There are many reasons why a man might grow a beard: Warmth is one, which is why so many dudes let their facial hair grow in the winter. Attraction is another, since recent studies have shown that both women and gay men often find men with heavy facial hair more attractive. Depending on where you live, it could be to fit in — a 2015 survey by Braun found that in New York City, 67 percent of men sport beards. It could also be to stand out: if you look at the amount of beard contests and conventions that happen around the world in any given year, the longest or wildest beard takes top prize.
But if your reason for growing a beard is laziness, you might want to rethink that. Sure, it means you don’t have to shave every day, but having a beard comes with its own set of issues. We’re not just talking about maintenance, either. You may need to adjust your skincare routine to address the hard-to-reach-but-still-important skin under your beard, and combat specific issues that can arise from facial hair. You might have put down the razor and shaving cream, but you need to pick up some scissors and beard balm. Also, did you know beardruff is a thing? It is!
Whether you decide to join the bearded masses or not, here is everything you need to know to grow, care for, and maintain the best beard possible.
Growing a Beard
The actual growing of a beard is the simplest part. “Stop shaving,” says master barber Matty Conrad. “You have to have something to work with and you have to understand the lay of the land. You won’t know if your beard comes in thick or full ‘til you give it a chance to grow.” For most men, it takes about four to six weeks to really come into its own.
But just because you’ve put down the razor doesn’t mean you can sit back. As a beard grows, you need to establish your lines. According to Conrad, there are three lines you have to worry about with the shape of your beard: the top line, the base line, and the lip line. “The top line is the line on the cheek that goes from your sideburns to the corner of your mouth,” explains Conrad. “The base line is the line underneath your neck from the corners of your jaw around the Adam’s apple. And the lip line is above your top lip.”
Establish these lines early, and use a trimmer to keep them defined. This will both help your beard grow into an established shape and get you through that awkward grow-out phase. “When a beard is brand new, guys can start to feel that their face gets rounder because it can mask the jaw slightly,” says Conrad. “One of the easiest ways to push through that stage is to make sure your base line is nice and clean so you don’t have a lot of hair growing on your neck, which can make you look chubby.”
The Itch Is Real
Speaking of that grow-out phase, one of the other biggest problems men with new beards face is uncomfortable itch. According to New York City dermatologist Adam Geyer, MD, beard itch can happen for two reasons: dehydration or yeast (hear us out). “As the beard grows, it becomes a breeding ground for bacteria and yeast that like to grow in the oils that are secreted out of our pores and which the beard hair traps,” he says. The yeast that can grow is the same kind that grows on scalp, called pityrosporum, and can cause dandruff (more on that later) and the increased bacteria can cause folliculitis, acne, and even infection if left untreated.
Both Conrad and Dr. Geyer recommend a beard oil to help deal with itch. A quality formula will moisturize the facial hair and skin underneath, but also help control increased oil production (just like a facial oil will help control sebum production on your face). After all, we all know that moisturizing your skin can get rid of some kinds of itchiness.
Dr. Geyer prefers Le Labo® Beard Oil ($60), which “has a lot of essential oils that are great, not just for the beard, but also for the underlying skin,” he says. Conrad also recommends essential oils, but warns that not all are created equal. “Any good beard oil will have argan oil,” he says. “You also want to look for things like grapeseed and jojoba oil . . . they’ll absorb into hair faster.” He recommends Victory Barber & Brand® Beard Oil ($22).
“Beardruff” Is a Real Thing
Back to that concerning yeast growth. The excess oils secreted by hair follicles create an ideal breeding ground for pityrosporum, which can build up in the follicles and cause a skin condition called pityrosporum folliculitis. This condition is one common cause of dandruff — both on the scalp and the beard.
Most dandruff shampoos contain ingredients to combat yeast and bacteria buildup, so Dr. Geyer recommends using one on your beard as well as your head. “If you’re washing your scalp with a dandruff shampoo, make sure you’re using it in your beard region, too,” he says. “It doesn't have to be every time you wash your face, but a few times a week using a product with zinc, a sulfur derivative, or tea tree oil can decrease the colonization of yeast.”
However, be careful about the strength. Facial skin, even under a beard, can be more sensitive to products than scalp skin. Dr. Geyer notes that some classic dandruff shampoos contain tar (which could be too strong for use on your face), so be sure to read the ingredient list carefully. We like the classic Head & Shoulders® 2-in-1 Shampoo and Conditioner ($16 for two), which features zinc as its flake-foiling ingredient — just stash a bottle in your shower and use it as needed.
Flakes of skin in your beard could also signal that the skin underneath your beard is too dry. Beard oils can go a long way in moisturizing the health of facial hair and skin, but if you still notice dryness, you may need to switch your oil or layer multiple products. “Think about the skin under your beard: is that skin nourished enough from using a beard oil? Or do you need an additional product?” asks Dr. Geyer. “You can certainly apply regular facial moisturizers through the beard and onto the skin, especially at night, to achieve more hydration of your facial skin without weighing down the beard or affecting its appearance.” If layering multiple products, we advise starting with your most lightweight formula and waiting several minutes for it to absorb before slicking on a richer texture. That way, you’ll be sealing in hydration.
