Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Rethinking the Three-Pass Shave

Double-edge (DE) safety-razor shavers often speak of the traditional three-pass shave.  This means three separate lather-shave-rinse cycles. The first pass, one shaves with the grain (WTG) of the beard. Second pass, across the grain (XTG). Final pass is against the grain (ATG). Using this process, one can get a very close -- often baby-bottom smooth (BBS) -- shave.

I have a problem with this process, however. Almost no matter what pre-shave preparation I do, almost no matter what shave soap, oil, cream, or butter (or any combination thereof) I use, no matter what post-shave preparation I put on my face, I too often end up with dry, irritated skin below the corners of my mouth.

[UPDATE:  Since I have changed my daily ritual to a cool-water shave using my own formulation of shave soap, this irritation and dryness problem is no longer an issue. With a normal straight-bar DE razor, I will now often do a three- or three-and-a-half-pass shave. With my Merkur 37C slant bar, I often get a very close shave in just two passes.]

I have become convinced that it is the combination of two factors. The first is me being less hydrated (despite fluid intake) as I get older. These days I have dry eyes, dry mouth in the morning when I wake, and dry skin after shaving. The second factor is the effect of a sharp steel blade, acting almost like a squeegee, passing over sensitive skin.

So when I shave -- especially the most sensitive areas of my face (lower neck and below corners of the mouth) -- I am especially careful to avoid repeated strokes in the same geography. I do make sure my razor angle is right to get the maximum whisker removal per stroke in the most sensitive areas. The final tweak to my shaving process is to do a two-pass shave on a typical day rather than a three-pass shave.

My two-pass process is 1) WTG, then 2) generally and more or less ATG, with the exception of upper lip and below corners of the mouth.  In those areas I definitely shave only XTG on the second pass.

For a daily shave (and I do shave every day), this two-pass process is adequate to get a fine shave. For those times when I want BBS, then a third pass is necessary ATG, with the second pass XTG.

What is your experience?

Happy shaving!

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