To Beard or Not to Beard?
Now that we’ve wound the clock back an hour and started ordering Pumpkin-spiced lattes at Starbucks, it’s time to discuss one of my favorite Fall/Winter accessories for men—the beard!
Nothing goes better with that hipster-grandpa-sweater and 1950s eyewear than a scruffy jaw line. Here in L.A., sporting a beard seems to be less about keeping your face warm or making a fashion statement than it is about convenience or laziness. Nevertheless, for those men who can actually grow facial hair, a beard can be a fun way of expressing personal style. It defines the structure of one’s face, boosting masculine energy. However, not all beard growth is created equal. Painful razor bumps, flaky skin underneath unruly hairs and sandpaper cheeks that “rug burn” the faces of those we love, all necessitate grooming guidance. Couple that with popular initiatives like “Movember,” which raise funds for men’s health issues, and you’ve got a good reason to explore facial hair options!
The clean-shaven faces roaming the halls of corporate America have become synonymous with professionalism and sophistication, but ask any man if he enjoys shaving and you’ll probably hear a resounding hell no! I realize that’s a generalization, but for most of us, this tedious daily task (capable of causing an existential crisis) is a chore we could live without. Besides, groomed facial hair has become an acceptable look for the young professional.The problem is, so many of us are in the dark about the “do’s” and “dont’s” of shaving and beard grooming. Do I shave against the grain or with it? Is soap and water okay or do I use shaving cream? Is a fancy straight razor really the only way to get a proper clean shave or can I just “Bic it?” And how do you deal with those tender ingrown hairs? Men have had to answer these questions through trial and error—filling in the gaps fathers forgot to address while as children, we watched them shave in the mirror.
A great shave begins with a softened hair follicle. The best time to shave is after you’ve showered or spent sometime in a steam room. If you can’t shower or steam, a great secondary trick is putting a hot-wet towel on your face for a few minutes before doing the deed. Some people create a tent by putting a towel over their heads while hovering over a pot of hot water. This step opens the pores reducing the likelihood of irritating the skin. For those rocking facial hair, this step is key in “cleaning up” the beard. Gentlemen, clean that neckline! Part of what separates “sophisticated” and “schlubby” is a hairy neck. The basic rule of thumb is wherever your chin cast a shadow, from there down should be hairless. Put your finger right underneath your jaw and feel the bone of your chin. All the hair below should be shaved off on a regular basis. Don’t forget about the upper cheeks where errant hairs grow in. It’s important to decide where you want your beard to begin and end, thus creating a “hair boundary” that establishes symmetry and structure. Just like a child coloring inside the lines of a coloring book, when a beard is neatly defined the angles of the face are accentuated—allowing those masculine features to be framed. Always shave with the grain guiding the blade in the direction the hair naturally grows. Most of the time, that means one should never shave the neck in an upward motion but rather downward to prevent razor bumps.
I prefer to use shaving cream over lathering up with soap and water. Shaving cream both helps to soften the hair and lift it up off the skin so the razor can cut it with precision. The right shaving cream will help moisturize and prevent stripping of the skin, which can otherwise cause dryness and irritation after the process is complete. It also provides a lubricant for the razor to give the closest shave possible. My favorite shaving cream is Crabtree and Evelyn Moroccan Myrrh Shaving Cream. I absolutely love the way is smells and lathers. It costs a little more than your average drugstore shaving cream, but a little bit goes a long way and one tube can last you 5 to 6 months easily—even with heavy use!
Now gentlemen, that plastic deposable razor is wreaking havoc on your skin. Get rid of it! Yes, I know it’s cheap but think of the reduction in razor bumps that comes with your investment in a Mach3 or Fusion four-blade razor. Not only do multi-blade razors provide a closer shave, the cartridges are refillable, so there’s a better financial return on your initial investment. Ideally, it would be nice to be like “Mister” from the Color Purple with a Ms. Celie there to properly shave you everyday with a straight razor… but if you remember that scene in the movie, you’ll recall how quickly shaving can become a life or death situation with one flick of the wrist. For this reason, I’ve never used a straight razor myself, so I can’t speak definitively on the difference in closeness from that type of shave. However, I highly recommend treating yourself to a proper shave at The Art of Shaving or The Shave of Beverly Hills where hot towels, face/head massages, and a little bit of yesterday’s luxury for men is beautifully preserved.
