Beards are great for rubbing when deep in thought; they block the sun from burning your face; they hide neck flab; and they suggest a life free from razor burn.
But while facial hair may be a product of natural processes, beards won’t take a healthy shape without a little help. Trimming, shaping, fading, cleaning, combing and conditioning is all part of the game and changes depending on what style you want and type of facial hair you were born with.
There’s no one correct way to have a beard, so we asked barbers from across the country to weigh on what guys should be doing to grow, maintain, and care for the most popular styles of facial hair.
1. Natural neck and trimmed cheek
“You can really see the square jaw line on Gerard Butler’s face with this beard style,” says Jeff Yabut, Master Barber at Truman’s Gentlemen’s Groomers. The natural neck line balances the beard, keeping it from looking too primped.
“The trimmed cheek hairs gives the beard and face angles and shape,” he says.
The trick with this look is to follow the bottom of the cheek bone, mowing off anything above and keeping what’s below. Giving yourself a once-a-week trim is a general guideline but changes depending on rate of growth.
“The real question here is if you have full enough facial hair to give yourself a strong cheek line,” says Yabut, who notes that a cheek border may look strange on guys with extra light growth or patchy beards. And even though the neck looks natural, as a rule, anything below the Adam’s apple should always be trimmed.
2. Colorful beard
“Facial hair does not produce the same melanin as the hair follicles on top of your head,” Jeff Yabut from Truman’s Gentlemen’s Groomers says, which is why a beard is both coarser and more prismatic than the fuzz that grows on top of your head.
“I would suggest to stay as natural as you can,” he says.
Blake Shelton is a great example — he has reds, blonds, browns, and grays and it only adds to his swag. There are men who do color their beards to either hide some bizarre pigmentation combinations or the onset of grays, but color doesn’t take well to the thick hair on your face.
Goatees can skew ’90s revivalist, but they’ve been on the comeback trail over the past few years as an alternative to sporting a full beard.
“I always advise men to grow in more than just the goatee area to start with,” says Paco O’Keefe from The Modern Man Barber Shop. “That way there’s more to work with when it comes time to carve in the shape,” which is best done after at least a week of cultivating.
First create the shape with a beard trimmer. A general guide is a straight line down from the corner of your mouth. It’s your call if you want to connect it to your mustache or not.
Shave the lower border line at the bottom of your chin bone. Then set it in stone with a wet shave. Cheeks and neck will need to be shaved on a daily basis to stop the goatee from looking like a peculiarly shaped beard.
Both Brad Pitt and Idris Elba keep the goatee from looking too throwback by balancing it out with a mustache and wearing the hair relatively short — mowed every few days with the lower half of the guards on a beard trimmer.
4. Rugged perfection
A rugged beard should look natural, but it should also have a hint of maintenance. Chris Pine‘s look here projects the perfect sophisticated rugged beard, which is more like a garden that has the appearance of being wild, involving a bit of landscaping.
“These are shorter beards of between one to two weeks growth,” says Mike Sposito at FELLOW Barber. “The style is maintained by keeping both the cheek and neck line faded rather than just going for an even trim across the board.”
Shorter versions of this type of beard should be trimmed and faded at the one or two guard every one or two weeks, longer versions can do so at a three guard every two or three weeks.
5. The shadow
“A shadow is meant to create the illusion that you woke up looking good,” says Paco O’Keefe from The Modern Man Barber Shop.
In reality, it should be trimmed daily using one of the lowest settings on your beard trimmer. Hairs that grow too far above the cheek line and below the Adams apple can be nicked off with a razor, but don’t go too crazy or the natural effect gets lost.
Stubble can be immensely irritating during intimate relations, so O’Keefe recommends resting a bit of hair conditioner on it while in the shower. There’s also The Soft Goat, a new stubble softening pad. As to the difference between a slovenly shadow and the perfect stubble? There are three rules that O’Keefe tells us:
“The first is to make sure you can grow a full enough beard so that it doesn’t look patchy and unhealthy. The second is to make sure you are otherwise very well kept – a good haircut, dressed nicely – or it will just look like you’re lazy.”
“The final rule is that shorter stubble works on softer features and heavier shadows for sharp, more defined faces.”
That last rule is nicely summed up in how John Legend sharpens his softer face up with a 5 o’clock shadow and Chris Hemsworth rounds out his chiseled face with at least 24 hours worth of growth.
