How to Take Care of Your Beard

There’s more to growing a beard than just leaving your razor in the medicine cabinet. Here’s how to trim, fade, shape and style your beard to suit your style.

By: Calum MarshDate: 2021-07-05

Beards seem, to the uninitiated, like the easiest thing in the world. What could be easier than not shaving every day — isn’t growing out a beard essentially a way of copping out of the usual male hygiene regimen?

But there’s a difference between simply letting your facial hair grow out and actually, deliberately growing a beard. The former requires no effort and tends to make you look like a bum. The latter is a delicate, time-consuming process of careful grooming and diligent maintenance — but one that’s totally worth it, when you see the handsome, manly results.

If you want to rock a beard the right way, here’s what you’ll need to do.

Trimming

If you have or want to have a beard, trimming regularly is mandatory. This is equally true for beards of any length: whether you’re attempting to grow it out to prodigious, James Harden-like proportions or whether you simply want a bit of facial hair for distinction, it is absolutely critical to remain diligent and to keep on top of the situation. A beard can lend your face structure and poise and sophistication. The only thing that can spoil it is a lack of maintenance and ongoing care.

Your first line of defense is a simple pair of grooming scissors. You’ll want to use these more or less every morning to take care of any loose or stray hairs that might crop up and grow out at an unwieldy rate. Beard hair, unlike the hair on your head, has a tendency to grow somewhat unevenly and erratically, and as a result you will often find a single errant hair or two springing out in some bizarre direction wildly. Use the scissors to keep these problem hairs at the same standard length as the rest of the beard, maintaining a uniform look and overall smooth shape.

In the long term, invest in a good electric beard trimmer. These are not unlike the electric trimmers your barber probably already uses on the back and sides of your hair, only with a smaller blade for more control and precision. Most trimmers will allow you to set a particular length to create an even look all around your beard; going at it freehand is not recommended, because even the smallest slip of the hand or incorrect amount of pressure could destroy the entire beard. (Trust me, I’ve had to shave and start from scratch before.) You can use this for a full-beard trim once a week to keep things even.

Fading

If you’re planning on growing your beard out, it may be wise to consider doing so with a more intentional shape in mind. That is, your entire beard does not necessarily need to be the same length throughout — the thickest, densest parts of your beard, most likely around the chin, can slowly fade to a thinner look around the sides of your cheeks and up toward your sideburns. This has the effect of both slimming the shape of your face, and, more importantly still, making your beard look deliberate rather than haphazard. There’s a difference between a long beard that you intend to grow long and the kind of thing Tom Hanks wound up with in Castaway. You want to look like you tried.

Shaping and Sculpting

In a similar vein, and for similar reasons, no matter how long your beard is, it helps to keep on top of certain areas that would naturally grow out but should not necessarily do so. For most men, this means the top of your cheek — the area directly beneath your eyes to where the beard begins — and the bottom of your neck, neither of which lend themselves well to excessive beard growth. Consider that shaving these areas, to create a better and more pleasing beard shape on the whole, will make it immediately clear that you have put time and effort into the creation and upkeep of your facial hair.

For steady day-to-day maintenance of this shape, an electric beard trimmer can be run over the problem areas briefly every morning. (This is especially useful for men with thicker or darker facial hair.) For a more thorough and complete job, apply a small amount of shaving cream to the cheek and neck and shave them as you would if you were shaving your beard off completely. Be mindful that these areas are highly sensitive, and finish up with a light after shave or moisturizer to keep the skin from getting red or pimpled.

Brushing and Combing

There’s no question that a beard looks better brushed and combed — just as you would never walk out of the house without running a comb through the hair on your head, so too should your beard be treated with some respect and consideration. A solid, heavy-duty beard brush will flatten down erratic hairs and add volume and shape to longer beards, as well as help to dislodge any loose hairs, dead skin, or other debris that might have found its way into the crevices of your beard. Likewise, a comb, which will prevent your beard from looking clumped or matted, particularly if it’s getting long.

You might think a man without a very short, cropped beard would be exempt from this task, but no: even the shortest beard can benefit from brushing, as the hair will be made more pliable and smoother to the touch. In fact, hair as short as two-day stubble is the most deserving of a good brushing, because it is precisely the state in which the hair is at its toughest. Don’t be afraid to get in there and really brush hard, as if you were exfoliating in the process.

Styling

Unquestionably one of the most pleasurable things about having a beard in 2020 is how many products are out there these days for men to use to get the most out of their beard. Back in the day, bearded men had to make do with a bit of shampoo in the shower to keep it looking nice and smelling clean — but today we are in a golden age of facial hair styling. Do yourself a favour: if you have a beard and want to feel good about it, indulge in the luxury of some of these beard products.

Oils

A good beard oil will be your best friend. Not only do they come in a huge variety of incredibly appealing scents — often manly stuff like sandalwood, which is just great — they soften the tough hair of your beard, make your beard easier to sculpt and work with a brush, and, best of all, make your beard glisten and shine magnificently.

Balms

Beard balms are a different beast than beard oils, but they’re no less essential to proper beard maintenance. A beard balm is sort of like a thick clay or paste, and its job is to moisturize your hair and keep the skin beneath the beard feeling great. Balms are designed to prevent itching, reduce dryness, and help eliminate unsightly flaking, and they also make the beard itself feel healthier and more luxurious.

Waxes

Finally, a beard wax is, as it sounds, a thick wax that’s used to style a beard with more deliberate force. The prototypical function of a beard wax is to shape the ends of your moustache into a charming twirl — think of the dudes you see at upscale cocktail bars wearing suspenders and Prohibition-era hats. But a wax doesn’t need to be used for such an affectation, as a simple application of the stuff can help tamp down an unruly beard and help maintain a more pleasing shape overall.

Calum Marsh is a writer based in Toronto. His work appears in GQ, Complex, and The New York Times.