Beard Balm vs. Beard Butter: How are They Different, and Which Should You Use?
Many guys grow out a beard because they imagine it's easier than shaving every day. No razors, no shaving cream, no extra time in front of the mirror—wallah! You wake up and you’re ready to go.
Little do they know, beards need a lot of TLC, and there are dozens—if not hundreds!—of beard products out there, and literally none of them have names that describe what they do.
So here we'll dive into two products people often confuse: beard balm and beard butter. We'll start our beard balm vs. beard butter debate with a quick summary, and then we'll go more in-depth in case you really want to make informed decisions about both these items.
SUMMARY: Balm vs. Butter
Here's how it breaks down:
> Both beard balm and beard butter hydrate your facial hair and moisturize your skin, and they both have similar ingredient lists—they're basically carrier oils that hydrate hair and skin (like grapeseed oil or sweet almond oil), essential oils that give the product a scent (like lavender or lemon or tea tree or dozens of others), and some "butters" (which are ground-up seeds or nuts that form a paste, with shea butter being the most common butter used). That’s what they have in common. Here’s how they differ:
> Beard balm usually features wax, and that makes it a "dual agent"—the beard balm moisturizes your beard and hair, and the wax included in it also allows you to shape your beard and mold it a bit, whereas…
> Beard butter usually *does not* include wax, and therefore doesn't really help you sculpt your beard—but it instead includes a number of other skin care ingredients, making it better product for beard itch, beardruff, and itchy skin.
And… that's it! That the main idea, and those are the main differences. Both provide hydration for your beard and skin, but beard balm can be used for sculpting, whereas beard butter can’t—but beard butter tends to be more effective at moisturizing and lessening beard itch. Now you know!
The devil is in the details, though, so for pictures of each—as well as which might be right for you—let's get into the nitty-gritty:
What Beard Balm and Beard Butter Are, and What They're Supposed to Do
Let’s take a look at each product individually.
Here's what a good beard balm should do for your beard:
> It should hydrate your beard hair. This is Job #1 when it comes to a beard balm, because every ingredient is basically a moisturizer: it's usually made up of a few carrier oils (like argan oil, grapeseed oil, or sweet almond oil), a few essential oils for fragrance (like lavender oil, lemon oil, grapefruit oil, mint oil, tea tree oil, and dozens more), a few "butters" (which are ground-up seeds or nuts—shea butter is probably the most common, but cocoa butter is also used), and finally, a little bit of wax (usually beeswax, but maybe candelilla wax and/or carnauba wax). All these ingredients give it a stiffy, sticky, waxy feel;
> It should moisturize your skin. All those ingredients are also great for moisturizing skin, and beard balms usually include a few ingredients that are solely included because they're good for your skin, and can alleviate some beard itch and/or beardruff. That's a secondary trait of beard balms, but it's definitely one of their plusses;
> It should provide your beard with a little "body." A good beard balm can take a dry, wispy, pointing-this-way-and-that beard and tame it a little bit, and make it look fuller and healthier—and, because those butters and waxes coat your whiskers, that healthy look can last a while throughout your day; and finally
> It can provide some sculpting capability. Because of the wax content in the balm, a beard balm can stiffen your beard a little bit, and let you shape it a little. It won't make it hard or solid—and if you want that, you should look for a beard wax, rather than a beard balm—but it can provide a little bit of shaping power, and usually enough for most short- to medium-length beards.
Beard balms usually come in tins, that looks like this:
The tins tend to be on the thin side, as you can see here:
and here's what the actual balm looks like in the tin:
...and here's a good amount of beard balm—the amount you'd use in your beard:
Notice that it looks a little bit "chippy," and not smooth—that's because of the wax in the formulation. Beard butter, as you’ll see in a moment, is a lot fluffier.
Here's what a good beard butter should do for your beard:
> It should moisturize your skin. This is Job #1 for a beard butter, and it's what it does best. Beard butters go really heavy on the carrier oils (like the ones we mentioned above—argan, grapeseed, and/or sweet almond), and really heavy on the butters (like shea butter and cocoa butter), but they tend to have a longer list of good-for-your-skin ingredients, and that can make them a great option for skin difficulties like beard itch and beardruff. That's a second job for beard balm, but it's the primary job for beard butters, and it's where beard butters really stand out;
> It should hydrate your beard hair. Just like beard balm, a beard butter will hydrate your whiskers, and coat them with moisturizing agents, often with extra agents like Vitamin A, C, and/or E;
> It should provide your beard with a little body. All those oils and butters add up, and butters can take a dry beard and make it look healthy; and finally
> It doesn't have any sculpting ability. Beard butter doesn't really have the ability to let you shape your beard in any way, because it usually doesn't have any wax in it. All of the ingredients are there to hydrate skin and hair, and that gives it a slightly more "wet" feeling.
