Beard Success!Posted: November 25, 2013
Well, I’ve apparently done it. I got my first random beard complement from a total stranger. “Nice beard dude” were the words I heard, and turning I was relieved to see a normal-looking dude with an appropriate expression. I said thanks and went on my merry way. I’ve put a lot of work into my beard. No seriously. As great as my Northern European genes have turned out to be, there’s a lot more to growing a good beard than one might think. Last year I grew out a beard for the first time. I was dealing with dry, crackly hair and split ends that made it rather uncomfortable, and I had no idea how to properly trim and take care of it. So after about six weeks I basically panicked and shaved it off entirely. After going back to work and hearing that I looked like a 12 year-old boy, I figured there must be a better way. Once people get used to seeing you with facial hair, be careful about just shaving it off.
This year, as my 30th birthday approached, I decided on two things. First, I was determined to stick with it this time, and this required making myself wait a few months in anticipation before starting to grow it. Secondly, I was determined to give my beard the best possible care. So, in the months preceding the start, I did my homework. With YouTube, and Jack Passion’s book The Facial Hair Handbook (which was ordered in at the local library thanks to my request), I learned quite a bit about growing a healthy and well-kept beard. Many things these days are a lost art that every man used to be taught as a boy in the “old days”. Yes, it’s possible to simply grow out a beard in the same way that it’s possible to grow out your hair. Just stop shaving, right? It can be that simple, but putting a little extra thought into it can go a long way. Most people like to keep their hair looking and feeling civilized, and a beard is no different.
Beards are coming back into style. I’m quite sure of it. It’s probably a combination of many influences, like the guys on Duck Dynasty and Vikings and professional ball players who are getting people used to seeing beards again. I think that many men are beginning to question why beards were out of style for so long. In the twentieth century, thousands of men came back from the World Wars where the military required a clean-shaven look of uniformity (also gas masks required a good seal on the face). Shaving companies jumped on the opportunity to portray men as clean-shaven and went a long way in encouraging that appearance. Hippies made beards look (and smell) bad in the sixties and seventies. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, there are many feminist types who apparently suffer from beard envy and don’t wish to compete with such visual reminders of manliness. It is a sign of healthy manhood in an almost Darwinian sort of way. You can’t grow a good beard unless you are healthy and possess plenty of testosterone. A beard signifies someone who can provide and protect. Since pre-historic times, women have known deep down that a man with a good beard is a good choice.
So what are the secrets? First of all, in my late teens and into my twenties, I basically could not grow a decent beard, and I was in the military anyway. If you can’t grow a full beard, growing a scraggly-looking one may not be the best plan. It is important these days to make beards look good as they re-emerge on the cultural scene. In my late-twenties I was surprised to discover that I could grow a nice full beard. Sometimes you just need to give yourself a few years. Don’t give up hope entirely. If you are ready to grow a beard, remember that before the hair leaves the skin is the best opportunity to care for it. This means a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, and taking an Omega-3 supplement and multivitamin. This is easy stuff. Avoiding processed sugars, smoking, or stress is also important. Married men have the ability to boost their testosterone in the traditional way (wink wink), and working out is important as well. Get plenty of sleep, and basically be as healthy as you can in general (which is good to do anyway).
What about caring for your beard? First of all, do not use shampoo, or any soap with excess chemicals. I have tried “Grandpa’s Pine Tar Soap” and it seems to live up to the hype. Any soap with only a few (natural) ingredients should work fine. I’ve heard that conditioner can be good, but just using natural soap on my hair, face, and beard has been working great for me going on 3 months now. Take an extra minute to rinse well when using soap. Also, and this is important, your face puts out a certain amount of natural oils, and it’s important to brush and comb these oils through your beard a couple times a day. It’s especially important to do this during the “itchy phase” in the first couple weeks. Scratching with a comb is fine and feels great. Try to avoid touching your beard too much, as it can work grime into the hairs and also cause split ends. A boar-bristle brush is the way to go, and “Kent” handmade saw-cut combs are totally worth the money (I like the 6T). Avoid typical plastic combs and brushes! They have tiny seams that can snag and scratch the hairs. Don’t brush or comb your beard when wet, and let it air dry for the most part. There are reasons behind these things, and Jack Passion’s book goes into more detail about a lot of them. I just wanted to pass along some basic tips that have helped me a lot. As far as trimming goes, I suggest YouTube, and being very careful. When it comes time to get the scissors out, take just a tiny bit off at a time. I’m still working on establishing a standard method for myself.
By the way, if you stop your beard at the jaw line, you’re severely limiting yourself. The natural neck line is best, allowing the beard to grow to a much better fullness. It may be a bit itchier at first, but if you care for it then it ends up feeling fine. One of the benefits of growing out a beard is that it requires minimal upkeep, so why grow one that requires daily maintenance? Goatees, mustaches, and excessively-trimmed beards look really bad if they go a couple days without shaving around them. A razor has not touched my face in months. I take care of the stray hairs on my neck and cheeks well enough with scissors and clippers, but basically my beard’s natural lines look fine. I like to have the ability to go weeks without upkeep and look natural (albeit a natural mountain man) if I choose or if circumstances demand it. Unless you’re a male model for a cologne company, there’s no sense in being dainty about it.
I was tempted at first to let my beard grow wild (and it’s always a possibility, so look out), but I have thus far settled on a more conservative look. I’m seeing what I can do with a standard shorter length and I can always go longer later. For now the style is more like Sean Connery or Ulysses S. Grant than Stonewall Jackson or Phil Robertson. I feel like a new man, and as the beard has grown out, it’s grown softer and sometimes I even forget that it’s there. It’s cool how it actually helps to protect my face in the cold air or harsh sunlight as well. Around here, many guys have beards this time of year, so it’s perfectly natural to grow one out. Encouraged by my success thus far, I don’t plan on getting rid of it any time soon.