Before growing a beard of their own, most men consider a beard to be the maintenance-free option.
In practice though, growing and maintaining a beard that enhances your appearance actually takes some work.
The same way the hair on your head looks best with some attention, you'll achieve the best results by incorporating a grooming routine for the hair on your face as well.
In my How to Grow a Beard…Gracefully article, I lay out four simple steps to make the beard-growing process a more enjoyable experience.
Likewise, the following suggestions below are meant to take you beyond the basics of “wash it once in a while” to maintaining a damn fine face of hair.
Wash your beard
Your beard doesn't require an aggressive washing routine or harsh products since, with the exception of some runaway BBQ sauce, it doesn't come in contact with much.
Using bar soap or shampoo will leave your beard stiff and crunchy and your face feeling dry and tight.
A gentle face wash or, ideally, a specifically formulated beard wash will work best.
If your face wash is of the deep-cleaning variety for clearing acne, you should definitely opt for a separate beard wash as your cleanser will be too harsh on your beard.
By design, beard washes are more gentle than soap or shampoo, so don't be surprised if they don't lather as expected.
This doesn't have anything to do with how well they clean, though.
Manufacturers add foaming agents to most grooming products to create the illusion of a better clean because consumers associate foaming action with cleaning power.
If you can get gentler products, you'll be better off since these foaming agents are largely the source of over-drying of your skin and hair.
How to wash your beard
Washing your beard is accomplished in much the same way as washing the hair on your head.
Just squeeze out a small amount of product into your palm, rub into your beard, massage your face underneath, and rinse thoroughly.
Frequency to wash your beard
It isn't necessary to wash your beard everyday, but you can if you want to. If you do choose to wash everyday, it's particularly important you choose a gentle product.
If you don't wash your beard during every shower, just hold your face under the warm water and massage. This will be enough to hold you over until the next wash day.
Washing schedules anywhere from everyday to once a week are common in the bearded community.
I find the ideal frequency to be about once every two or three days. I make an exception for the mustache though, which gets washed everyday.
Not only is this the area most likely to come in contact with food, but washing also leaves a clean, grippy surface for my mustache wax to hold on to.
Condition your beard
Conditioning your beard is the next step after washing. Just like your head hair, beards can also use a little moisture after being washed.
It's best to select a gentle conditioner specifically formulated for beards.
How to condition your beard
After washing, apply a generous amount of conditioner to your beard and let it soak in for a minute or two. But I like to overdo things, so I tend to leave it in for the remainder of my shower.
Be sure to rinse thoroughly.
Frequency to condition your beard
For the day-to-day I like to have an abbreviated grooming routine, so I treat conditioning more like a luxury.
On days when I have a little more time, like a Sunday, I slather my beard with conditioner and let it work its magic throughout an entire leisurely shower.
If you're concerned that daily washing will over-dry your beard, but still want to keep it fresh every day, use the conditioner by itself on days you don't wash.
If you've never tried this on your head hair, it works surprisingly well.
Your hair still gets clean and smells nice, but you won't have any of the drying effects caused by washing. It's a great way to bridge the gap between wash days.
Oil your beard
The most important step to beard care is applying an oil after you get out of the shower. Good beard oil is formulated to mimic your beard's natural oil that's removed during washing.
If you only buy one product for your beard, make it a quality beard oil.
Similar to beard oil, beard balm is another option. Typically, beard balm will have a very similar formulation to its liquid counterpart, but with the addition of wax. This creates a thicker product that has the ability to provide a little control.
How to oil your beard
It's best to oil your beard when you first get out of the shower and your face and hair are most “receptive” to products.
The warm water opens up the pores of your skin and raises the cuticles (scales) of the hair shaft, priming them for product application.
To portion out your beard oil (dropper bottles only), remove the cap, turn the bottle upside down, and tap the bottom with your finger. Each tap should extract a single drop.
For a beard about two or three inches in length, you only need about four drops of beard oil. I've used six or seven drops at one time without my beard becoming too oily or greasy looking.
Rub the oil between your hands and then apply to your beard. It's best to come at it from multiple angles, running your fingers between the hair to ensure even distribution.
