The internet is brimming with conflicting advice on how to look after your beard, so if you're at your wits' end when it comes to a beard care routine then this post might be just the thing for you.
No doubt you'll have trawled the internet, watched YouTube videos, read articles, perhaps even joined a beard forum, all in the hope of gaining some clear advice on how to care for your beard. But the more you see the more confused you've become. There is simply too much information out there and too much of it conflicts. How often should you wash your beard? Should you use oil or balm, or both? What about beard butter - what is that? How, where and when to apply? Should you dry it, straighten it, style it? The questions mount up as you imbibe more and more information.
In this guide I'll help you navigate through the confusion by explaining why the steps included are relevant, how the various products work together, and why some of the advice found on the internet is false.
First, some context. It takes a lot of time to grow a beard, and often fraught with weeks of looking dishevelled, discouragement from family, friends and colleagues. There are also the additional financial costs in products, equipment and a regular visit to the barber. Though a beard isn't so much an investment (because there's no financial return) it is something that does require the investing of time and money. As such, if you've reached this stage then you'll want to make best use of the time and money you've spent. Like most things, whether that be your gym, car, house, relationships - anything you want to be at its best - you've got to do things properly or you'll forgo the best they can be.
For some men, maintaining an awesome looking beard requires more input than they think. Simply letting it grow with the occasional half-hearted care routine will not show your beard at its very best. This guide will help you avoid wasting money on naff products and put to proper use the products you already have.
Sebum is the oil produced by the skin. It's what makes hair look greasy or skin look oily. The sebaceous gland is just beneath the skin and secretes sebum through the hair pore. The function of sebum is to prevent the skin drying out and to maintain healthy skin. However, a build up of sebum isn't ideal.
You might have read or heard that regularly washing your beard strips the oils away, and the advice given is to avoid washing your beard too regularly. The advice given by some is to only wash your beard once or twice per week, but let's stop and think about this for a moment. How much sebum does your face need to produce in order for it to work its way down to the ends of your beard? It's a lot, and by the time you've reached that stage your beard will have attracted sweat, dirt and other impurities that will make your beard feel and look bad. Think of the amount of oil you apply to your beard, particularly if you have a long beard. Is it realistic to imagine that your face will produce the same quantity of sebum in any 24 hour period as the amount of oil you apply in the same amount of time?
"But the sebum reaches the ends of the hair on my head so why not my beard?" The hair on your head is much finer than your beard and it also sits closer to your scalp than your beard does to your face. Sebum will wick down head hair much easier and quicker than your beard. Additionally, beard hair is more porous and will require more sebum to effectively coat the beard.
In addition to sebum, the skin produces sweat that is not good for your beard. Sweat contains proteins and salts that lead to a dry and itchy beard. Salt draws the moisture from the skin and hair and the proteins react with bacteria.
With this information to hand, it makes sense to wash your beard on a daily basis. The idea that you will dry out your beard is poor advice. On the contrary, NOT washing your beard daily will increase the chances of a dry and matted looking beard together with creating a breeding ground for bacteria reacting with sebum and sweat.
Wash your beard in a beard shampoo or mild hair shampoo. I personally use an organic, unperfumed oatmeal soap bar or ManCave shampoo. Remember to condition your beard too, perhaps once per week with a beard conditioner or good hair conditioner. It's important to rinse thoroughly to remove any shampoo, soap or conditioner residue, which might lead to skin irritation.
Dry your beard with a towel to approximately 80% dry. Avoid scrubbing your beard with the towel because you'll run the risk of damaging it. Pay particular attention under the chin where water might pool. You want enough moisture left in your beard to help distribute your beard oil.
Apply Beard Oil
Apply your beard oil immediately after towel drying to about 80%. The length and density of your beard will dictate how much oil to use. The longer and denser your beard the more oil you will need. This is trial and error and you'll quickly work out how many drops or how much of a pipette you will need. If your shirt or pillow is picking up the oil from your beard then you're using too much. If your beard looks and feels dry with the amount you're using then increase the amount.
