It’s funny: your body naturally grows a beard, but most of us don’t really have any idea how to take of one. Growing a beard is just something we eventually do, and nature just kind of says, “Figure it out!”
Unfortunately, taking care of a beard isn’t intuitive—there are a lot of things people get wrong, and most of us don’t really have anyone to tell us where we’ve gone astray.
We try to be as helpful as possible, so here you go—lessons we’ve learned about having long beards, and mistakes we’ve make. Just by the way—Tip #3 is the really important one. You should read them all, but Tip #3 is the biggie.
Let’s jump in:
Tip #1: You’ll Need to Comb Out Your Beard Before Trimming It
This is something a lot of guys who are new to long beards overlook: during any given day, your beard will curl inward, wiggle around, and just generally freak out. Facial hair is a little weird like that, and if you try and trim that hair while it’s traveling every-which-way on your face, you’ll end up cutting it in an irregular fashion and end up looking very odd.
So you’ll need to comb it out before you trim it, to make sure you’re cutting it evenly. It’ll only take a second, and it can be the difference between a nice, clean look, and a disheveled, disorganized look.
Beard combs have a row of widely-gapped teeth (and you’d use this side first) and then a row of tightly-gapped teeth (and you’d follow up with this side second). All it takes is a few brushes, and you’ll see exactly which parts of your beard have grown too long, look ratty, etc.
If you want to go an extra step—and it’s a great idea to do so—you can also comb it out. Beard brushes come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, but most have very tight bristles, and with a couple of passes through your beard, you can really straighten things out.
Tip #2: Wash That Puppy as Much as You Can
Cleansing is no biggie, and you’ve got two options: beard washes and beard soaps. Beard washes smell great and feel great, but they tend to get used up pretty quickly; beard soaps are a little harder to use and may not smell as wonderful (they smell fine—they just don’t smell as marvelous as beard washes), but they last forever. So, dealer’s choice—it’s up to you. Both work great.
As for beard washes, there are two we really like: Grave Before Shave Beard Wash, because it suds up nicely, and it moisturizes pretty well while getting rid of dirt and debris (read our full review here), and Jack Black Beard Wash, because… well, Jack Black products are really fantastic.
"Just a small amount the size of a peanut or almond springs into a sudsy cloud that's easy to work into the beard, and easy to wash out. The scent is invigorating—a little mint-y, maybe menthol-y, or like tea-tree—but it doesn't last too long, so you can use a beard oil or beard balm afterwards."
- RTG Editorial
They’ll run you a little bit of dosh, but they usually have some incredible skin-and-hair benefits, and that’s the case with their beard wash. It smells good and it gives a beard a whole lot of luster.
As for beard soaps, there’s one we like more than all the rest, and that’s good ole’ Professor Fuzzworthy’s Beard Shampoo Bar. We don’t know why they “shampoo bar” instead of “bar,” because after all, it’s a bar, and there’s nothing shampoo-like about it, but we assume that Professor Fuzzworthy, being a professor and all that, knows what he’s doing.
One more thing before we move on: we’d remind you that a long beard needs actual cleansing, and if you’ve finally gotten that beautiful beard of yours to a respectable length, it’s going to require more cleansing than you’ve previously given it, so you may want to increase the number of times per week you give it a wash. Twice is usually enough.
OK, here’s the tip we told you about:
Tip #3: Be VERY CAREFUL with the Trim Guards When You’ve Got a Long Beard
If you’ve had a long beard for a while, you probably know this by now, but if you’re new to having a long beard, this is for you. There’s plenty of good advice in this section, but this is probably the most important: if you’re new to having a long beard, be careful with those trim guards, because they’re going to take off a lot more of your beard than you think they are—and that’s true for the longer trim guards, as well.
Here’s what we mean by that. With many beard trimmers, you’ll get the electric razor itself, along with a set of trim guards that allow you to set the razor to cut at various lengths. You attach them to the end of the trimmer, and they allow you to cut your beard hair to a uniform length. We use them a lot, and they’re great.
With that in mind, even the longest ones cut your beard hair pretty short. In most trimmer packages, the included trim guards are as follows:
1/8 inch, 1/4 inch, 3/8 inch, 1/2 inch, 5/8 inch, 3/4 inch, 7/8 inch, and 1 inch.
And that’s a long—there are plenty of kits that don’t include a 1-inch trim guard, and the thing is—a 1-inch trim guard isn’t very long! If we’re talking about LONG beards, we’re talking about facial hair that is way longer than a single inch.
So those trim guards are all well-and-good when you have a short- or even medium-length beard, but when you have a long beard, those guards can erase months of growth in an instant if you’re not paying attention. Be very careful with them, or even better—don’t use them, and instead…
Tip #4: Free-Hand Cut Your Beard
So if your beard is too long for those trim guards, what are you going to do? Brother, you’re go to free-hand cut it!
That may seem a little intimidating at first, because—as you probably assumed, and assumed correctly—when you free-hand cut your beard, a lot can go wrong, and with one errant flick of the wrist, you can carve a divot into your beard that can take weeks to grow back.
