Posted on 18 August 2020
Words by Mr John Lockett
Dealing with the hair on your head is often a daunting task, but it is one that is rarely handled all on your own. When things get out of control, you can rely on a barber to give you the follicular equivalent of a factory reset. The hair on your face, however, is a different story. From maintaining the right length and style to reconciling yourself with the genes you’ve been dealt, beards are notoriously fickle. And it can feel like you’re going it alone, guessing every step of the way, because managing one’s facial hair is a lesson that’s pretty much skipped while growing up.
Making the decision to forgo the clean shave opens up a wealth of grooming possibilities that might be overwhelming. What kind of trimmer should I use? How often do I need to tidy up? What do I do about my moustache? Why are beard oils a thing? And when, oh when, will the itchiness go away?
To help you on your new bearded adventure – or if you’re a facial hair aficionado who just wants to make sure you’re doing everything right – we’ve compiled answers to some of your most commonly asked questions.
01. What are the key differences between a good beard and a bad beard?
There’s a fine line between sophisticated facial hair and sloppy scruff. As with everything else in the grooming realm, it’s all about effort. “The entire growth process of a beard is like that of a garden,” says Ms Kumi Craig, groomer to many of Hollywood’s leading men, including Messrs Timothée Chalamet, Jordan Peele and certified beard god Mr Justin Theroux. “Care and maintenance are key.” You don’t want to look like you just gave up and let your facial hair go wild. So, what exactly does it take to grow a great beard? “You want a beard to shape and complement your face, the same as you would with a haircut,” says Ms Craig. “Another factor is the care you put into your beard while growing it. Just like the hair on our heads, beards need to be washed, moisturised, conditioned, brushed and trimmed. A clean beard is a good beard.”
02. Do I have to wash my beard every day?
Definitely not every day (you’ll dry out your skin and strip your beard of oils), so aim for every couple of days. If you have substantial growth, use a quality beard shampoo to keep things nice and soft. Leave-in conditioner will take your beard to the next level and minimise the wildman vibes. Don’t even think about using the anti-dandruff shampoo in your shower rack (admit it, you’ve considered it). It will wreak havoc on your face and could make the problem worse.
If you are experiencing beard dandruff or dryness, reconsider your skincare regimen, which is most likely the root problem, and explore some beard oil options (we’ll get to that in a bit). Ms Craig recommends using shampoo and face wash with tea tree oil. “The natural antibacterial effects treat any fungus on the skin, which is very common in humid climates, and helps with dandruff.”
03. Do men who sculpt a false and unnaturally high jawline with their beards think we’re all stupid?
Grooming gimmicks rarely achieve what they set out to accomplish and, more often than not, just make things worse. Beards can go a long way when it comes to complementing your face shape, but you must do it right. While facial hair can help fill a weak chin or enhance a jawline, anything overly sculpted will just look unnatural and eye-catching (in a bad way). According to Ms Craig, you should strive to “avoid super sharp lines on the cheeks and jawline, and be careful not to create a sharp line too high to the jawline. Instead, make it naturally fade down the neck towards the Adam’s apple.”
04. Is a chin strap ever acceptable?
Unless you’re the designated “edgy” one in a 1990s boyband or a street magician (statistically speaking, we’re pretty sure you are not), chin straps are a no-no. A moustache is essential for balancing any beard and 100 per cent of chin straps just look over-manicured. See above for notes on why you should stay away from sharp lines in general.
05. How long is too long?
There’s no hard and fast rule that says respectable beards should be a certain length, just make sure you’re keeping things trim and not at all mangey. It’s important to find the perfect balance between hairstyle and face shape, so use your hair length to determine how long your beard should be.
That said, if you look like someone in a ZZ Top cover band, then it might be a good idea to lose a few inches. At the end of the day, your beard shouldn’t be the centre of attention. It should enhance the overall package. Once the proverbial tipping point is passed, you become “that guy with the wild beard” instead of “Tim”.
06. What can I do about a two-tone beard?
Embrace your natural hair colour. Grey adds natural dimension and depth, not to mention character. Dying your beard is risky and the result is almost always lacklustre and overly artificial. Plus, facial hair grows fast. All that work going into any dye job will quickly come undone at the roots.
“The simple solution is mascara,” says Ms Craig, if you insist on covering up those greys. “For a dark brown or black beard, I use a dark brown mascara, any brand, it doesn’t have to be waterproof. Take the wand out of the tube and clean with a paper towel until almost dry and lightly brush the wand up and down to fill the greyer areas.”
07. Are respirator face masks still effective when you have a beard?
Unfortunately, no. While a cloth mask should be fine, depending on the length of your beard, with a respirator face mask, you need a skin-tight seal between your face and the mask and beards will almost always break that seal. But all is not lost on the beard front. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a handy infographic for facial hair that can still function with filtering respirators. In short, now is a great time to try rocking that moustache you’ve been mulling over.
08. Do beard oils actually do anything?
They sure do. Beard oils are essential for keeping your beard soft and conditioned while reducing itchiness. “Beard oil is beneficial to the skin under the beard that can easily be neglected,” says Ms Craig. “Start with a few drops, depending on the length of the beard, warm the oil between your palms and press into the cheeks. Hold for a few seconds and let the oil get to the skin under the hair, then run your palms in a downward motion through the beard hair straight down the neck. If there’s any oil left on your palms, rub it into your elbows.”
09. What can you do about patches?
There’s no cure for patches, but there are ways of minimising patchiness. First, try to grow your beard a bit more, then brush against the grain to maximise volume and coverage. Use beard oils or balms to keep what you’ve got conditioned. They can also help style and shape your beard to fill in those empty spots. Diet is important, too. “Diet is so important for our overall wellbeing, but really shows in our skin and hair,” says Ms Craig. “Losing hair can be stress-related. Pearl powder is a great supplement and can strengthen hair follicles and stimulate new hair growth.”
If all else fails, try Ms Craig’s A-List approved trick. “For photoshoots and red carpets, I sometimes fill in the patchy spots with a brow filler or mascara. You can try things like lash growth. It is super easy to apply and works great as a spot treatment.”
10. Can I use my beard trimmer for manscaping?
No, just no. Technically you could, but there are a million reasons why you should not. For starters, body hair trimmers are typically more flexible and contoured in order to reach every nook, cranny and curve while reducing the odds of nicking your most sensitive regions. Beard trimmers, on the other hand, are all about precision and require a deft hand to do the job well. Then there’s the hygiene factor. You really don’t want the sweat, oil and bacteria-trapping hair from, say, your groin or pits to co-mingle with the more delicate area around your mouth. If you don’t already, have two trimmers on hand: one for the neck up and another for everything down below. Your face will thank you.
Illustrations by Mr Nishant Choksi