The Ten Commandments of Beard Maintenance
There's a common misconception among the unbearded and the not-yet-bearded that you can "let yourself go" when you've got facial hair. Instead of shaving every day, you can jump in the shower, jump out, and start your day. Not having to shave frees up incredible time, which you can spend bettering yourself, your community, and your world.
Not so! In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. If anything, a beard is an additional step in your grooming routine, because an unkempt beard is... disgusting, and it needs to be maintained.
We're obviously a "pro-beard" website, but it has to be said: if you're not willing to put in the effort, your beard is most likely lopsided and gross. Uneven and disgusting. Untamed and repugnant.
So, consider this a user's manual. A set of Commandments, if you will. A list of things you must do, and must not do, when you have a beard.
After all, if you've got a beard and you're out and about in the world, you're representing all of us. We gotta look like a team here.
We'll start with what is, undisputedly, the most important Commandment:
1. YOU SHALL NOT GET A WHOLE BUNCH OF FOOD IN YOUR BEARD. IT'S DISGUSTING.
If you've ever been around a beard hater, this is usually one of the first things he/she mentions. "Beards are like little nets for food," they'll say. "I don't need to see a recap of what you ate for lunch. I'm not a detective."
Irritating, but you know what? The haters are totally, totally right. Food in the beard is really gross, and really smelly, and really slacker. Aside from being repulsive, it just looks sloppy.
So check yourself after meals. Particularly if you're eating the following: cream cheese, soup, cereal, crumbly bread, and pretty much anything else that isn't hard candy. Be careful as you eat, and when you're done eating, retire to the bathroom for a moment to remove whatever's been left behind (because, a Commandment 1.1 would be, "DON'T PICK FOOD OUT OF YOUR BEARD IN FRONT OF OTHERS").
This is a good segue into the Second Commandment, which is:
2. AVOID LIP OVERHANG ISSUES.
We've all seen this, usually on guys who have a full beard: the whiskers above the upper lip are out of control, and hang down over the upper lip. Sometimes it's not so obvious; sometimes it looks like a hostile takeover.
If you're wondering if you suffer from Lip Overhang, there's a very simple test. Go to a deli and order a bagel and with cream cheese. Take a bite and look in the mirror. If you come away with half the cream cheese on your moustache, you've got the issue.
This is pretty easy to take care of, even for beginner beardhavers: get a solid pair of scissors and start hacking away (carefully and evenly, of course). Newbies may find it difficult to use a scissor in front of a mirror, but here's a pro tip: look at the mirror, but concentrate on the scissors in your hand. It'll make it much easier to navigate your face and cut away those whiskers in your mustache that have overtaken your upper lip.
3. THOU SHALT NOT OVERDO IT.
Gandalf, ZZ Top, God the Father—these are all guys who can overdo it on the beard. The rest of us have to be honest with ourselves.
There are some guys who look really, really good with The Full Lumberjack: a thick wall of full, lush beard hair heading three or more inches south of the chin. It's masculine, powerful, and intimidating. If you can pull that off, go for it. It's a striking look that won't go out of style. If you can't pull that off... don't.
Moment of truth here: I tried to do that. I tried to commit to The Full Lumberjack, and it... didn't work out. I have a nice full beard when it's kept somewhat close to my face, but The Full Lumberjack looked awful. It was stringy and sparse, and no matter how much I conditioned it, it simply wasn't happening.
So—Know your Truth!
In this instance, my truth was "This looks very stupid on me."
4. THOU SHALT NOT UNDERDO IT, EITHER.
It's funny—if you're looking for big, bushy beards, there are plenty of famous characters in fiction and movies who've got them. I mentioned Gandalf and ZZ Top, above, but there's also Thor, Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, Jack Sparrow, Chewbacca, He-Man... the list goes on.
(Wait, that's wrong. As I'm considering this, I'm realizing that He-Man did NOT have a beard. He was 100% shaven at all times. Supposedly the manliest dude in the galaxy, whose name is literally two forms of the word "man," didn't have a beard. That seems like a bit of an oversight, doesn't it? And, by the way—what was He-Man's last name? "Guy"? "Fella"? Or perhaps it was hyphenated, like "Muscle-Bicep"? Why would he not have a last name? That seems like a missed opportunity).
Anyway, I'm getting off the point, here. The point is that it's a lot easier to point to fictional characters with big bushy beards than it is to point to fictional characters with splotchy beards, because splotchy beards are kind of tragic.
It's sad, but it's true. If a thick, manly beard makes a man look confident and mature, a sparse, wispy beard has the opposite affect: it makes the beardhaver look a little silly (the exception to the rule, of course, is the original Fu Manchu).
So, we need to be honest with ourselves.
If you're not there yet in terms of hair growth, though, you've got options. You can:
1) Do wait men used to do, which is simply wait until it happens (and it will, eventually);
2) Take Minoxidil or another beard growth product (and we at Rough and Tumble Gentleman don't usually recommend that); or
3) Embrace the stubble.
