Have you ever heard your partner or spouse complain that your grooming routine is too easy?
It’s a common complaint you hear from girlfriends or wives—”all you need to do brush your teeth and you’re ready to go—it’s not fair!”
It’s obvious these partners and spouses have never had a beard. Beards require a lot of upkeep, and they require a lot of different products.
Some of those products are intuitive—wax? OK, I know what wax is—but what about balm? What is a balm, anyway?
Here we’ll look at beard wax vs. balm—what they are, what they’re not, and when it’s a good idea to use them.
Okie doke, let’s hop in:
What, Exactly, Is Beard Balm?
Most people are familiar with beard oils, which are simply an oil that you rub into your beard to moisturize it. Beard balm is a moisturizer, too, and it includes
Beard balm, with its thicker-than-oil consistency, is designed to hydrate your beard hair by trapping in water and moisture, which makes it softer and less scratchy. Its consistency also makes it more voluminous and easier to style (and for these reasons, it’s sometimes called a “leave-in conditioner”).
Beard balm can also work as a moisturizer for your skin depending on how you apply it. Just like your beard hair, it helps keep water from leaving the skin, keeping it healthy and young.
When it comes to moisturization and hydration, beard balm is king. Because it’s thicker than
Here’s a beard balm in the tin:
And here’s what it looks like, with a healthy dab of it on the fingertip:
What, Exactly, Is Beard Wax?
While beard balm can also help you style your beard, this is more a job for beard wax. In fact, beard wax is specifically designed for beard styling. It can help trap in moisture to an extent, but unlike beard balm, that isn’t really its main purpose.
You’ve probably seen men in beard contests with elaborate beard designs featuring curls, twists, or even figurines like animals or buildings. The only way to achieve that “anti-gravity” look is to use a beard wax, the ingredients of which hold beard hair firm and in place for long periods of time. Beard wax doesn’t absorb into the hair or skin like beard balm does, and that’s one of the reasons it’s not used as a moisturizer.
Here’s a picture of a beard wax, along with a pick you can use to remove it. Some beard waxes include a pick or similar device, because getting it out can be tricky. It is, after all, a wax:
Notice that the tin is a lot smaller than the one that came with the balm. That’s by design, and usually wax tins are a lot smaller than balm tins.
There are a lot of great beard waxes and beard balms out there, and we’ll talk about our picks further below.
The Different Ingredients in Beard Wax vs. Balm
So now you know a thing or two about their uses. Now let’s take a look at their ingredient list.
Beard balm and beard wax actually use a lot of the same ingredients, but the proportions of these ingredients will differ dramatically. In fact, they will vary even between different brands of beard balm or beard wax.
There are two ingredients essential to both beard balm and wax are:
Carrier oils: These are oils derived from plants that provide a base for many cosmetic products. They help deliver the rest of the product into the hair and skin, and they include argan oil, almond oil, coconut oil, and jojoba oil, among others.
Essential oils: These are oils extracted from various plant sources that provide fragrance. There are many, many essential oils, but some of the most popular include lavender oil, tea tree oil, and peppermint oil.
Besides these two oils, you will find these ingredients in beard balm and beard wax, though their amounts will vary:
Butter: As we mentioned earlier, butters are plant-based semi-solids like shea butter or cocoa butter. These provide long-lasting hydration and thick protection for the skin and hair, and as a result, you’ll find them in larger amounts in beard balm vs. wax.
Wax: As you might guess, you’re more likely to find higher amounts of wax in beard wax than beard balm. Waxes are firm but flexible, and the most common wax in beard products is beeswax, although you may also find formulations with carnauba wax or lanolin wax. All are good—there’s no real “super-hero” wax.
Lastly, there’s one ingredient you may find in beard wax that’s rarely used in beard balm:
Resin/rosin: Resin is the liquid you often see leaking from trees and plants. It can be solidified into rosins. Like waxes, these ingredients are viscous but strong, helping to style your beard and hold it in place. The most common resin you’ll find in beard wax is pine resin.
By the way, did you know you can make your own beard wax? Yep. Just be sure you wear gloves, because that stuff can get seriously sticky.
So When Should You Use Beard Balm?
Now that you know what beard balm is made of and what it does, you can get a better idea of when you should use it. Because it’s a powerful moisturizer that can provide hydration over long periods of time, it’s great for men suffering from dry or itchy beards, or from skin problems beneath those beards. It can be especially useful for guys living in dry climates, or those who are regularly outdoors during the cold months when the frigid air can dry out the skin.