Here's what a beard butter canister or jar looks like:
You may notice that the jar is a little "deeper" than the beard balm, and that's true for most beard butters. Here's another deep container of beard butter:
Here’s the contents in a canister or jar:
...and here's a good amount of beard butter—the amount you'd work into your beard:
Not that it's a lot smoother and creamier (and gloopier!) than the beard balm—that makes it easier to work into your facial hair. More on that in a minute.
So Which One Is Right for Your Beard?
For those of you who really want to know about the finer details of the beard balm vs. beard butter debate, we'll get into more depth below, but we now know enough to ask:
Which product is right for you? Here's what we usually advise.
> Want hydration mostly for your beard and a little bit for your skin, and
> Want to style your beard a little bit
...then it usually makes sense to go with a beard balm.
> Mostly want hydration for your skin, so you can alleviate beard itch and beardruff...
...then it usually makes sense to go with a beard butter.
So there it is—that's the whole thing boiled down to its essence: beard balms and beard butters both provide hydration for skin and hair, but beard balms are better for styling and shaping your beard, and beard butters are better for moisturizing your skin and/or alleviating beard itch and beardruff.
There you have it. And, now that we're here, we might as well jump into our suggestions:
Our Favorites Balms and Butters
If you're new to caring for a beard, it can be a little overwhelming to sort through the seemingly endless beard care options available online. To help you out, here are our three favorite oils, and our three favorite butters:
Our Top Beard Balm Picks
There are a LOT of options when it comes to beard balms, but here are the ones we like most:
Honest Amish Beard Balm (affiliate link). This is the OG beard balm, and it's probably the best known and most popular beard balm out there. It does a great job moisturizing and provides a decent amount of hold. Like a lot of Honest Amish's beard products, it features their signature scent of clove, anise, and cedar. It's sweet but not too sweet—very pleasant.
Grave Before Shave Beard Balm (affiliate link). This is probably an average balm in terms of hydrating beard hair, but Grave Before Shave makes a lot of FANTASTIC scents, and if you're into scents—and we're obsessed with scented beard products—there's a lot to love here. Some favorites: Cigar/Vanilla, Leather/Cedarwood, and Caramel/Mocha.
Cremo Styling Beard Balm (affiliate link). Provides an above-average amount of hold (beeswax is high up on the ingredient list), and moisturizes very well. Only made in two scents (at present anyway)—Forest Blend and Mint. Both are pleasant but not overpowering.
The Viking Revolution 4-Pack (affiliate link). As far as beard balms go, this is one of the better moisturizers we've found, and it provides an above-average amount of hold. This is our favorite mix-pack, and it features four scents: bay rum (sweet), clary sage (earthy), pine and cedar (forest-y), and sandalwood (classic/masculine). We go through a lot of this.
Any of those are good options to start with.
Our Top Beard Butter Picks
Sadly, there are far fewer beard butters on the market than there are beard balms, but here are our favorites:
Maestro's Classic Beard Butter (affiliate link). A fantastic moisturizer, and in our experience, easy to work onto the skin. It has a really fascinating scent signature—it's grapefruit, black pepper, and bergamot, which is another type of citrus—and you wouldn't think all that would work together, but it's got a nice, clean, calm smell (although, obviously, scent is a pretty subjective thing, and it's not for everyone).
Every Man Jack Beard Butter (affiliate link). Another fantastic moisturizer, the formulation is made with hemp, which we're slowly starting to see in more products, because it's such a fantastic hydrator. It, too, is cool to the touch, and easy to work past beard hair and onto the skin.
Grave Before Shave Beard Butter (affiliate link). We mentioned earlier that we're suckers for scents, and the folks at Grave Before Shave offer a few different scents, including Cigar/Vanilla, Leather/Cedarwood, and Gentleman's Blend (a sort of sandalwood/bourbon blend). That makes them one of very few companies that make a beard butter in different scents, so if that's your thing, you may want to check them out, and finally...
Bluebeards Original Beard Saver (affiliate link). Bluebeard Original isn't technically a butter—at least, it's not marketed as such—but there are a lot of people who absolutely love it for its potential to fight beardruff/beard dandruff. It's not as well-known as some of the other brands, but definitely worth a mention.
That's a pretty good cross-section of beard butters, and as we said, there aren't too many of them—more about that in a moment.
Before we move on, keep in mind—beard balms and beard butters aren't an either/or thing. You can use both products on different days, and a lot of guys do. That way you get the best of both worlds, so to speak.
