Skip to content

Once, Twice, Three Times a Baby – The Three Pass Standard

Listen to this article

It’s a common belief throughout the traditional wet shaving community that three reduction passes is the standard, or the norm when it comes to shaving. I’m here to explain that process, but to also debunk that theory. That’s right I’m going to tell you why three passes shouldn’t be considered a standard.

The Three Pass Shave Norm

For as long as I’ve been involved in traditional wet shaving, it’s been considered the norm to do three passes when having a shave. That’s the same whether you are shaving with a straight razor, double edge razor, or single edge. The three holy grail passes consist of reducing the hair growth in a specific way in relation to your hair growth (the grain). Those are, one with the grain (WTG), one across the grain (XTG) and one against the grain (ATG). This can be quite daunting for someone who is new to the traditional way of shaving, or who has made the transition from cartridge razors. You may well be used to just doing the one pass with a cartridge, so the thought of doing it three times with something that resembles a weapon (in the case of a straight razor) may well have you running to the hills.

I want to say this quite early on that you should do what is comfortable for you. I’ve been shaving for almost 20 years and know my skin, or at least I thought I did until I started shaving the traditional wet shaving way. I very quickly learnt that my skin in places just does not like being shaved against the grain, specifically my lower neck where it seems to grown mainly up towards my chin, but also in all sorts of strange directions. The majority of my hair on the rest of my face grows downwards. This makes my shave routine a little frustrating. I know though that if I shave against the grain on my lower neck I’ll be out of action for a good week with razor burn and ingrown hairs if I don’t exfoliate after doing it. Ultimately I’m in quite a lot of discomfort which isn’t fun. Also i generally only do 2 passes. One with the grain and then the second across the grain on my cheeks and with the grain on the rest of my face. This is because I know what works for me personally. I have lumps, bumps, scars and moles and know my face well. I probably could do a 3rd pass, but in all honesty I don’t feel the need. The results I get from 2 passes is socially acceptable for me, my job and my lifestyle.

If you are new to wet shaving the below ‘map’ could be the shaving equivalent of a treasure map to you. Also if you aren’t new to wet shaving, but you find you get issues it could also help.

You want to let your facial hair grow out for a 2 or 3 days (or however long is needed) and then plot on the attached imagine the direction the hair grows in on each sector. This will allow you to understand when you are shaving with, across and against the grain. It may be that you are shaving against the grain when you don’t realize it which alas is causing you some significant unwanted after effects. You may also be shaving with the grain when actually you want to be going against the grain for that baby butt smooth shave. It may take a while to figure this out, but it will reap the rewards long term.

Doing What Is Right For You

Ultimately you need to do what is right for you, your skin and the hair on it. I’m not at all saying that you shouldn’t do three passes and those passes shouldn’t be with the grain, across the grain and against the grain. I’m saying you shouldn’t be led by the masses. Everyone is different, everyone’s skin type is different and much like a finger print everyone’s hair growth is different. You may find that dropping those 3 passes that you have been doing for years down to 2 will reduce any irritation. You may find that doing 1 pass with the grain and 1 against reduces irritation. Maybe even just doing 3 passes with the grain may still give you an acceptable finish, but will reduce any irritation. The point I am trying to make is that you shouldn’t be led by YouTube channels, reviewers, members of Facebook groups who are doing the ‘standard’ 3 pass shave like it’s going out of fashion. It’s fine to do them, but ask yourself “is it right for me?”

Stay safe, stay out of trouble and stay shaving.


Author Profile:

I’m Andy Wilmer. I’ve been shaving for 20 years (most of those with a cartridge razor). I run The Opinionated Brit YouTube channel and I’m also the host of The Opinionated Brit podcast. I’m a big advocate of shaving the traditional way. Not only from an environmental point of view, but also from a mental health perspective. A shave in the comfort of your bathroom (or any other area) help you to relax, contemplate and focus on what matters to you.

Andy W

Andy W

5 thoughts on “Once, Twice, Three Times a Baby – The Three Pass Standard”

  1. Three-pass shaving is popular because it works. It gives a BBS shave.

    Don’t you want a close shave?

    Perhaps someone is forgetting one of the Rules of Shaving.

    “Always apply shave soap before the next pass.”

    Works for me; works for millions, regardless of what they’re saying on Youtube.

  2. I think the 3 pass system is so popular because it works for most of us. I also believe that most of us are more similar than we are different and that those slight differences for the most part don’t signify.

  3. I do three passes. However, my own version. The first and second pass are north to south. This gets me pretty good. The third pass is from ear to chin on both sides. This is a diagonal pass, hybrid with/across grain.

    In the bad old days of Hydro 3, Mach 3, I got lots of ingrown hairs and irritation. Also my face would sting with sweat.

    The above technique gives no ingrown hairs, irritation. My face does sting with sweat.

  4. Great reminder article Andy. I prefer a three pass shave under ideal conditions. For me that is 3-4 days of growth, a razor, blade and soap combination I am confident in and at home. I retained some advice from a Mantic 59 video some time ago where Mark advised a two pass shave when traveling. Different water, dehydration, etc play a role in your shave so a two pass when traveling is generally acceptable and keeps irritation to a minimum.

    1. Yes, that’s an excellent reminder Michael! I too, use Mark’s advise while traveling.

      As even during 2020, I was traveling and shaving in different cities and countries. Reducing the passes and “lowering” the setting on my adjustable DE Safety Razor. It’s a great safety net in an unfamiliar territory for the first few days of shaving.

Comments are closed.