6. Clean neck line
A clean border between beard and bottom of the neck is the best way to give a bit of corporate order to an otherwise rebellious growth of hair, a style that Chris Martin and Hugh Jackman have mastered.
“The trick to getting the perfect neck line at the bottom of the beard is use the top of your Adam’s apple as a guide and follow your jawline outwards,” says Paco O’Keefe of The Modern Man Barber Shop.
Use a beard trimmer with no shave guard to create the line and then follow up with a wet shave. The best way to check the line is with a hand held mirror, which lets you see how it will look without stretching your neck in the bathroom mirror.
Keeping it clean means reinforcing the line at least twice a week. This is the hard rule for shorter beards, but once your face furniture grows out, fading and shaping from that line starts to look more conservative than a drastic line.
7. Chin strap
The chin strap is one of the most grossly misguided beard styles out there. It requires hard and precise lines that need constant upkeep, they do not grow out well and chin straps are unforgiving to mistakes and awkward characteristics.
“The chin strap works best when it matches the line of the jaw, particularly on a strong featured guy,” says Mike Sposito, Head Barber at FELLOW barber.
As a general rule, the wider and rounder the face, the thicker the strap should be, like Melky Cabrera; the leaner and more angular the face, the thinner you can take the strap (but don’t necessarily have to – the style is a little dated).
Expect to carve up those tight lines at least twice a week and keep the hair trim to the face – long chin straps veer dangerously close to the inimitable Abe Lincoln.
8. Long but neat
“There’s a reason Napoli kept his playoff beard into this season,” says Rob McMillen, head barber at The Blind Barber. “It’s just a good looking beard.”
It works because while it’s got more mass than your average tuft of facial hair, it also has order. Helping a longer than average beard to not consume your entire face means treating your face a little more like it is the top of your head. McMillen recommends washing and conditioning every three to five days and regularly brushing though the hairs with a comb.
“The longer a beard gets, the more important it is to pay special attention when washing your face,” says Ramos, lead barber from Baxter Finley Barber & Shop, who recommends using a face cleanser at least once a day.
After, using a daily beard oil or balm keeps the hair and skin beneath it nourished, cuts down on unruly frizz, and keeps all those facial follicles in flowing order. The neatness is attained by cutting erratic fly aways and trimming the cheek and neck line at least once a month, probably twice.
But before all that, it takes anywhere from six months to a year to cultivate a beard of such considerable proportions and you should have a pretty thick and dense face full of hair if you want it to look healthy.
9. Extreme beard
“Confidence is going to be the main factor that lets a guy pull off a stronger, creative beard of unusual proportions,” says Ramos, lead barber at Baxter Finley Barber & Shop.
In other words, you might want to think twice about the extreme beard unless you’re a defensive end for the Pittsburgh Steelers (Brett Keisel) or Zach Galifianakis.
“But we do recommend regular maintenance to avoid getting mistaken for Chewbacca,” he says.
That means a light, once a month clean up just to make sure the look you’re going for isn’t being mistaken as a nebulous mound of hair with a mouth. Washing and conditioning as you would the hair on your head is also part of this game, and it’s a good idea to comb it out every so often to stop the fuzz from looking tangled.
The longer the beard, the drier the hair and the skin below it becomes so it’s a good idea to use a strong moisturizing conditioner and follow up with either a beard oil or balm, making sure to rub the stuff all the way down to the root.
Wash your face regularly but one thing Ramos says to always avoid is an abrasive face scrub, “you’ll spend years getting all those little particles out of your beard.”
10. The messy look
The beards on Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver, pictured), or Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation) are burly in just the right way – overgrown but not amorphous.
“The key here is to keep it shaped to the face and address the neck correctly,” says Mike Sposito, Head Barber at FELLOW Barber Brooklyn.
Both the neck and cheek lines are kept natural, but are slightly faded to match the contours of the face, which isn’t the same for every guy. Beard fades can be tricky to do at home since they combine two very nuanced movements: slight increments of length that happen along the same line of origin.
Paco O’Keefe, barber at The Modern Man Barber advises to start by trimming the beard all to one length. Then go two sizes down on the guard and shave from the Adam’s apple to about one or two inches below your jaw; connect the two lengths by blending with number guard in between.
It’s a little trickier along the cheek line, where man-made lines are more visible. Getting it wrong can ruin any vestige of having an un-groomed beard, but hitting the mark on the spot will turn an otherwise uninviting jungle of face fuzz into a good looking forest.