Alright! We had promised to really go into detail, so for those of you who truly want to know the ins-and-outs of beard balm vs. beard butter, here you go:
Beard Balm: The Good and the Bad
Here's what people tend to like and dislike about beard balm:
Why Beard Balm is Wonderful
Beard balm is far more popular than butter, and it's got a lot going for it:
It usually has an all-natural, or mostly all-natural, formulation. This is a really fantastic aspect male grooming: many of the beard products you'll find have all-natural ingredient lists. That's wonderful, and it's kind of surprising—grooming products for women are known to have a long list of crazy ingredients, and that's especially true for makeup. There are a lot of beard balms out there that have all-organic, all-natural ingredients, and that's wonderful. What's more is that most of those beard balms work just as well as the non-organic versions—they don't lack anything because they don't include synthetic ingredients.
It's made in some fantastic scents. This is perhaps our favorite thing about beard balms—they're made in a wide range of interesting, enticing, creative scents. You've got everything from forest/woodsy scents to "earthy" scents to sweet scents to citrus scents to liquor-based scents, and everything in between. Most days, we choose a beard balm based on what fragrance we want to experience for the day.
It's got a pleasant, warm feel when applied to a beard. Every beard product has a different tactile experience, and beard balm tends to provide a snuggly, comfy warm feeling. It's not so hot that you'll feel overheated—that's not our experience, anyway—but it's pleasant. That's the opposite of beard butters, which tend to have a cool feeling (and that's nice in its own way).
It can last a while. The stand-out ingredient in beard balm is wax, and that can make it coat your whiskers and stay in your beard for a while. Many guys love that, because there are plenty of beard products (like beard oil) that evaporate pretty quickly, and need constant reapplication. Beard balm is usually got for a couple hours, if not a full day.
So... what's not to like?
Of course, with all those wonderful features, comes...
Ways Beard Balm is Mildly Imperfect
Alas, nothing is absolutely wonderful in every way. Here are a few features about beard balm that can be a let-down:
It doesn't always "keep" well. Remember above, when we talked about how makeups have all those weird ingredients in them? Most of those weird ingredients are preservatives, and the beard balms that don't have preservatives—which is most of them—can get mixed up and gloppy if they're not stored properly. They can also go bad after a while, because many are made from all-natural ingredients, and all-natural ingredients rot if not used by their expiration date. So... keep an eye out for that! They take a looooooooooooong time to go bad, but it's definitely something to keep in mind.
It provides hold for styling—but not as much as beard wax. Above, we mentioned that beard balm can let you sculpt your beard, and it can—and for most guys, it's more than enough, especially if you have a short- or medium-length beard. If you have a long or particularly bushy beard, however, it may not be enough, and you may need a beard wax to keep your beard from boinging out all over the place. "But wait!" you say. "You said beard balm has wax in the ingredient list!" It does—but beard wax has a much higher concentration of it, and none of the ingredients that moisturize skin and hair. Its sole purpose is hold, so if hold is your first priority, you may want to check out beard wax. Honest Amish Beard Wax (affiliate link) is—in our most humble opinion—the best option out there, and you can do some serious sculpting with it. Just make sure you leave time at the end of the day to get all that wax out—it's literally wax, and it takes a while to work out of your beard. And, that actually is a nice segue back to the last issue with beard balms:
It can take a little while to get out of your beard. Beard balms have wax, and they can take a little while to work out of your beard. It's nothing that a good beard wash can't handle, but it's definitely harder to get out that beard butter, which comes out pretty quickly.
Alright! That's a segue:
Beard Butter: The Good and the Bad
Here's what people tend to like and dislike about beard butter:
Why Beard Butter is Wonderful
Beard butter is more of a "niche" product, but of the people who use it, a lot of them *really* like it. Here are some of the reasons why:
Beard butters moisturize better than just about all other beard products out there. We already mentioned it, but because it's so important, we want to really drive the point home: beard butter can really be a great tool to hydrate/moisturize your skin and alleviate skin itch and in-beard dandruff. That's because it's got so many great skincare ingredients in the formulation, but also because it's simply easier to work into a beard and get onto the skin. It doesn't have wax, and that makes it easier to imbue into a beard and onto the skin.
It's made in some *unique* scents. We mentioned that beard balm is made in a wide range of scents, and that's true. Beard butters are made in a smaller range of scents, but the scents made tend to be very unique. We mentioned Maestro's Beard Butter above, which is a mixture of black pepper, grapefruit, and bergamot—that's a totally unique scent that we doubt any beard balm will tackle. The beard balms scents, while also creative, tend to be creative combinations of accessible scents. Beard butters also tend to use "fragrance" more, which is an industry word which can mean a lot of things, but it can also mean "chemical perfume"—which can make for some very one-of-a-kind fragrances, but can be also be a con (so more on that in a second!).
It's easy to get out of your beard at the end of the day. This doesn't seem like a big deal, but it's definitely a positive—beard butters don't have wax, so the good ones can wash right out at the end of the day, while still providing a little hydration after they're gone. That's nice.