Apply the beard oil first into your hand and spread the oil between your palms. The advice given to put the oil onto a beard brush and brush through your beard is not ideal and likely originated as a pitch for vendors to sell beard brushes. Work the oil all the way through your beard and into the skin to replace the natural oil (sebum). Oils containing jojoba oil are excellent at replenishing the natural oil because the molecular structure of jojoba oil is very similar to sebum.
Comb your beard through in different directions with a wide toothed comb to distribute the oil and remove any tangles. Remember to comb the bottom of your beard upwards towards your face to be sure the oil is dispersed throughout and there are no tangles. Let the comb do its job without yanking.
Comb your beard into place and allow at least 5 minutes for the oil to be absorbed into your beard.
Apply Beard Balm
If you use beard balm, apply AFTER you've allowed the oil to absorb for 5 minutes. As with the oil, work the balm throughout your beard and comb into shape.
Depending on how your beard grows you might be happy to let it dry naturally. However, drying and styling is sometimes necessary to tackle bushy or naturally occurring kinks and curls. If you're drying your beard be sure to apply beard oil first.
By now, your beard will be about 90% dry and just right for drying and styling. Set the hairdryer to medium air flow and to cool and dry your beard in the direction of growth. Use a comb or brush to direct your beard straight down vertically. If you follow the contour of your face with the comb or brush whilst drying you might end up putting waves into your beard. If you have a long beard dry underneath, combing up and lifting the beard off your neck to add density to your beard. Dry the back of your beard forward to fill in and add density to your beard beneath the jaw.
Set the hairdryer to cold and set your beard into the shape and style you are wanting.
Finally, use a beard brush over the surface of your beard to perfect the shape. Avoid reaching into your beard too deep with the bristles because this will produce waves in your beard.
Nigh Time Routine
The night time routine is likely to be the step most ignored by many beardsmen but it's an important part of your ongoing daily routine. It's a third of the day and a great time to use for achieving a healthy beard. This is where beard butter comes into play. Beard butters tend to be shea butter based and are designed as leave-in conditioners. The butter will absorb into your beard and skin overnight helping to maintain a tangle-free and supple beard.
If you've showered before bed remember to apply beard oil first to replace the oils in the skin and beard. Allow the beard oil to absorb for at least 5 minutes before applying your beard butter.
If you're not in the business of showering before bed then wet your beard with water, towel dry, then apply your beard butter. A damp beard will help the butter distribute through your beard easily.
Exercise extreme caution here because many beards come to an abrupt end. The last thing you want after so much care in achieving a glorious beard is to destroy it and have no other option but to start again. Clippers are a sure way to bring a miserable end to your beard. They're unforgiving and one slip will cut away weeks, if not months, of growth.
Wash, oil and dry your beard as normal. Use scissors, and have a realistic approach to what you can achieve given you only have a single perspective on your beard. Trim away only the hairs that protrude from the general shape of your beard. Carry out your beard trim over a number of days because it will sit differently tomorrow. Do the same tomorrow and the next day if necessary, taking care not to cut into the main bulk of your beard. More information on trimming can be found here.
1) A clean beard is a healthy beard. Wash daily with a beard wash or mild shampoo to remove the day's sebum, sweat and other impurities.
2) Apply beard oil to a towel dried beard and let it soak in for at least 5 minutes before drying.
3) When drying, use medium power, set to cool, and dry in the direction of growth. If you use beard balm, apply after drying.
4) Use a beard butter, applied to a damp beard, as part of your night time routine.
5) Exercise caution when trimming your own beard. Use scissors to avoid a disaster.
6) Aim to use good quality products and equipment and research the products you're thinking of buying or using. Cheap oils or balms will leave your beard looking greasy and feeling dirty. Cheap combs very often have the moulding flash at the root and along the length of the teeth and will damage your beard.