Luckily, it’s a lot easier than it looks. If you check out this video below and start at 1:58, you’ll see this in action:
Travel downward—never upward, because you take chunks out of your beard—and you’ll see that the beard trimmer will almost magically remove all those errant hairs for you. All you need to do is lightly—very lightly!—graze the trimmer of your beard hair, and it’ll clip your beard hairs without a sound.
We actually recommend watching this entire video for help maintaining a long beard—it’s actually really helpful. There are a lot of garbage videos online about how to take care of your beards, but this one is actually really good—the guy starts with a long, disheveled beard with a lot of fly-aways, and walks you through the entire process of trimming it down and shaping it.
And that’s it! That little action there comprises the bulk of using a beard trimmer on your beard. Clean your beard, comb it out, and then slowly and gently free-hand your beard trimmer over your beard to shape it as you want it. Go through the process a couple times and you’ll be a pro.
(By the way, here’s a quick bonus tip before we move on: if you hate collecting all those whiskers after you’re done cutting them off, a vacuum beard trimmer can save you a LOT of work).
Tip #5: Move Your Beard Trimmer DOWNWARD
We just mentioned this, but we’ll repeat it for those of you who are just reading the headings: when using your beard trimmer, you need to trim downward.
Why is that? Well, because for the most part, your facial hair grows downward. When you shave in a downward motion, you’re working with the shaft of the hair, making it easy to clip. When you shave in an upward motion, you’re working AGAINST the shaft of the hair, and it may bend before you clip it, resulting in an erratic and unpredictable shave.
Trust us on this one—we did this the wrong way for a while, and it’s a fantastic way to mess up a long beard. ;(
Tip #6: You’re Going to Need to Re-Trim and Re-Shape That Beard Often
Stubble and short beards are great, because they don’t really require that much maintenance. You grow them out for a few days, they look great, and you’re good to go.
Long beards, on the other hand, require a bit of commitment, and that’s because if you’ve taken the time to grow out your beard, it’s almost certainly going to grow out in ways that look BAD. A short beard that’s unkempt will probably look OK, but a long beard that’s unkempt will make you look like a crazy person.
So, with a long beard comes a commitment to maintenance. You’re going to need to re-trim it and re-shape it frequently—once a week is usually a good timeframe. Because not only does it need shaping once you grow it out—once it’s grown out, it gets dirty quicker, it loses its shape quicker, and it just ends up looking BAD quicker. So you have to tend to it.
With that in mind…
Tip #7: Re-Brush Your Beard as You Trim It
Beards are wily! As you move through the process of trimming your beard, you’ll see that you’re making improvements, but when you look back on an area you’ve already completed, you’ll notice that you missed a section—even though you could swear you completed it. It’s a mystery, man.
Actually… it’s not! We mentioned earlier that beards curl inward, wiggle around, and just generally freak out. They do this continually throughout the day, and if you’ve ever combed your beard—only to see it curl back to its original shape literally two seconds afterwards—you know what we’re talking about. Beards have a mind of their own, and when you trim a part of your beard, and them comb it, you’ll frequently find that a few beard hairs got stuck behind some other beard hairs and need to be trimmed. It’s kind of amazing how often this happens.
You don’t need to obsess about this sort of thing—two or three times during your trim is fine—but definitely remember to re-brush, because as we mentioned earlier, beard hair is weird, and it tends to wrangle itself up pretty easily, that can make it tough to trim evenly.
Tip #8: Don’t Forget to Trim the Area Above Your Lip
This is, perhaps, the most important area of your beard, because it surrounds your mouth, but it’s the area guys tend to forget about: your mustache. Perhaps more than any other area, you want to take this slow and get it right.
You first want to figure out your strategy, and broadly speaking, there are two strategies: you can cut your mustache so that it ends before touching your upper lip, or you can leave it a bit longer, so that it does go past your upper lip a bit. Ultimately, it comes down to your preferences—some guys HATE to have their mustaches hanging over their lips, because it acts as a trap for anything you put near your mouth—coffee, food, etc.—whereas other guys don’t mind all that, because they love the look of a full, bushy beard, complete with fully and bushy mustache.
It’s up to you, and this is all to say: decide what kind of look you want above your upper lip, and then use the carpenter’s creed: “measure twice, cut once.”
Whatever you decide, there are two things to keep in mind:
1) Instead of having your trimmer face your beard and cutting forward, you can turn it so that it only cuts a very small portion of your mustache at a time, giving you a lot more control.
The other thing to remember is that…
2) Re-combing as you trim the hair above your lip is also a great idea. You can use a beard comb or a beard brush, and if you want to get very particular, you can use a mustache comb. These seem like silly items, but they’re actually really useful, and we like the Wahl Mustache Comb, and if you want to get classy, the Kent Mustache Comb. These are great, because they last forever. Just keep them clean and they can be a long-lasting grooming item.
Now You Know How to Maintain a Beard
There you go! Now you have some insider tips on how to use a trimmer on your beard. Share the wisdom freely, and if you have any questions, jump over to our “Contact” page and drop us a line. In the meantime, 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.