Yes. If you can't yet grow a full beard, or your facial hair is patchy, go with stubble. It's manly, it's tough-looking, and it's a LOT easier to maintain, and whereas beards and mustaches have a lot of haters among the women-folk, stubble is almost universally seen as sexy.
5. THOU SHALL WASH IT, A LOT.
Just like the rest of the hair coming off your body, beard hair needs to be washed. If you think about it, most guys shower once every day or two and they wash their head hair, and head hair doesn't really do much: it's hanging out on the top of the head, laid back, surveying. Taking it easy. Not doing much.
Beard hair, however, is front and center, surrounding every piece of food that enter your mouth and every word that escapes your lips. It's in the center of action, in other words, and it needs to be cleaned.
So make sure you're washing it, ESPECIALLY if you're not a shower-every-day kind of guy. Without a daily or semi-daily cleaning, it gets tangled, smelly, and laden with gunk. Give it a rinse, and use whatever products (balms are nice; so are oils) that bring you pleasure. The people around you will thank you.
6. THOU SHALT COMMIT TO MAINTENANCE.
This, really, is kind of tied with Commandment #1 in terms of importance. If you've got a beard, you've got to take care of it. A kept beard is a thing of masculine beauty, but an unkempt beard is... sad.
It's a recent trend where a wild, unkempt beard makes you look stylish, and not like a lunatic. Historically, if you saw two guys, both dressed similarly, and one had a wild, unkept beard, and the other had a measured, manicured beard, which one do you think is more likely to be a crazy person? Probably the first one. Not so, these days, but that may change.
Anyway, point is—if you've got a beard, you're going to need to work it a little. Here are the biggest beard maintenance issues:
Unevenness. It's very rare that a beard grows in symmetrically; because every whisker has a mind of its own—they're not really working together, if you think about it—beards usually come in misshapen. You'll need to comb it, clip it, and shape it. That may be difficult if you're a new beardhaver, but luckily, there are over 40 million YouTube videos that will teach you how to shave. For real. There are so many that it's difficult to find ones that are actually helpful, so we've put together a post of the best videos here.
Out-of-Control Neck Whiskers. A lot of guys forget about these. You can shave them or shorten them, but make sure you don't forget them. They can make a very gentlemanly beard look undisciplined.
Beardruff. Beard dandruff is a thing. It happens. If it happens to you, take care of it. It's usually due to dry skin or dry beard hairs, and a beard oil will usually help things.
7. THOU SHALL NOT BE A JERK ABOUT THINGS.
As we've said, upkeep is important. The bummer thing about upkeep? It makes a mess.
For real. If you use a beard trimmer, or mustache scissors, or otherwise shorten your beard in any way, you are no doubt going to create thousands and thousands of little whiskers that are going to hang out on the bathroom counter for eternity. Or until you clean them up. It's simply a part of owning a beard—those thousands and thousands of discarded whiskers.
So if you have roommates, or a wife or girlfriend or partner, parents, or if you share a bathroom with any other human person, be considerate. Nobody wants to follow you into the bathroom to find all those whiskers left behind.
The solution: clean up.
Or, use a beard bib. They're a little silly but if you really hate cleaning up your own whiskers, consider it. It's the kind of thing where you think, "Man, I could have totally come up with that."
8. THOU SHALT NOT BETRAY YOUR BEARD.
This is a sort of "you do you"-type commandment, the kind that is noticeably absent from the first set of real, non-beard-related commandments. The Commandment is this, basically: If you like your beard, don't shave it when it becomes less popular. If you like it, keep it.
There's been a lot of talk on sites like this one, and ladies' online sites, about the death of the beard. About how the beard is going out of style, and it's becoming a yesterday look.
Don't believe it. Beards are, by their very definition, eternally stylish.
Allow me to explain.
A beard itself is a manifestation of masculinity. And—lucky for us—women love men. They love masculinity.
If you have a beard, it is clear that you are an adult male. In culture after culture for many millennia, a beard has been a symbol of manliness and capability. That's not related to style; that's related to human physiology, and it doesn't change with the trends and the tides. It just IS, and it always will be.
There are, of course, women who don't like beards and never will (just as there are a lot of women who say they hate beards, then fall in love with a guy who has one). That doesn't matter, though. Regardless of how trendy a beard is, it will always be manly. And manly will ALWAYS be attractive.
(Yes, there was a period in the 80s where literally every rock beard out there was dressing like ladies, but I promise you, there were dudes with beards during the 80s, and I have a feeling they did just fine).
9. DON'T WORRY ABOUT THE LAST TWO COMMANDMENTS.
Eight commandments is enough. If you've got a beard, make sure you're taking care of it! Etch these commandments into your heart, and follow them. After all, we're counting on you. You're representative of all of mankind. No pressure, brother! Do us well!
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.