Earlier this month a good many gentlemen started growing out their beards. Out of curiosity, I became one of them.
“For many guys, shaving is a normal part of their routine, but now if you are meeting it’s through Zoom, which is a little more relaxed,” says Simone Loban, founder and owner of Simone David Barbershop.
Over the years, the benefits of beards have been touted to me by those who love them: sharper features, less skincare maintenance and the company of distinguished men (Ernest Hemingway comes to mind). My face has been more or less clean-shaven all my life, so being forced to stay home presented an opportunity to try something new. I quickly learned that, as with many things worth doing, going from smooth to stubble isn’t as easy as it seemed.
I was prepared to change my routine. I wasn’t prepared for the initial itchiness, for modifying my skincare routine or for attempting to apply a hair stylist’s eye to my new beard (something I'd already attempted with my hair, yikes). And I wasn’t alone: many fellers I follow on Instagram had also embarked on the beard path, and beard growth continues to be a major conversation topic during virtual happy hours with my friends. To help all of us on our facial hair journey, I reached out to professionals for tips, tricks and techniques for you or the man in your life to keep in mind.
Tip #1: Exfoliate
Both Loban and Amanda Lufkin, director of Gene Juarez Men, offered this sage advice. Bacteria, dead skin and natural skin oils can get trapped under your beard, which leads to itchiness, clogged pores and ingrown hairs. “Everyone will get a little itchy, especially as they start growing out their beard,” Lufkin says. “It’s important to take care of your skin and I recommend exfoliating every other day to start.” She recommends Babor’s gentle, water-activated Enzyme Cleanser, and Loban is a fan of Jack Black’s Energizing Face Buff.
Tip #2: Moisturize
If you’re like me, you might have glanced at beard oils while shopping and wondered what they’re for. Now, I know. “Your beard hair can pull moisture out of the air and away from the skin that it’s touching which can be another cause of itching,” explains Lufkin. Her solution is Layrite’s Concentrated Beard Oil, designed to soak into both your beard’s hairs and your skin to maintain moisture.
Tip #3: Think About Your Partner, and Trim!
During one of the aforementioned happy hours a friend, referring to her partner, exclaimed: “His beard is out of control!” If your face regularly touches another face, approach growing your beard with courteousness. After all, you might have recently discovered the benefits of exfoliating but that doesn’t mean they want to. “Don’t let your beard grow all the way down your neck,” advises Loban. “Instead, choose a point to create a flattering beard line, typically above your Adam’s apple, and shave the hair below. Use the corner of your blade to trim the hair over and around the corner of your lip.”
Pro tip: When trimming your beard I find it’s helpful to lay a sheet of newspaper directly underneath. It’ll save on the Drano, trust me.
Tip #4: Remember, Nothing is Forever
When we’ll again congregate in public is uncertain, but the good news is that you have plenty of time to experiment with your new stubble as you learn which sections grow fastest and the angles and lines that best chisel your face. Eventually, you’ll have to make the decision to walk confidently beard-first into the world or make it a quarantine memory. Either way, enlisting the help of your favorite barber before our return to public life is the way to go. Similar to getting a haircut, an experienced stylist can objectively shape your beard to complement your natural features. And if you’d rather bid your beard adieu, there’s nothing like a straight-razor shave to feel like your old self.
As for me, I still have (at least) a couple of weeks to decide. In the short time that I’ve sported my beard, I've added 20 minutes to my morning routine twice a week to trim and shape it, which might end up feeling tedious, post-quarantine. On the other hand, I've enjoyed exploring how subtle adjustments to the shape and length of my beard affect my personal style, and I've received mostly good reviews from my friends and peers. “As long as you don’t look like Gandalf,” joked one.