to invite raised eyebrows until their personal Shaggy-hour on day two (or three). Each shave is working with a two+ day growth, and no one no one thinks you are under-groomed on your non-shaving days. Furthermore, one longer –3 pass– shave every other day takes less time overall than a shorter shave, every day. Shower shavers can pat themselves on their collective backs for reducing their energy and water footprints.

2) If you can’t get away with every other day shaving (for me this stopped being satisfactory sometime in my early twenties), then I recommend you shave only as close/good as to get you through the day. Yes, this means shaving less closely (ok poorly) ON PURPOSE.

Think about it: Assuming that solution 1) won’t cut it, any shave closer than the minimum to get through to your personal Shaggy-hour means:

  • you start out with shorter hairs the next day, but still need to shave, and
  • you run the risk of pissing off your face through over shaving – too many passes.

For me, this translates to a two+ pass daily shave. Can I get closer? Of course. For me, still being super smooth by the time The Walking Dead airs, just means a more difficult shave the next day.
The upside of this is that I get to shave everyday. Which, in spite of the ordinariness of my shave, is something I enjoy doing. I also get to save on time, water and energy, since a sub-optimal shave is quicker.
In defense of my “just good enough” shave, it is useful to remember that what feels rough to your hands while shaving, really will look fine in the mirror when you’re all done. It is all about how you look, not how it feels to the touch when stretching your skin tight.
I am all for extra close shaves for special occasions, e.g. Wedding pictures, a super important job interview. Otherwise, I take the unintuitive approach of minimal shaving: just enough passes to get me through the day before I hit my personal Shaggy-hour. For me, that third pass buys me (and maybe you) nothing; it’s all downside with no upside.
So there you have it: either shave well enough to get through two (or three) days -you know who you are, you lucky dogs, or shave just well enough to meet your daily grooming needs; after all you will be back in the saddle the next day with your razor in hand.
How low should you mow? Just low enough, and no more.
Happy shaving.
About The Author:

Michael Goldweber: I make my living as a Professor of Computer Science at Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH. My primary goals in life are to spend as much time as possible cycling (bicycle touring to be most precise) and living overseas; though outside of Canada, I have yet to bicycle tour overseas. I am fortunate in that my wife and only child share these two passions. So, please wave or say HI to the next immaculately shaved cyclist you see in southwestern Ohio, it will hopefully be me.
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6 thoughts on “How Low Should You Mow?”

  1. Thank you, Professor Goldweber for your excellent post. I recently began doing two passes because the tedium of a three-pass shave exceeded the satisfaction it gave.

  2. I get a BBS shave every day by going downhill, ATG and a touch ups only. For me XTG is an ineffective pass.

  3. Hector Fernandez

    Excellent article! I have never been a believer of the so called BBS shave. I don’t care how close can one get, that BBS will last you a few hours at best. In the meantime, good luck walking around with a tomato face for everyone to see, yuck!
    I only do two passes for a nice Damn Fine Shave or DFS. No tomato face and last just as long as a BBS with a better feel.
    I shave everyday, except Sunday, and enjoy every day that I do.
    Stay hydrated my friends!

  4. What a revelation! With all the talk and videos about 3 passes every shave, every day made me think that was the norm for every guy. I had actually gone back to an electric razor because my face just would not tolerate 3 passes every day and shaving against the grain on the third pass just produced a constant state of raw irritated skin. I knew that a 2-pass would get me the groomed look necessary for work every day but that it would still feel like I needed a shave – like I had somehow violated some shaving code by quitting too soon. The thing is, I ENJOY shaving with a DE razor (in a hot steamy shower) but figured I was somehow genetically selected for the electric razor because my face was getting carved up so badly. I’m unplugging and going back to the zen of DE shaving.

  5. I agree with the “two-day” growth yielding the best results. Every time I wait a couple days, I can get extremely close, and not get any feedback from my alum. I also awakened to the realization that (for me, at least) the three-pass shave only gets me marginally closer than a two-pass shave. You cannot even see the difference. It is only upon touching my face that anyone would be able to tell that the three-pass shave got any closer. So for me, I stick with two passes. It provides a great shave, and I have zero irritation issues. It’s the best of both worlds. When I began shaving, BBS was the “holy grail.” Now, in my shave maturity, I’d rather stick with a quality shave that is comfortable.

  6. I am glad to see someone else thinks skipping a day makes a better shave! I have to be at work two hours earlier on Saturday’s, so I don’t shave. Then on Sunday my shave is the best of the week. I shave the other six days. (I have also been “captured” and returned to the cage at the zoo!)
    I have found that shaving down, twice. Then the third pass across, ear to chin. Gives almost as good of a shave as down, across, up, and much less irritation.

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