If we believe Homer, the war-bound Odysseus told his wife Penelope to remarry should he not return when their newborn son Telemachus became an adult — that is, when he could at least grow a beard (there were no iPhones in ancient Greece). Since then, growing one has become a rite of passage, the final symbol of one’s arrival into manhood. Graceful attempts today, however, are far and few between.
Beard hair belongs to a category of hair type called “androgenic”, meaning it is related to the production of specific hormones in the body like testosterone. This type of hair grows more coarse and has a tendency to become wiry and prickly (you know that itch) when let loose. Like the hair on our heads, this facial hair is best tamed through routine maintenance — in this case, shaping and conditioning, done through the frequent application of beard oil. Apart from simply turning one’s beard into a temptress of olfaction, oil helps soften the hair by hydrating the skin underneath, which is often neglected after the hair reaches a certain length. Beard oil also functions somewhat like a light pomade and gives malleable shape by relaxing the natural kinks.
It should be noted that most beard oils sold in barber shops and apothecaries function more or less the same, with little variation in their effectiveness. If you’re using one, you’re probably doing a good job. The real difference in beard oils rests on the distinctive quality of smell. We’ve chosen our favorites to help you master a well-groomed beard. Do your face a favor and choose one below.
Beard Oil PrimerBase Oils and Essential Oils
Beard oil is blended from two categories of oils. Base oils — e.g. argan, jojoba, grapeseed, hempseed, rosehip — absorb easily into the skin without clogging pores and can also be used alone in a pinch; find them in the cosmetics section of most health food stores. These base oils do most of the heavy lifting in terms of conditioning and act as a carrier for what are known as essential oils, which determine the scent and differ widely on personal preference. Popular choices include sandalwood, clove, and lavender, among others. How To Apply
The frequency in application depends a lot on the shape and thickness of the beard, as well as the relative humidity level in the air. For thicker beards, or those in drier climates, consider hydrating every day. Others prefer every other day or once a week. Just do whatever feels natural and produces the best results for your own beard.
The best time to oil up is right after a hot shower when the pores are clean, open, and most receptive to the oil (just be sure to towel dry first so the oil can catch onto the hair and skin). To apply, rub two to three drops in your hands and work the oil through the entire beard, making sure to get down near the skin. Finish with a quality brush, like the Horn Beard Brush from Murdock London.
Prospector Co. Burroughs
Base: jojoba, grape seed, argan, kukui nut, glycerin
Essential: cedarwood, juniper, sandalwood, pine, frankincense, myrrh
Smells Like: The local woodworking shop.
MCMC for Fellow Barber Dude No. 1
Base: jojoba, hempseed
Essential: cedarwood, coriander, pink peppercorns, sandalwood, rose, vetiver
Smells Like: The oriental spice market.
Portland General Store Tobacco
Base: jojoba, hempseed, merula
Essential: bergamont, lavendar, neroli (unlisted but best guess)
Smells Like: Grandpa’s home office.
Beardbrand Spiced Citrus
Base: jojoba, grape seed, almond, castor
Essential: vanilla, clove, grapefruit
Smells Like: Mom’s kitchen after spring cleaning.
The Bearded Chap Original
Base: jojoba, grape seed, hempseed, almond, rosehip
Essential: sandalwood, fir
Smells Like: A walk down a well-worn coastal forest path.