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How to Maintain a Handsome Beard

Keeping facial hair tidy is a lot more work than it looks

spinner image celebrities with beards
Among celebrities sporting the bearded look these days are, clockwise from top left, Snoop Dogg, Jeff Bridges, Idris Elba, Ricky Martin, Tyler Perry and Steve Carell.
Clockwise from top left: Jared Siskin; Steve Granitz (2); Christopher Polk/NBC; Granitz; Dia Dipasupil, Getty Images (6)

At the 76th Golden Globe awards, actors as diverse as Chris Pine, Steve Carrell, Idris Elba, Tony Shalhoub, Ricky Martin, John Krasinski, Michael B. Jordan, and the Dude himself, Jeff Bridges, shared one thing in common. Along with their variations of black tie, all sported some form of facial hair. The follicular range was vast — from post-two-week stubble (Elba) to the elegantly barbered (Carrell) to the sagaciously biblical (Krasinski). Though not as ubiquitous as last year (Bradley Cooper and Jim Carrey have whisked off their former Lincolnesque whiskers), beards are still so prevalent it was startling to see a face as pale and clean shaven as Globe winner Rami Malek’s.

spinner image man preparing to trim his beard
WestEnd1/Getty Images

Beards are hardly a Hollywood affectation. What was once a modern-day symbol of corporate rebellion is now conformity itself. According to Chris Salgardo, former brand president of Kiehl’s, which has long been a leader in men’s skin care, “almost 70 percent of Kiehl’s men’s clientele currently sport some kind of facial hair.”  And their dominance is hardly confined to an urban landscape. I own a home 130 miles north of New York City on a gravel road closest to a town you can drive through faster than Taylor Swift can sing a chorus, and sometimes I think I’m only the man who walks into the local Rite Aid looking for razor blades.

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I’m not here to pass judgment on whether beards are cool or not (though anything this popular draws suspicion), appealing or not (though several studiesreveal that women regard stubble as very sexy, long beards as a sign of parental stability and clean-shaven men as possibly less masculine), but rather because there is an illusion that needs a wake-up call – often every morning. Beards are a lot more work than shaving. Think of it as another head of hair, or the only one you have left. Either way, you need to take care of it properly.

But you have to be honest with yourself. Just as not every man looks as dashing as Yul Brynner or Pitbull with a shaved head, not every man benefits from a beard. First, you have to be physically able to grow one, and life is unfair. Not every man can. Those of you cursed with bald patches and excessively wiry stubble best beware and refrain.

However, for those able to produce a healthy chin lawn, there are several things to consider. At this point in life, your beard is likely to have at least as much, if not more, gray hair than what’s left on your head. More importantly, a beard will almost always make you appear a few years older. When one is 28 the illusion of maturity can be a bonus; when one is 56, it’s worth evaluating whether a beard adds distinction, swarthiness or simply age.

The reality is that maintaining a healthy, attractive beard requires more effort and more time than shaving regularly.  Here is what you and your face must face to get the distinguished look you want.

Beards must be combed daily

The hair, often coarser, traps food, odors, and pollution. Use a comb with wider teeth so as not to yank hairs that are more often tangled than knotted.  First fluff the hair up from the neck gently. Then comb back down.

You must apply beard oil daily

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The oil conditions the hair, makes it more manageable and gives it shine. Work a small amount in with your hands, then use a boar-bristle brush in a similar pattern to combing — brush it up, then down for more even distribution. Brushing will also remove grime, which combs won’t.

Never wash your beard with soap

It isn’t skin and the oil-stripping properties of soap will only instigate dryness. Beards need to be shampooed and conditioned. How often you do that depends on the nature of your life and work and how much you sweat, but frequency should follow how often you wash your hair (or used to wash it). 

You need to take care of the skin underneath your beard

According to famed dermatologist Patricia Wexler, “the biggest mistake men make is when their face gets irritated under their beard, they assume it’s dry skin. It’s just the opposite. More often than not it’s seborrheic dermatitis. The skin is greasy, from oil residue and lack of exfoliation.” The irony is that shaving exfoliates the skin, which is great for men. So, you actually need a two-step process. First cleanser (preferable to soap) to reach the skin. Then shampoo and beard oil, to reach the hair. I warned you, it isn’t easy.  

Learn to use a beard trimmer

Good ones by Panasonic, Braun, Philips and Wahl are readily available in local pharmacies. Have your barber or hair stylist demonstrate how first to deal with stray hairs and shaping, and especially how to create a clean jawline, which is essential to a handsome beard.  

You also need small scissors specifically designed for trimming your mustache. This is easier to do than you fear. Whether opting for a flush brush or John Bolton fullness, the baseline of your mustache should follow the curve of your upper lip. Snip it along those lines while in resting face. Do not smile.  

Use the palm of your hands to shape your beard

Check the shape and its contents several times a day, and always after you eat. In fact, carry a small mirror in your briefcase or knapsack. If this sounds feminine to you, how masculine does having a piece of cole slaw stuck in your beard sound?   

Because beards take this much work, if you have cultivated a handsome one, consider it an achievement. So, be hairy, but be proud.

Hal Rubenstein is the author of six books, the former fashion director of InStyle and creator of the forthcoming site The Happy Grownup.

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