Tips and tricks to look after your beard

Summer. Somewhere in the 1980s. Went yachting for the first and only time. It was fun. And I grew a beard. The first, but not only time. That was fun, too - a holiday kind of thing.

I saw the photos recently. I look very nautical, but that wasn't really the reason I'd grown it. Two weeks in a small boat on choppy seas and the last thing I was thinking of was shaving. Once back on dry land, the beard stayed with me for a while, but it didn't last.

It never does. And that's been the pattern with beards and me ever since. Go on holiday, relax, don't bother shaving, three-day's growth becomes a fortnight's, becomes a beard. Keep it for a bit, as a reminder of the good times, and then off it comes.

I've always found it fun to chop and change. And maintenance-wise, I've tended  to drop them once they need bits shaving off, or snipping at or, to be frank, cleaning. The only reminder is a bathroom full of whiskers and a chin that's paler than the rest of my face.

A bit more effort

So I always thought beards were a passing thing. But now, with every Tom, Dick and Harry putting months and months of effort into growing the biggest, bushiest beard they can, a bit more effort is required to keeping them looking their best.

The last time face fuzz was big - the '70s - there was much more of a 'let it all hang out' approach to life in general, and beards in particular. These days, they're part-and-parcel of being a well-groomed man. So what should you be doing to have yours looking its best?

"Beards are dirty," says Jacky Chan, director of the OscarOscar salon in Melbourne's St Kilda. "They get so long and they look so dry and if you grow one, you must maintain it. They're not 'set and forget'."

So trimming is important. But what about cleaning? "You shouldn't use standard shampoos," Chan advises. "Beard shampoos have more 'care' ingredients. You should use them every time you have a shower." 

Finance journalist Max Mason, 27,  describes himself as a beard enthusiast. He doesn't use a razor to keep his beard neat. "I get shaving rash, which is why I grew a beard in the first place," Mason says. 

Instead, he trims it twice a week with some Wahl clippers and gives it a good going-over on a different length setting every two weeks. "And I sometimes give the moustache an extra trim if it's getting too long and annoying," he says. 

Mason washes and conditions the beard whenever he does his hair - shampoo once a week, conditioner twice a week. And he uses the same products all over his head. No fancy beard-only conditioner, and no beard oil.

Mason might not be across them yet, but  the growth of beard culture has companies big and small jumping on the beard boy bandwagon. As a result there are now a plethora of products out there to keep unruly beards well under control.

Tools of the trade

Clippers from Philips, Wahl, Braun or others are all good. One, the Philips Series 7000, even includes a vacuum device that sucks the stubble away. So the other half's happy too.    

Milkman Australia has been in the beard game for a while now. One of the founders, pharmacologist Dr Benjamin De Campo, decided to grow his beard one summer holiday, and found a common problem.

After about a week, he says "the itch made me want to shave it off". So, being a scientist, he decided to find a solution. "I looked into beard oils," he says, "particularly beard oils made in Australia, and decided to make some of my own."  

Milkman has built up quite a range not just of beard oils, but also balms, special scissors and conditioner, too. 

Not surprisingly, De Campo thinks shampooing and conditioning with normal head products isn't the way to go. He agrees beards need special treatment.  

"As your face skin is under the hair, you need to make sure you use a really gentle soap or beard cleanser," he says.  

"Head shampoos are meant to clean the greasy scalp and because there's generally less hair on your face, it can be a bit too harsh and will tend to dry out your skin."

Once it's clean and dry, the chin skin needs moisturising - a beard full of dandruff is not a good look.  Normal moisturising creams are too thick to even reach through the wiry beard hair to the skin, let alone help moisturise it.  That's where beard oil comes in.

A good beard oil, De Campo says  "will penetrate not only the hair but the skin as well". It keeps the itch down, too. You can finish off with a moustache wax or beard balm if you want to get a bit fancy.

Valor is a small concern with a range of organic men's products made in a workshop "in the hills beyond Byron Bay". 

Being organic, its products don't contain any palm oil or synthetic foaming oils, which makes its shaving soap and body foam slightly less suddsy than I'd been expecting. They smelt nice, though.

Valor recommends that its Original Beard Balm - "a unique blend of organic argan, macadamia, hemp coconut and borage" - be massaged into the skin and "whisker shaft" for a softer, shinier beard.

I'm beardless at the moment, so the only whiskers I could find were the sideburns, so they had a few drops rubbed into them the other morning. They feel good even now, and my wife made positive noises about the smell. Result!

Beard used to be the lazy man's alternative to daily shaving. Not any more. We're told they need work. 

How do you keep your beard neat and tidy? Oils? Clippers? Special shampoos? Or do you prefer to let it all hang out?

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