There comes a time in every man’s life when he decides to grow out his facial hair and see—just out of curiosity—how he looks with a beard. If this is you, then welcome to the club! However, while you may be retiring the razor for a while, growing a beard requires a routine all its own. (For starters, you’ll still need that razor for some neckline cleanups.) As you embark on this rite of passage, here are three tenets of beard maintenance to keep in mind.
Know What You’re Working With
Acceptance is one of the first steps of growing a beard: Are you actually able to grow one? How full is it going to be? If you’re young—teenaged, or early 20s—it might grow fuller yet. However, if your facial hair (or lack thereof) is long established, then you’ve got to work with what you’ve got. Stop assuming you’ll grow a full Galifianakis, unless your whiskers are dense enough in the cheeks…and everywhere else. The good news is that there are many ways to look great with facial hair of all lengths and patterns; experimenting with it is half the fun of growing it out.
You need to consider the type of beard that fits your style. Look in the mirror at your face: What shape is it? Your beard should make your face look as oval as possible. So, if you’ve got a square or circular face—as wide as it is long—then grow a beard that adds a little length, keeping the sides trim. If you’ve got an oblong or rectangular face—longer than it is wide, with less graduation than someone with an oval face—then you don’t want to add much length to the beard and grow it any longer. Instead, grow the sides fuller to detract from the length; this will make things feel more symmetrical.
Avoid the Neckbeard
The most rookie mistake is to grow your beard without any maintenance. Yes, it will take time and, yes, you won’t be trimming it as often as you used to shave, but it will look better if you keep it looking intentional.
An important part of this process is to avoid any neckbeard and keep a defined neckline. You’ll still need your razor to clean up those errant neck hairs; that’s the easy part. The neckline, however, is where lots of guys really screw up: The beard should be full all the way around your jaw and underneath your chin. To know where to trim the neckline, take two fingers and place them above your Adam’s apple. Draw an imaginary “U” that goes from the back of each ear, and hits this point. Shave everything below this line, entirely; it will create a clean stop for your ongoing beard maintenance. (The good news is that it’s easier after the first time, once the rest of your beard grows out, you’ll just continue shaving the stubble that appears below this “U”.)
Lots of guys will fade this neckline so that it graduates steadily into the beard. You can take your beard clippers and use a guard that is half the length of your usual beard-trimming setting. If you don’t have a standard setting yet, then logic will serve you well: Basically, you can trim the first inch above your beard neckline at a slightly lower length, so that it has a gradual build into the full length, instead of a hard line that contrasts full beard and bare skin. Again, this is totally optional, and you can even fade it more gradually by halving the guard length a second time and trimming halfway into this inch. (Now you’re fancy!)
Maintain It, Even as It Grows
The rest of your beard will require regular trimming, too. Not all hairs grow at the same length, plus you’ll want to grow it fuller in some parts than in others (taking your face shape into account). Once your beard starts looking unkempt—after it’s full enough in the cheeks and chin—take a beard comb or brush and direct the hairs away from the grain, making them stand out.
This will make it easiest to trim them evenly, and will expose which parts of the beard have grown longest or fastest. Trim them as desired—again, keeping your face shape and most optimal beard style in mind—and repeat this once every two weeks once you want to maintain a consistent length. It’s important to do this periodically as your beard grows, too, to keep it looking shapely throughout the process.
The mustache will require more precise upkeep: Comb the hairs down over your lip and trim them with mustache scissors (which will work well on any stray beard hairs, too). Clip the mustache as often as needed, which might be twice as frequently as the rest of your beard, depending on how thick and full you prefer it.
Keep It Clean and Soft
If you’re going to grow a beard, then you’ll want those whiskers as soft as possible. (Your significant other will appreciate it, too.) To keep it healthy, wash your beard with a dedicated scrub every few days, and condition it daily with a beard oil, which adds nutrients and keeps it soft. Use a beard comb to evenly distribute oil to the entire beard.
You’re playing a long game here: Nourish your beard instead of neglecting it, and you’ll have a much less prickly experience.