When you're done, just rub the excess on your arms, elbows, or chest.
The natural ingredients found in quality beard oils are actually good for your skin. They'll make you smell great, too.
Frequency to oil your beard
Applying beard oil should be done after every shower to replace any oil that was removed, especially if you washed it that day.
Since beard oil makes your beard feel so damn good, and most have a wonderful scent, it's perfectly reasonable to apply multiple times per day.
As an added bonus, beard oil usually comes in 1 fl oz bottles, making it convenient to keep one at work, one in the car, and another in your coat pocket for midday pick-me-ups.
Styling your beard
I'm not talking about anything dramatic like a pompadour on your face, but rather, teaching an unruly beard some manners.
If you're happy with the way your beard looks when you jump out of the shower, by all means, leave it.
But if your beard is giving you grief, you have options to help get things under control.
For example, the hair under my bottom lip prefers to curl up towards my mouth and gets in the way. Also, the hair under my chin is so curly and coarse that it's difficult to get a comb through.
To counter this, I like to straighten these areas to keep my beard manageable and looking its best.
In the photo above, the right side is oiled only. The left side is oiled, straightened with a comb and blowdryer, and the mustache is styled with pomade.
There isn't a huge difference, but the right side does look a little sloppy and the left side appears more intentional.
How to style your beard
After applying beard oil, beard balm, or even a light coat of hair pomade, you're ready to tame your wild facial hair.
Hold the hair with your comb where you want it to stay, apply a little heat with the blow dryer, and slowly pull the comb through the hair.
Repeat this process all around your beard until you reach the desired shape.
You'll have to experiment to find out how much time, heat, and combing is necessary to get the results you want.
NOTE: If your beard is only slightly unruly, a pomade or balm alone may be enough to get it under control. In that case, skip the heat all together.
Frequency to style your beard
It isn't necessary to do this on a daily basis, and probably best not to heat your beard with a blowdryer constantly.
You may want to treat this in the same manner as a slick hairstyle by saving it for a date, important meeting, or whenever you're feeling particularly fancy.
Like most, my first inclination was to trim my mustache as soon at it was long enough to come down over my lip.
I quickly realized that, although very functional, I don't prefer the look of a short mustache and a longer beard.
In my eyes, that combo lacked balance. Not to mention it required almost constant maintenance.
So I decided to grow my mustache to a length that would allow me to train it to stay out of the way.
How to style your mustache
You have two major options here. You can go with a natural, light hold approach or a slick, high hold look. Either way, I find that my mustache is most obedient when it's been washed and is completely dry.
The natural look
- Apply a small amount of medium hold mustache wax to a dry mustache, working it in thoroughly.
- Comb it down with several strokes to align the hairs and evenly distribute the wax.
- Comb your mustache to the sides, starting at the center and pulling the comb outwards.
The slick handlebar mustache
- Follow the same steps as above, but with a higher hold wax or hair pomade (I often use Layrite Super Hold).
- Get a little more wax on your fingers and apply to the tips of your mustache only.
- Finish by twisting and shaping the ends until you achieve the desired curve and sharpness.
Shaping a handlebar mustache takes a little practice and training, but it'll be well worth it in the end. They look great and are very functional in that they keep your mustache away from your mouth.
As an added bonus, the time your mustache spends in a rigidly styled position will help train it to have a gentle swoop when you go for the natural look.
Frequency to style your mustache
If your mustache is long enough to cover your mouth, you'll likely have to do something with it everyday to look presentable. Whether or not that involves a fully styled handlebar or simply a light application of medium hold wax is up to you.
A good compromise is to go with a natural look for the day-to-day routine and a slick handlebar on Friday and Saturday night.
Expedited beard care routine
If you aren't the kind of guy who wants to invest in all of these products or go through an elaborate routine, don't sweat it. I have a minimalist approach for you that also works great for the beard enthusiast in a rush.
Step 1. Wash your beard with the face wash you already have.
Step 2. Apply a few drops of beard oil to towel dried beard.
Step 3. Done.
While this won't leave your beard looking or feeling its absolute best, it'll do just fine. Having a simple beard care routine is better than not having one at all.
So do what works best for you.
Let it grow,