Before we dive into the question of “What is beard balm?,” we should probably talk about beards themselves:
A lot of guys seem to think, “Shaving my face every day is a such a pain. I should grow a beard, and that way I won’t have to commit to the daily grind of scraping whiskers off my face every day.” We hear this a lot—that guys grow a beard because they think it’ll be easier than shaving every morning. It makes sense, if you think about it.
But sadly—most of these guys figure out very quickly that having a beard isn’t really a vacation from grooming—in fact, it’s the opposite! Beards take a lot of time and effort to groom, and they require products that aren’t quite intuitive—beard balms, beard butters, beard oils… what are these things?
So here, we’ll be talking about beard balm. It’s a really powerful tool that can keep your beard healthy and lustrous, and integrating it into your daily routine can create some really fantastic benefits for both your hair and skin.
In today’s article we’ll talk about what it is, how to use it, and at the end, we’ll share our recommendations and favorite balms for use.
So, What is Beard Balm?
Beard Balm is a product designed to help men with dry and itchy beards, including men who deal with “beardruff” or dry flaky skin below the beard. High quality beard balms hydrate both beard and skin, remove itchiness, and can help you define your beard’s shape, while offering a pleasant fragrance. Most beard balms are made with a combination of carrier oil, essential oil, nut or seed butter, and a wax (often beeswax) of some type. The exact combination of ingredients will vary from one product to the next.
And with that in mind, let’s first talk about all the absolutely disgusting things that can go wrong with your beard.
Your Beard, Left Alone, Can Become a Nest of Grotesqueries
Have you ever seen a bad beard? Think about some of the bearded guys you know—chances are one of them has a bad beard. A bad beard is one where the person growing the beard just doesn’t groom it in any way, and the following problems usually arise:
- Dryness. This is perhaps the most common problem you’ll see in an unkempt beard—it looks twiggy and straw-like and dry. The whiskers don’t bunch together—instead they poke out in all different directions, and look a little bit like a bird’s nest.
- Itchiness. This is another very common problem—when you see a beard that looks like a bird’s nest, chances are it’s driving the owner of that bird’s nest beard crazy. It not uncommon for a very short beard to be itchy, but this goes way past that—it’s that under-the-skin itchiness that those who don’t take care of their beards can experience.
- Beardruff. This is an aesthetically unfortunate problem—dandruff, but coming from the skin underneath your facial hair, instead of the skin underneath your head hair. This is actually a pretty common problem, and a lot of guys have it.
- Shapelessness. Guys who don’t groom their beards tend to have shapeless beards that grow in all directions. A cared-for beard usually has a nice, downward shape—usually a broad “V”-shape pointing towards the chest. Ungroomed beards tend to float in all directions, resulting a round/puffy look.
There are other problems, for sure—some guys have patchy beards that grow only in certain places, and other guys have really thin whiskers—but those problems can be tough to fix, because you can’t really do much about them.
But the problems that come from a lack of grooming—itchy skin, dry whiskers, wispy split-ends that shoot off in every direction, and beardruff—those are all problems you can try and fix, and that’s where a good beard balm can make things a lot easier.
What is Beard Balm Supposed to Do?
A good beard balm can help with each of the issues we just discussed. A small scoop of it—and here’s what it looks like, by the way:
…a small scoop of it can confer the following properties:
It Can Hydrate Both Beard Hair and Skin. This is, perhaps, a beard balm’s main job: to moisturize the hair in your beard and the skin beneath it. Beard balm has a bunch of ingredients (and we’ll talk about those in a minute) that coat the whiskers and provide them with hours of hydration, and provide hydration for skin underneath your beard as well. Guys often use beard balm for other purposes, but that’s its true purpose—to hydrate and soften beard hair and skin—and that’s why it’s sometimes referred to as a “leave-in conditioner.”
It Can Alleviate Itchiness. Even though growing a beard is a pretty natural process, it’s not always the case that our skin is up for it—and that can lead to itchiness and tenderness on the skin. Luckily, the same ingredients that moisturize hair can lend some relief to under-the-beard skin itch, and some of the ingredients in beard balms (usually oils and butters) can provide relief for a good period of time.
It Can Reduce/Eliminate Beardruff. There are a number of products guys use to work on beardruff, but beard balm often does the trick. Because beardruff is basically just dry peels flaking off your skin, fixing the dry skin issues under the beard can make a big difference. Just a heads up, though—beardruff is one of those problems that you may need to experiment with multiple products before finding what works for you, and while beard balm works for a lot of guys, it seems like guys with serious beardruff do well with a combination of products (beard oils, beard balms, and/or beard butters).
It Gives Beards a Shape. Because beard balm is made from oils and butters and waxes—and more on that in a moment—it can give a beard some “body” and some shape. If you’ve heard people say that beard balm can help style a beard, that’s what they mean—it can provide a little bit of hold and make a beard look thick and healthy. It can also give it that downward “V” shape that people usually equate with a healthy beard.
It Can Smell GREAT. This is more “form over function,” but it’s one of our favorite things about beard balm: it’s often made in a wide and creative range of scents—everything from lemon and lime to fir and cedar to coffee and bourbon to a bunch of mixtures in between. There are some fantastic-smelling beard balms out there, and while it’s not the most important feature of a beard balm, it can be a wonderful thing.
So, with all these wondrous features, is beard balm a miracle cure for whatever ails your beard?
Nope! Nothing is, sadly. We always want to temper expectations when talking about beard products, because people often expect a lot from new grooming tools.
That said, beard balm can provide a lot of benefits, and in our experience, it’s rare that a beard balm doesn’t do a good job hydrating and giving your beard some shape.
