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So, You Want to Grow a Beard?

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If that question up there is one that has been on your mind as of late – or if it’s one you’ve thought over and the answer is “yes!” – then this article is for you. For better or for worse, actually making the decision to grow a beard is one that will define your look, and will introduce you to a whole new range of techniques and products to try – sort of how you tiptoe into wet shaving and things just sort of grow from there.

Then again, I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? The first step in growing out a beard is deciding that you want to have one. My own on-and-off journey with facial hair started when I was off to college. I mean, what better time to have a face full of scruff when you’re living that life? Those first attempts at a goatee were not so great, and ended up not surviving for very long. Over time, though, I stuck with it, and facial hair has been a more or less permanent fixture on my face.

Starting your beard off

Now, let’s turn it back to you. That small introduction to my story is something you will want to consider – there is a time commitment involved, and it may not take off right away. Sure, some guys are blessed with the ability to grow a lush beard right off the bat, but it is by no means guaranteed (as I can attest). The other thing you want to take away from the story is that you need to pick a time to start your journey to Beardville appropriately. Standing up at a wedding, or going for a job interview in a week? Then it’s perhaps not the right time.

However, if you are about to head off for a week of camping and out outdoors activities, that could be precisely the best time to to start up with the beard. Not only will no one care about the stubble on your chin, it will leave you more time to focus on your time off. Whatever the case, you will want to have a week or two to let the beard grow in some to see what you have to work with. At this point, you have your next decision to make – are you going to keep things trimmed down, or go for the gusto (perhaps even a “yeard” as defined over on r/beards) ?

Trimming your beard – or why cutting it is a good thing

I ended up going for the more trimmed path, at least at first. For this, you can pick up a simple, inexpensive trimmer (I use a Norelco G370, which looks to have been replaced by this), especially if you’re first starting out. As time progresses, perhaps something more robust like a Wahl Peanut might make more sense, but for now, keeping prices low is a smart way to go. The benefit of a trimmer like this is that it comes with a built in adjustable guard that allows you to set the length.
This is important for a few reasons. First, as you’re starting off, you may want to get things to an even level of stubble (different parts may grow in a different rates). Second, having a closely trimmed beard can be a “safe” way to test out if you like the beard or not. It allows you to sort of see the style, and it may not be as noticeable to those around you (depending on your hair color). For instance, when I started growing my beard out, I had many people ask my how long I had had a beard (the answer was five years for the beard, and a goatee before that). This was because I kept it so short, it was not as noticeable.

With that adjustable guard trimmer, though, you do indeed have some options. Want to see what things look like a bit longer? Just bump the guard out some and let it grow longer. At this point in the game, you’re pretty early on in the beard journey, so you can play around with it some and see what fits best for you – for what look and style you are going for. I should note that, whatever style you go for (long, short, or otherwise), you will end up dealing with – at some point – the dreaded itch. By this I mean that you will have itching in the beard.

Handling Beard Itch

Fortunately, this is something that (at least for me) goes away after awhile as your chin adjusts to its new pelt. The itching may also be due to the dryness of your skin, as it’s not getting the same treatment (cleaning and moisturizing) that your face normally gets. If that’s the case, you’ll notice the skin flaking (aka dandruff) and yes, there are some good ways to take care of it. The first thing you need to get into would be a beard oil of some sort. Now, I have reviewed a handful of different oils, and I have come to realize that calling it a beard oil is a touch of a misnomer.

Yes, you are placing the oil onto the beard – but you are also massaging it in down to the skin, and that’s what the important thing is here. You need to get the oil down to your skin so that it has the moisture replenished, which can certainly help with the dry skin, as well as any residual itchiness. You may also need to focus more on cleaning the beard. Whatever you use on your head certainly will suffice, but there are (of course) some beard-specific cleaners out there. This one is the only one I’ve gone beard-on with, but I was very pleasantly surprised.
While the oil is something that can be used on any length of beard, if you are going to the point of getting specialized cleaners, that means you probably are on the path of the longer, fuller beard. If that is where your beard is at, you will likely want to pick up a better comb (such as this one). Yeah, the cheapo one from the drug store will kind of work, but the teeth are pointy (not so great on that skin we’re trying to soothe) and thin, which means they’ll bend a break. With a better quality comb, the teeth are thicker and more rounded, giving you a much better way to tidy things up.

Find Yourself a Barber!