Just keep in mind that, while beard balm can help condition and soften your beard so that you can more easily comb or brush it, its main purpose isn’t really styling. It can provide your beard with some body and make it look fuller, but it can’t “sculpt” it, so to speak. A beard balm is mostly for moisturizing your beard and skin and keeping them hydrated.
And When Should You Use Beard Wax?
Short answer: if your beard has a mind of its own and it needs some discipline, a beard wax can be a great option.
Very often it’s the go-to product for guys who have wiry, rebellious beards that are hard to tame, and if you need to look presentable for work or a special event, and your beard is used to doing its own thing and springing out in every direction, a good beard wax can help you rein in those unruly hairs and give your beard a uniform, professional appearance.
Your results may vary, of course, but a beard wax is your best bet if you want to keep your beard in line.
Beard wax can also help maintain your beard’s appearance against the elements. If you live in a rainy or windy place and are often worried about weather messing up your beard, beard wax makes a good defense.
Those interested in competing will also want to try out beard wax. It lets you get creative with your beard and try out all sorts of crazy styles and designs. Even if you don’t plan on attending your next local beard or mustache competition (or a national beard competition, or a world beard competition), anyone with a creative flair can still have fun with beard wax.
Beard wax does provide some moisturization, but if you’re looking to solve your skin problems, it’s probably not your best bet. In fact, it may actually be a bad choice. Some men may even find their skin gets irritated by the waxes and resins in beard wax, so just remember that beard wax is for appearance, and beard balm is for hydration.
So How Do I Apply Beard Wax and Beard Balm?
Alright! Now that we’re through all that, let’s get down to the details:
Beard Balm Application: Steps
If you’ve ever applied
Step 1: Wash Your Beard
Most men wash their beard in the shower, but others wash it individually in the sink. Either way is fine, but your beard needs to be clean before you apply the beard balm so that it’s able to fully penetrate your hair and skin. Additionally, warm water will help open your pores so they can accept the balm.
For best results, consider washing your beard with a special soap or shampoo designed for beards. This will ensure that you get it as clean as possible and prepared for the balm.
Step 2: Dry Your Beard
You don’t need to get out the hair dryer or anything, but you also don’t want your beard to be dripping wet. This could prevent the balm from adequately clinging to the hair.
Nevertheless, you want to leave some moisture there to hydrate the hair. It’s best to use a towel to simply remove any excess water.
Step 3: Scoop Out the Right Amount
Open your tin of beard balm and use your fingers to scoop out a small, pea-sized amount. If you have an exceptionally long beard, you may want a little more, and if you just have stubble, you might want a little less. Pea-sized is a good rule of thumb, though.
Step 4: Warm the Balm in Your Hands
Rub the balm into your palms to warm it and make it more liquidy and easier to apply. This is actually an important step, because it can be very difficult to disperse the balm once it’s in your beard. Warming it up in your hands makes things much, much easier.
Step 5: Apply the Balm to Your Skin and Beard
Start by applying the balm to the skin and hair follicles. Make sure to get every part of your face and beard including the sideburns, and then, if your beard is long, move your fingers down through the beard to apply the balm to the entire length of the hairs.
Step 6 (Optional): Comb or Brush the Balm Into Your Beard
If your beard is shorter and generally easy to maintain, you can go ahead and skip this step. However, if your beard is long, thick, or unruly, using a comb or brush to straighten out the hairs and get the balm into all parts of the beard can really help keep it moisturized and well-kept.
Alright, now that we know about the one, let’s skip to the other:
Beard Wax Application: Steps
Despite having somewhat similar ingredients, the application of beard wax is actually quite different from the application of beard balm. It’s not difficult, though:
Step 1: Wash Your Beard
Like when applying beard balm, your beard should be clean before you apply the beard wax. This is perhaps even more important with wax because you don’t want to get dirt trapped in the wax, making your beard look dirty and unprofessional. And trust us: wax in a dirty beard can look really bad.
Step 2: Dry Your Beard
Unlike when applying beard balm, when you still want some dampness in your beard, it’s best to get your beard as dry as possible before you put in the wax. You don’t necessarily have to get out the hair dryer (although that can help, and certain waxes are so hard that you need a hair dryer to soften them). If you don’t use a hair dryer, a towel will do the trick.