So beard butters are great, right? Perfect? Sorry, no. Here are some...
Ways Beard Butter is Mildly Imperfect
Just like beard balm, beard butter has a few faults:
There aren't too many options out there! This, more than anything else, is our biggest complaint about beard butter: there just aren't many butters on the market. We don't know why that is, but clearly people are more interested in balms than they are in butters. We really hope that changes, because we looooove butters, and we looooove options. Get on it, beard companies! Branch out!
They tend to have a lot of synthetic ingredients. While there are some natural formulations out there—and the Every Man Jack Beard Butter, which we mentioned earlier, has a pretty clean formulation with a lot of good ingredients—plenty of the beard butters you'll come across have some odd-sounding chemical-y, synthetic ingredients. We're not why that is, but we imagine that’s because the main function of butter is skin care, and the formulations cheat a little with some chemicals that are known to moisturize/work well with skin. We're not sure, and that's just a guess, but it definitely seems like you should look at the ingredient lists if you're looking for all-natural/almost-all-natural beard grooming products.
You can go through it *really* quickly. This is, perhaps, the biggest downer about beard butter—because it's usually light and creamy and fluffy, it's not very dense, and you need to use a good deal of it when you work it into your beard—*and then* you need to get it to your skin once you get it past your beard hair. Given those factors, it's not uncommon for a beard balm to disappear after a dozen/two dozen uses. If you've got a beard, bushy beard, you can go through it pretty quickly.
Some Usage Tips You May Want to Keep in Mind
Alright! Now you know a lot about a lot, so let's provide a little bit of instruction.
Pointers on How to Apply Beard Balm:
> Rubbing it between your palms makes it easier to spread. That wax in the ingredient list needs to be warmed up/loosened up a little bit, and yes, you lose a little bit of the material on the skin of your hands, but it makes application much easier, and it keeps it from glopping up in your whiskers.
> A beard comb can help a lot. Your fingers can get the beard balm into your beard hair, but to really distribute the balm throughout your individual hairs, a wooden beard comb can help a lot. We're big fans of the Viking Revolution Dual-Sided Beard Comb (affiliate link), because it has wide-side teeth on one side and narrow-set teeth on the other—basically, two combs in one.
> You'll need a lot of it to hold your beard in place. We alluded to this earlier, but a little dab may not provide you with the hold you want, so be prepared to add more into your beard. Starting with just a little bit and adding more if you need it is probably the best strategy—beard balm is the kind of thing you can add to, but can't take away from!
> Store it in a place that's not too hot. We mentioned earlier that the mixture can separate, so remember to keep it in a cool, well-ventilated place, and if you live in a super-hot area, like the South or the Southwest or basically anyplace during summer, and you've order it online, don't let the box sit on your front porch. It'll melt and it may not reconstitute well.
Now let's ping-pong back to...
Pointers on How to Use Beard Butter:
> MAKE SURE it gets to your skin. This is the biggest mistake people make when it comes to beard butter—they get it into their beard hair, but don't get it to connect to their skin. That’s the whole point of a beard butter, so make sure you work it in.
> Start out with a small glob and add. We mentioned earlier that you can run through beard butter right quick, so 1) use a little bit and add more as you need to, and 2) pay attention to how much you need to moisturize your beard and skin, and after a while, you'll have a better idea of the exact amount you, and won't overdo it.
> You don't need to use it every day. Often times, guys who are new to having a beard overdo it a bit, but beard butter doesn't need to be an everyday thing. A good beard butter will really hydrate your beard, and you can skip days or even apply once every week or two. If you find you need it every day—that without it you get beardruff or itchy skin—then don't let us stop you. Just remember that most guys don't need it that often.
And at last, one general tip that applies to both balm and butter:
> You'll need to wash your hands afterwards! It's usually best to use both these products fresh out of the shower and in front of the mirror, because they'll make your hands slippery and sticky, and you'll need to wash them off after applying them to your beard and face; and finally
Should I Use Balm and Butter Together?
You cooooooooooooould... but you really don't need to. Because the two products have so many overlapping ingredients—that only real difference between the two formulations is the wax that's in balms and not butters—you don’t really need to mix them.
If you did want to use both, we'd suggest starting with the beard butter, so that you can work it onto your skin, and then following up with the beard balm, so that your beard can have a little shape and structure.
Again, you don't need to use them both together, and the vast majority of guys don't—they use them at different times, based on their needs/schedules/routines.
Beard Balm vs. Beard Butter: That's About It
Alright! You've officially graduated from beard school. We figure that's about all you'll ever need to know when it comes to the balm vs. butter debate, but if you have any other questions, feel free to jump over to our "Contact" page and hit us up. Have fun, be good, and happy beard!