In some ways, though, I have gotten ahead of myself. I have focused in on the gear that is out there, and that is understandable. Just as with wet shaving, there is a lot out there to try out and experiment with, and the hunt for those products can certainly be part of the fun. Before you head too far down the road acquiring all of this stuff, though, there is one stop I am going to recommend you make – and that’s to your local barber shop. While it is not a requirement, finding yourself a good barber (that you trust) will go a long way with getting your grooming (head and beard) to where you want it to be. Not only will you get a great haircut every time, they will understand (and can give advice based on your goal) on how to (a) blend the beard into your hair and (b) give you a gentle trim and shaping without undoing months of growth.

Oh, and by barber? I do not mean the haircut place in the mall or a local salon that happens to cut men’s hair as well. For this, you want to find something that has the true old-school look and feel. Where I go now, they’ve got the old red-white-and-blue pole out front, barber chairs that are probably as old as I am, and guys that have been cutting hair probably as long as I have been alive. These will be the guys (or gal, I suppose, I’ve just not run into a female barber of this sort) who will know how to handle what you are growing on your chin.

As an added benefit, past the suggestions on style and technique, they may be able to give you recommendations on a particular product or accessory to try out (get the basics down, and then delve into these topics). In my last visit, I spoke with my barber about scissors, as I want to experiment trimming my beard with a pair. I do not know if this will replace the trimmer, but I thought I should give it a try. Through him, I was able to get a pair of scissors that had been sharpened past their useful life at the shop (they just got too short) but will be plenty fine (and sharp!) for this little experiment of mine.

Your barber will be a great source of advice, and should probably be your most trusted once the relationship is established. Past them, you will have all manner of sources out there on the internet (such as Sharpologist, naturally) that can give other inputs. Ultimately, make sure that you make your beard your own. Yeah, they are trendy and “in” right now, but just don’t ride a style wave – go with what feels right for you and your own lifestyle. For me, I do really like having a beard (especially a fuller one) and I do not see it going away anytime soon. Sure, I may play around with different trimming or lengths, but my beard is as much a part of me these days as is having a watch on my wrist. Perhaps an anachronism to some in this day and age, but something that I identify with, and has become part of my identity.

Patrick Kansa

Patrick Kansa

7 thoughts on “So, You Want to Grow a Beard?”

  1. A major study cultured fecal bacteria from the beards of over 100 men. Not oral bacteria. Are you sure you want to grow one?

    1. Actually, if you read into it, it’s that they found bacteria similar to what can be found in fecal matter. It’s not that there were tiny bits of poop in beards. Frankly, it all boils down to cleanliness – if you’re not grooming, then yeah, you may have some problems.

      1. Indeed. Unfortunately most who report research findings have absolutely no idea how to interpret the data, let along analyze the methodology. Top line findings get reported, with no real analysis. These reports get picked up on other outlets with even less analysis. Final result? People spouting this information as though it meant something, with no idea really, what they are talking about.
        I am interested in correlation between the level of bacteria found in the beard when compared to the head hair, eyebrows and eyelashes, among test subjects. That is, did men with a high bacterial count in their beards have an unusually high bacteria count in their head hair, eyebrows and eyelashes? Were those men with lower bacteria counts in the beard, also a bit cleaner in the other hair areas? If so, the real bottom line is: Some people have more poop on them than others. But let’s be clear, poop, and bacteria, are everywhere.
        Sorry, as a lifelong research guy, I’m pretty sensitive about this stuff. (And maybe a bit more sensitive about it as I’ve had a beard most of my life.)

        1. Also of import – how many of the survey participants had received a swirly just prior to being swabbed?

      2. Enterobacter, and enterococcus are not normal head and neck micro fauna in humans. Those bacteria are common in the colon. Whether or not gross fecal matter is present in your beard is irrelevant. Those wee beasties are not normal for head and neck species. Your explanation is? Passive transfer?

        1. Small amounts of fecal matter are launched into the air when the toilet is flushed, if the top is not down, and if there is any fecal matter in the toilet. This would stick to any part of your body, including, of course, the beard. That means your eyelashes would have it too, and you would have poop in your eyes. Concerned?
          Unless a very detailed account of the methodology, and the raw data, is available to examine, I’m not going to worry about this report too much. As Patrick noted, this is likely a factor of the cleanliness habits of the various participants in the study.

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