Step 3: Comb Your Beard
A big difference from beard balm is that you need to comb your beard before you apply beard wax. That’s because if you apply the wax while it’s all tangled, you’re just going to fix it that way. Comb through the whole beard starting at the bottom till you’re sure you’ve gotten out all the tangles. Beard wax in a beard will make it just about impossible to comb through.
Step 4: Warm the Wax
Beard wax has a tendency to harden up at room temperature, so you need to get it kind of warm before you can apply it to your beard. The easiest way to do this is by running hot water over the tin, although some guys prefer to get a hair dryer and blast the wax with hot air—whatever works!
Once it begins to soften, you can move on to application.
Step 5: Apply the Wax to Your Beard
Unlike with beard balm, you don’t need to apply beard wax onto your skin. Rather, you just need to apply it to the hair itself wherever you need to style it.
Do this by scooping a small amount out at a time and rubbing it between your fingers. Use your fingers to apply it to the hair and sculpt it however you want. When you’ve finished sculpting one part of the beard, scoop out more wax as needed to sculpt other parts.
Once you’ve gotten your beard looking just how you like it, use a towel or comb to remove any excess wax.
Can I Use Beard Balm and Wax Together?
You can—but most guys don’t. It’s a lot of work to put all those products in your beard, and—oh yeah, we forget to mention: getting beard wax out of your beard can be a real hassle. It—as it’s supposed to—hardens, and you need to take a long, hot shower to remove it all.
So, short answer—you can, but most guys don’t.
That said, if you have a dry, scratchy beard that’s also unruly and needs to be straightened out, you can certainly use beard balm and beard wax together. It can be a bit messy, and it could take a while, but some guys absolutely use them together.
An alternative is to find a beard balm or beard wax that has a combo of ingredients that will serve both purposes. Take a look at our section on ingredients above to learn what ingredients you need to serve both purposes. Ideally, you’d want a product with a lot of both wax and butter.
Our Beard Balm Recommendations
Our favorite part: product recommendations!
We’ve reviewed dozens of balms and waxes, and here are our picks:
Honest Amish Beard Balm Leave-In Conditioner
We’re big fans of Honest Amish Beard Balm—but that’s not an act of courage, really, because a looooot of guys are big fans of Honest Amish Beard Balm, and it’s probably one of the most popular balms out there.
And that makes sense, really, because it’s got a lot going for it: it combines a wide variety of both carrier oils and essential oils, and it has a nice, soft consistency that feels pleasant. It’s got peppermint oil and cinnamon oil in the ingredient list, and those ingredients can relieve inflammation, as well as act as antimicrobials for guys who have skin problems like dandruff and acne.
It’s got a very interesting scent, too: it’s got high concentrations of clove, anise, and cedar oil, it that gives it a woodsy, floral, masculine scent that’s great for both professional and social occasions.
Finally, the base of shea butter along with some added cocoa butter can make it a good match for coarse beards that get itchy in dry and/or cold weather.
All in all, a good pick, that we’re very comfortable recommending.
Our Beard Wax Recommendation
You may notice that while there are a LOT of beard balms out there, there are only a few waxes. Here’s the one we like the most:
The Bearded Goon’s Ridiculously Strong Beard and Handlebar Mustache Wax
Honest Amish also makes a beard wax—and it’s really good!—but we’re going to with the Bearded Goon’s Beard Wax as our pick. It’s simple, it’s strong, and it’s great for taming out-of-control beards. Its primary ingredient is beeswax, but it also includes lanolin and carnauba waxes for added flexibility. The pine resin in the mix can you even more control, and that’s really what you’re looking for in a wax.
One of the best things about this wax is that it doesn’t dry out your hair and skin unlike some other waxes out there. That’s most likely due to the shea butter and coconut oil included in the wax, as well as a small amount of essential oils—inclusions that a lot of waxes don’t have.
Wax On, Wax Off / Who Told You to Put the Balm On?
In the question of beard wax vs. balm, the major consideration is what you need out of the product. In the end, beard balm is better for moisturizing and hydrating rough and scratchy beards as well as healing your beard hair and the skin underneath.
On the other hand, beard wax is ideal for styling a beard, especially if it’s tangled and unruly, and you need it to look presentable or professional. It’s also great when you want to get creative with your beard.
And there you have it! With these tools in hand, you’re ready to go out and create your best beard. Have fun, be good, and happy beard!
Michael Morris is the head writer here at Rough and Tumble Gentleman. He's got a ducktail beard and loves Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He's married to the woman of his dreams and lives in Brooklyn, NY.