The Ingredients That Make Beard Balm Helpful
So—why does a beard balm work? The reason is because of its ingredient list: beard balms are made from four main ingredients, each with a unique function. They include:
> Carrier Oils. These aren’t the flashiest ingredient in a beard balm—they’re usually scentless and they don’t look like much—but they’re the ones doing most of the work. They’re oils derived from plants, and they’re all great moisturizers—and again, that’s the main job of a beard balm—and they have a long list of nutrients that are good for your hair and your skin, including-but-not-limited to fatty acids, polyphenols, plant sterols, Vitamins A, C, and E. Carrier oils include coconut oil, jojoba oil, apricot kernel oil, olive oil, sweet almond oil, rosehip oil, argan oil, grapeseed oil, avocado oil, and sunflower oil. If you look at the ingredient list on a beard balm, chances are very it’ll have a number of these ingredients.
> Essentials Oils. These are also plant oils, but they usually have a scent—and that’s why they’re called “essential” oils: they capture the “essence” of the plant (and, by the way, the carrier oils also have the job of “carrying” the essential oil to your hair and skin—that’s where that name comes from). Essential oils aren’t the super-substance that so many people make them out to be, but they smell great, and like a lot of plant oils, they’re great moisturizers that can offer up some vitamins and nutrients for hair and skin. Some essentials oils you’ll find in beard balms include sandalwood (this is a really popular one, because it’s often described as “clean” and “manly”), peppermint, rose, bergamot (which is a type of citrus), lavender, chamomile, tea tree (which has a bright, minty scent), jasmine, and lemon. There are more than 90 essential oils, and each has a unique scent—making them a vital part of a beard balm’s fragrance.
> Nut and Seed Butters. These sound exotic, but basically butters are just mashed up seeds and nuts, and they have a creamy, smooth feel. They’re very common in skin products marketed towards women, but they’re not as common in men’s grooming products. That’s a shame, because they, too, offer a great deal of hydration and moisturization. The great thing about butters, though, is that they can give a beard balm the ability to coat your whiskers and last a while—the carrier oils and essential oils in a beard balm tend to evaporate out of your beard, but the butters can stay put for a bit and continue to condition your skin and hair.
> One or More Waxes. Waxes—usually beeswax, but sometimes carnauba wax and/or candelilla wax—are included to give a beard balm its consistency, and to keep the other ingredients from separating. They don’t usually have the same hydrating properties as oils and butters, and there’s usually only a little bit of wax in a beard balm, because including too much of it can make your beard very stiff—which is actually why they’re also sold separately as beard waxes, for guys who want to style their beards with a lot of hold.
And… that’s it! Most beard waxes only have four ingredients, and each one of those ingredients (with the exception of wax) is there to hydrate and moisturize your hair and skin.
So How Do I Use It?
Even though it may seem a little mysterious before you apply it for the first time, beard balm is actually pretty simple to use: just take a small dollop of it from the tin—maybe the size of a pea or a peanut or two peanuts, if you’ve got a longer beard—rub it between your palms, and then work it into your beard. Try to get as much of it into your beard as you can, and use more if you’re having difficulty getting it to reach your skin (and that can happen—it can be difficult to get back there). Using a wooden beard comb can help you distribute the balm throughout your beard hair, and it’ll let you shape it a little bit, as well.
Afterwards, you’ll need to wash/rinse off your hands, because it can be sticky—and that’s all those oils and butters working! If you’re enjoying the scent and it wears off—that’s not uncommon—apply a little bit more. At the end of the day, be sure to wash it out of your beard, using soap/shampoo (which is the “OK” option, because it’s not specifically designed for beards) or a beard wash (which is the “excellent” option, because it *is* designed for beards).
And that’s that! Nothing too complicated, but if you want to read more, you can do so in our “How to Use Beard Balm” post.
How is Beard Balm Different Than All the Other Beard Products I’m Supposed to Know About?
We get this question a lot. Remember above, when we said that all these beard products aren’t really that intuitive? Well, the differences between them aren’t that intuitive either! It’s no wonder everyone is confused.
These differences require a unique post for each of them, so here’s the differences between beard balm and beard oil, the differences between beard balm and beard pomade, and the differences between beard balm and beard butter.
Beard Balms We Like
Finally, for those of you who are looking for product suggestions, here are some of the beard balms we recommend:
"Viking Revolution makes their balms with a lot of great ingredients, and we've found them to be great moisturizers, as well. Their Viking Revolution Beard Balm 4-Pack is one of our mainstays."
- RTG Editorial
Other Beard Balms We Recommend
- Grave Before Shave Beard Balm – If you’re into unique, enticing scents, these may be a good option for you. They’re very decent moisturizers, but Grave Before Shave stands out with their scent offerings—everything from tobacco-plus-vanilla to tequila-with-lemon.
- Cremo Beard Balm – At present, Cremo only makes their balm in two scents—and that would be Mint Blend and Forest Blend—but both are nice and perky. It’s also a little bit better-than-average in terms of hold, so it can be a good option if you’re looking for giving your beard some body.
- Honest Amish Beard Balm – Last but not least, and perhaps the most popular beard balm out there—Honest Amish. It’s got a sweet scent—it’s a mix of cloves, anise, and cedarwood—and it’s made to provide long-term hydration and conditioning. It’s a very unique scent—very sweet, but not overwhelming—and it’s got a very soft feel. Another one of our favorites.
Any Other Questions About Beard Balm?
There you go! Hopefully we’ve answered the question, “What is beard balm?,” but if you have any other questions, jump over to our “Contact” page and drop us a line. Good luck, have fun, 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.