Facial hair, like pubic hair, tends to be on the coarse side. For ethnic people like myself, it’s particularly frustrating to have your hair follicle grow back like a corkscrew—forcing its way through the epidermis causing more irritation. A fantastic product that I use to help avoid this problem is Kiehl’s Razor Bump Relief. I find that putting it on directly after I shave and a little bit on the days I don’t shave (because I can get away with cleaning up my neckline every 3 to 4 days) this practice dramatically reduces those painful, sensitive-to-the-touch bumps that look like a coral reef . Another product that people use is Tend Skin but personally I feel it can be heavy on the alcohol, which can dry out the skin, especially in cold weather.
The number one complaint I hear from my girlfriends about their boyfriend’s facial hair is how rough it is on their own skin when they kiss or get intimate. I too know the dangers of smooching a five-o’clock shadowed man. Instead of a passion filled make-out session with the one you love it can feel like you’ve just had a microdermabrasion treatment at the dermatologist! Whether you’re gay or straight, nobody wants to kiss an itchy, scratchy (and god forbid smelly) face or beard. First and foremost gentlemen, when you’re in the shower scrub that beard. Really get in there and shampoo it! That should keep it smelling nice while softening the follicle. Another great solution for this is using hair oil. Taking a little bit of oil in the palm of the hand and working it into your beard will keep it nice and soft. I use Carol’s Daughters Mimosa Hair Honey on mine. It has almond oil, coconut oil and is extremely lightweight. Any type of essential or botanical oil will do. My personal favorites are orange, grapeseed, jojoba and Argan oils. If you’re really ambitious you can mix your own and add whatever ingredient you want for scent such as Sandalwood or Eucalyptus. If you’re not trying to get that deep with it, there are plenty of companies that sell good quality beard oils like The Art of Shaving, Beardbrand, Yuli or The Bearded Bastard.
Once you’ve gotten your beard length where you want it, it’s time to trim. You can go pro and use regular head clippers with a comb to trim those wispy-wiry hairs that stick out at random. Simply run the comb through the beard and anything that sticks out will be trimmed off as you run the clippers across the teeth of the comb. The comb protects the hairs of the beard that you want to stay intact on your face. Be careful though, I’ve had plenty of slips of the hand resulting in a huge chunk of my beard being mistakenly lopped off. The safest way to trim is to invest in a beard trimmer. I personally use a Phillips Norelco, which I love because it has a built-in guard ranging from 1 to 10. It cost me 35 bucks and I use it every week— well worth the money. I have a good friend who finds it amusing when he sees me brush my beard. Because I have the same coarse curly hair growing out of my head as I do on my face, I use the same Conair bristle brush to control the direction of my facial hair pattern. It keeps it looking neat and even despite the puzzled looks I get when I do it.
For those of you really going for that thick, lumber-sexual beard…first of all, god bless your sexy ass. Secondly, I hope when you shower you are remembering to moisturize. Once you achieve a certain amount of thickness, the importance of moisturizing the skin underneath is paramount. Nobody wants itchy dry skin prone to flaking underneath a wooly man beard. It’s uncomfortable and unattractive. Of course the beard oil mentioned above will help in that department but it’s good to step up the use of that daily moisturizer making sure you penetrate the thicket growing on your face.
Gentlemen, hopefully these tips will inspire you to grow and groom with confidence. Remember to clean that neck, trim your facial hair to the desired length, and use oil to keep the hair soft and smelling good. As men we are often limited by what society deems are acceptable ways for use to express ourselves when it comes to our appearance. Fortunately for us, facial hair is fair game. Have fun and grow a “stache” like Tom Selleck or your version of jolly ole Santa Nick’s beard. In the words of Outkast, just remember to keep it “fresh and so clean!”