Beard Care Is Skincare
It’s important to remember that, even though beard hair is fundamentally different than hair on your scalp, it’s still on your face, so the tenets of skincare still apply if you have a beard. One is moisturization, of course. Another is exfoliation, as dead skin cells can have a harder time falling off themselves with a jungle of hair blocking their path. “A beard does collecte debris,” says Conrad. “It gets dirty, you get food in it, coffee can drip into it.” He recommends using a low-foaming beard wash like Proraso® Beard Wash ($18) every day to make sure buildup doesn’t happen. Keeping it clean will also help prep the skin for exfoliation.
Neither Conrad nor Dr. Geyer are huge fans of beard scrubs. Both agree that they can be too thick and the beads can easily get stuck in the coarse hairs of a beard. Instead, Dr. Geyer advises on using a facial cleanser that contains alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), like Skin Laundry® Extra Deep Gel Face Wash ($20), which allows the exfoliating AHAs to easily reach the skin’s surface. Then supplement with an additional exfoliant with the same frequency you would exfoliate your face (around one to two times a week). “Periodically using a chemically-based exfoliant like a salicylic acid or glycolic acid will allow you to lift of those flakes and debris much easier than using a scrub,” Geyer explains.
Breakouts can still happen underneath a beard, but the tricky part is that they can be harder to see if your beard is thick. Also, depending on how long your beard is or how far you are in the grow-out process, it’s easy to mistake an ingrown hair for a pimple. They look similar, but are treated differently. If you’re prone to acne breakouts, Dr. Geyer recommends a face wash containing salicylic acid like Neutrogena® Oil-Free Acne Wash ($19 for three) to keep them at bay. You can also use spot treatments, but if you think what you have is an ingrown hair, drying agents won’t help. “If something is really tender under your beard, a good place to start is a little Neosporin® ($4) on the spot [to stave off infection],” he says.
But regarding skincare, the biggest thing that bearded men forget is that you still need to wear sunscreen every day — even on your beard. “People often assume that areas underneath hair are universally protected from the sun,” Geyer says. “A lot of men have patchy growth, so there are areas where skin will be exposed to the sun and, though it might be annoying to apply sunblock through portions of the beard, it’s still important.”
Chemical sunscreens with thinner textures, like La Roche-Posay® Anthelios® Cooling Water Lotion Sunscreen ($36), are ideal for beards as they can be applied through hair more effectively. “Physical sunscreens like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide products will often make the beard look white or grey on those with darker hair,” warns Geyer. “There are more elegant products that utilize the spectrum of chemical filters without having a reverse dye job.
Beards Are Hairstyles
Rocking a beard of any length is an aesthetic choice and, skincare aside, caring for and styling it are important parts of beard life. As any experienced beard wearer knows, the most important thing is the shape. When shaped correctly, a beard can make a huge difference in your face. “[A well-shaped beard] gives the appearance of a stronger, more masculine jaw,” says Conrad. “It should be designed around your bone structure and be a little on the square side. [Make it] narrow in the cheek portion and leave the hair on the chin longer. The hair on the sides should be tapered in a little bit.” A well-trimmed beard with a subtle V-shape will make round faces look longer, slim faces look squarer, and square faces look even better.
If you’re new to beards, it may be worth it to see a professional barber for your first shape-up at about the four- to six-week mark. “A barber’s job is to read the growth pattern and face shape to create the strongest, most masculine look,” he says. After that first shape-up, regular at-home maintenance is easy — just don’t go crazy. Leave the heavy lifting to professionals. “People handicap themselves by overly grooming their beard,” says Conrad. “Let a professional handle the interior and you can handle the outline. The outline is what gets you through a couple of months.”
To trim your beard between barber visits, Conrad recommends using an electric trimmer with a fine blade, like Wahl® Stainless Steel Clippers ($54), to maintain the top, base, and lip lines. “The trimmer’s job is to create the outline of the beard,” he says. “They’re for making nice clean lines, they’re not for cutting the beard.” Use one every few days on your neck and upper cheeks to make sure lines are crisp and errant hairs are kept to a minimum.
Brushing your beard is also important. Not only will it help keep the skin underneath exfoliated, but it will also help distribute healthy oils throughout the hair more evenly. Conrad recommends a stiff-bristled barber brush, like Victory Barber & Brand Brush ($18) to help tame coarse beard hairs. Brush out the beard, then use a beard balm, like Billy Jealousy® Original Gangster® Beard Balm ($16), to mold it into shape. Think of a beard balm the same way you do a pomade for the hair on your head: a styling product to create the look and shape you want. Once your facial hair has been shaped and smoothed, gently use scissors to trim any hairs pointing outside that silhouette. “Never point them inward,” warns Conrad, “or you’ll risk cutting holes into your beard.”
Living the Beard Life
Whether you’re test driving your first beard, a seasoned facial hair aficionado, or simply giving your face a break from shaving, it’s important to remember to treat your beard with the same care you do for your hair and face. Beard care is somewhat of a hybrid of the two, after all. Keep it clean, moisturized, and trimmed. Don’t forget the skin underneath; treat it with respect. And with those three points in mind, a final note from Conrad: “The people who are attracted to beards will find you intensely attractive.” Don’t say we didn’t warn you.
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