In the past decade, the number of beard-care brands has skyrocketed. A simple search on Amazon or Google brings up hundreds, if not thousands of small-batch labels. While this is a good sign for bearded men and the people who love them, it’s also a little scary since many of these products aren’t properly tested, nor held to the same standards as the more-recognized brands.
That’s no jab at the little guy, but it is a red flag for the buyer of beard oils. You’ve got to be sharp, and know what to look for while shopping for a blend that suits your whiskers. Sure, you want to discern between heavier recipes that help style the beard, or lightweight ones that simply soften and add shine. But what about the ingredients in those oil blends? How have they been formulated to specifically address the various concerns you have as you grow out your beard? (Things like beard itch, dandruff, unruly strays, split ends, and so forth.)
To help educate us all, I spoke to Eric Bandholz, the founder of Beardbrand, one of my favorite beard-care brands (imagine, with a name like that). You might recognize Bandholz from his company’s YouTube tutorials, with their 1 million plus subscribers. His glorious red beard is instantly recognizable, and it’s practically the mascot for Beardbrand’s own excellent products. Here are Bandholz’s hot takes on a few of the most pressing beard-oil questions, followed by some important terminology, and the products that we at Gear Patrol love best.
What exactly does a beard oil do?
“A quality beard oil will soften up your beard, moisturize your skin, protect against split ends, minimize beard dandruff, and (if you want it) help your beard smell amazing,” Bandholz says.
Why should guys use a beard oil on their facial hair, and not their everyday moisturizer?
“Beard oil is great because it’s designed not just for the beard, but also the skin beneath the beard,” he says. “A lot of creams and lotions are designed specifically for your face or skin but not also the beard.”
There are so many beard oil sellers online. If a guy finds a product but it’s not from a reputable brand, how does he know if it’s any good?
“The smaller the company, the more due diligence I’d recommend you do to research the product,” Bandholz advises. “Many DIY-type companies will be using essential oils, which a great, but if they use them in too high of concentration, it can be dangerous to your skin. Other concerns I’d have with smaller companies is their manufacturing process and their ability to keep bio-mass (raw ingredient particles) out of their products. Again, just do your due diligence and understand the ingredients they are using, as well as the percentages, and why. Don’t simply trust the reviews. There are many great smaller companies out there with wonderful products. Your best bet is to read reviews from multiple independent sources and find brands that seem to be listed over and over again.”
What about the big companies? How might their mass-produced offerings differ?
“On the other end of the spectrum, there are giant organizations that have developed safe products, but they were formulated to be produced as cheaply as possible,” Bandholz says. “These giant brands are using silicone-based products. (And not straight oil.) An ingredient that ends in “-cone” or “-xane” is normally an indicator that it’s a silicone product.” (Though these products do also contain oils; it’s just an important distinction to make that some brands are pure natural oil, and some are synthetic.)
What is your favorite ingredient in beard oil?
“My all-time favorite base is jojoba oil,” he says. “It’s the oil that is closest in properties to your body’s natural sebum production. That being said, a beard oil is the combination of several ingredients and it should be judged on the performance of the final product rather than marketing buzzwords.” (The simple inclusion of jojoba oil is not an implication of the product’s overall effectiveness.)
What’s the difference between lightweight oils and thicker ones?
“I love a lightweight, non-greasy beard oil that will give me all day softness and conditioning, whereas some people prefer the higher shine and heavier beard oils, because they help control the beard better.”
Beard Oils: Let’s start at the baseline. Beard oils are vitamin- and nutrient-rich blends of oils — essential, carrier, or both — that mimic the naturally nourishing sebum produced by the skin. When applied, they nourish and soften the beard, preventing breaking, splitting, itching, flaking and more.
Sebum: The oil-like secretions that our skin produces, which helps soften and nourish the hair on our heads and faces. However, sebum often does not make its way down the entire hair shaft, which leaves the hair brittle, rigid, and sharp. Oils cover the ground that sebums cannot. Furthermore, when we wash our face, we rid of excess sebum, and in turn need to replenish it by applying hydrating products, like moisturizers and oils.
Beard Conditioners: While not the focus of this article, beard conditioners work more as a periodic ultra-nourishing treatment to soften and tame hairs. Meanwhile, oils act more like a daily moisturizer for both the beard hairs and the parched skin underneath.
Essential Oils: Oils distilled directly from a plant source, and named accordingly. (e.g. Lavender oil is distilled from microdroplets of oil within lavender.) Some essential oils are harmful for your skin, especially in high doses. Typically, name-brand oils will have perfected their blends and will incorporate proper concentrations of essential oils. It’s best to avoid small-name “DIY” brands that haven’t given these sensitive concentrations any thought, just as it’s best to avoid making your own at-home blend without proper research.
Carrier Oils: These are added to many oil blends to help carry, or deliver, oils to the host site. They also dilute and balance the essential-oil recipe. Argan, jojoba, coconut and avocado are common examples of carrier oils, which are typically extracted from the seeds or nuts of the fruit or vegetable. They are sometimes used on their own as nourishing agents, too.
Silicone: We leave the preference to you, but many big-name beard oil producers also incorporate silicone ingredients into their blends, instead of only oil. Silicone still acts like a lubricant and softener, but it’s important for purists to note that they should watch for ingredients ending in “-xone” or “-cone.” Those are silicones, and while they’re used in tons of grooming and beauty products and have been deemed safe, they simply aren’t pure oil. These products are usually heavier, too, and work a little better as light stylers. (We do have a couple silicone-inclusive oil blends in the roster below, Old Spice and Jack Black, which we still love.)
Cold Pressed: You’ll sometimes read that oils have been “cold pressed,” which is a grinding method used to preserve the oil’s core benefits, like fatty acids, vitamins, carotenes and phenols.
Sillage: Though we won’t use the word much here, sillage refers to an oil’s scent, and how long it tends to linger after application. It’s also a common term for perfume oils used in scent making.
The Best Beard Oils
Beardbrand Old Money Beard Oil
There’s Beardbrand again, and for good reason: Their “Old Money” blend is light on weight, heavy on nourishment, and mid-range on shine. It’s got a broody scent — oak, pepper, amber –and blends jojoba, argan, sweet almond, and castor oils.
Baxter of California Beard Grooming Oil
With an avocado- and apricot-oil base, Baxter’s blend gives a healthy shine while it softens the skin and hair with squalane, as well as a botanical blend of fruits, soybeans and seeds.
Public Goods Argan Oil
Public Goods has a simple subscription model: Order from its lineup of standalone oils, and get wholesale prices as opposed to retail markups. The best bargain is this 2-ounce cold-pressed and vitamin E-rich argan oil, without any added ingredients. You can use it on just about everything, not just your beard. (Though it’ll give you solid down-the-middle marks on weight and shine.)
Detroit Grooming Downtown Beard Oil
With a sweet almond oil base, Detroit Grooming’s unscented Downtown blend is its best, though scent lovers should shop their excellent assortment nevertheless (particularly their much-loved Corktown blend, which carries a vanilla, tobacco, and cedarwood fragrance). All of their blends deliver a natural glow and wear light, while hydrating the skin with vitamins A, B and E.
Old Spice Beard Oil
The classic fresh-citrus Old Spice scent lingers in the brand’s new beard oil. It’s got an argan oil base, and uses silicone agents to give it a heavier hold. It’s great for the bulkier beards, as well as unruly ones. This one gives a slightly stronger shine than others, though it’s still nothing shy of natural.
Way of Will Black Spruce and Black Pepper Beard Oil
Grape seed and jojoba oils give Way of Will’s medium-weight blend its soothing and nourishing base. Black spruce and black pepper oils invigorate the skin and strengthen each hair, while bergamot oil calms any irritation in this vitamin-rich blend. It’s also got a woodsy scent that hovers just under your nostrils.
Jack Black MP10 Hair, Face and Beard Oil
A 10-oil blend anchored in argan (to hydrate), marula (to strengthen), and grape seed (to soothe), Jack Black’s oil is medium weight and shine. It has silicone agents to assist with its softening, slickening prowess, and along with Public Goods’ single-ingredient argan oil, it’s the best of the bunch to double as an all-over hydrator — especially in the hairs up top. I like to add two drops to my paste or fiber styler for a pinch of shine and softness.
Note: Purchasing products through our links may earn us a portion of the sale, which supports our editorial team’s mission. Learn more here.