You don’t choose facial hair; it chooses you. Sorry to say, not all are worthy. That’s why so many men find growing facial hair about as easy as farming the Sahara. But even if you’re one of the unchosen, not naturally gifted in the way of the beard, the right bit of nous can still help you achieve stubbly glory.
It’ll take a little effort at first, but the rewards are worth it: different types of beards can transform your look and take you from clean cut to rugged and mysterious in no time at all. But where should you start, and how do you know if all-out bearded glory is for you? Follow these steps, and you’ll be well on your way.
WHY GROW FACIAL HAIR
IT’S KINDER ON THE SKIN
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that forcibly dragging a razor across your face is not good for you, which is where facial hair comes in.
“It’s good for making a rugged statement, accentuating facial contours, creating a change of look, [but also] giving the skin a rest from shaving,” says Tony Glenville, author of Top To Toe: The Modern Man’s Guide To Grooming.
IT CAN MASK IMPERFECTIONS
Like busy patterns for a bulkier frame and baseball caps for a thinning thatch, facial hair is great for hiding imperfections such as uneven skin pigmentation and acne scars.
What’s more, a well-defined beard or stubble boosts the apparent size of your jaw and, by virtue of colour contrast, draws attention to your teeth – handy for framing a set of pearlies.
IT MATURES BABY FACES
Given the fact that facial hair is one of the most obvious signs of sexual maturity, it’s no surprise that men with smooth chins can feel put back a few years (and not in a good way).
If you’re always getting asked for ID, take a leaf out of the books of countless style icons and grow some stubble or a beard (note: not bum fluff) to banish that baby face.
IT MAKES YOU MORE ATTRACTIVE
Do women actually like beards? Apparently so. And it’s likely men think the same. A study by psychologists at Northumbria University rated guys on their appearance. The women surveyed singled out stubbly blokes as prime partner material, viewing them as more masculine, tougher and dominant-looking compared to those without stubble.
The reason? “The higher a man’s testosterone level, the faster his stubble grows – so a three-day-old beard acts as a strong visual badge of masculinity,” explains body language expert Allan Pease.
HOW TO GROW FACIAL HAIR
Before you get to the hairy business of growing facial hair, it’s important to start with a level playing field. So shave. Specifically, clean shave properly: steamed pores, new blades, hot water. This allows for healthy and consistent growth and will form the foundation upon which your impending man mane will be built.
If you’re feeling indulgent, visit a barber for the full wet shave experience with hot towels, straight edge razors and maybe a head massage if you’re lucky. Not only will this make you feel like a million bucks, you’ll also get an expert base on which to grow a beard.
Depending on where you sit on the testosterone scale (from Justin Beiber: 0 to Jon Hamm: 10), your growth will either be glacial or like an avalanche. Either way, when it shoots into sharp stubble, you’re at stage one. Congratulations, beardsman; your welcome pack is in the post.
However, the hard work isn’t over – you need to keep it going. While you can’t alter genetics, exfoliating regularly helps stimulate the skin underneath and therefore growth. Pay attention also to your diet: vitamins B and C, zinc, iron, omega-3 and plenty of water all give a facial forest the nourishment it needs to grow.
CHOOSE A BEARD STYLE
The right beard style can add weight to your jaw and deliver a more masculine profile photo, but you need to get the shape right. From light stubble all the way through to Gandalf, facial hair should be in proportion and well-balanced to look its best.
A good beard should complement your face shape, but it can also manipulate it too. Keeping it tighter under the neck and slightly longer around the chin and face will make it look as though you’ve got a stronger jawline, so keep this in mind when growing it out. If in doubt, consult a barber.
FACIAL HAIR MAINTENANCE
Whether you want a full lumberjack bush or designer stubble, you will need to arm yourself with a decent beard trimmer to keep it at your preferred length.
For more serious shaping, some trimmers have precision settings, giving you more creative freedom. Deploying one of these marks you out as a follicular connoisseur and allows you to take the chin, cheek, neck and jaw areas down to zero, but still gives you the option of a leaving a little length if face adornment du jour, the beardstache, is more your kind of thing.
DON’T BE AFRAID OF PATCHES
Growing facial hair only to find it resembles crop circles can make it feel like the grooming gods have come together to plot against you. But you’re not follicularly effed, so to speak.
“Now that beards are tolerated more in formal environments, so too is stubble – and it’s particularly popular with men who can’t jump on the beard trend because they have patchy growth,” says Denis Robinson, creative director of barbershop mini-chain Ruffians. “That’s because it’s possible to grow stubble to a certain point and keep it looking less patchy than if you were trying for a beard.”
So, you’re the proud owner of a facial hair style in some form or another. But your work isn’t done yet. Properly maintaining a beard makes or breaks your look, as wispy curls do not a handsome face rug make.
After showering, blow dry longer styles in the direction of growth to straighten it and show its true length. Then apply a beard oil judiciously. This nourishes the hair but also the skin underneath – an essential aspect of growing a beard, as nobody likes dandruff. Just the right amount (you want to avoid it looking greasy) adds the kind of healthy gloss that fills the beardless with envy, and your enemies with terror.
While some beards benefit from a little precision topiary, most tend to look best when they appear au naturel, particularly if your main reason for growing some is to appear more rugged.
To achieve this, avoid creating harsh lines. Simply trim away the excess beneath your eyes for instant cheekbones, graduate the hair below the jawline using different clipper grades and then trim the moustache hairs above the lip.
HEAD OFF INGROWN HAIRS
Ingrown hairs are a bit like in-laws: they tend to pop up when you least expect (or want) them to, create havoc when they do and quite often turn out to be a real pain, whether they appear on your face or post-manscaping.
“The simplest way to avoid pseudofolliculitis barbae (the technical name for ingrown hairs) is to exfoliate regularly to lift hairs,” advises Sally Penford from The International Dermal Institute.
Growing a beard can have an adverse effect on what’s underneath because the hair wicks moisture away from the surface of your face, causing skin to dry out faster.
There are two options here; an oil for longer beard styles, or a regular moisturizer for shorter ones. Apply as you would pre-beard, paying particular attention to the hairs around the skin which are generally thicker and the neck area, which is more sensitive and prone to getting dry.
ROPE IN THE EXPERTS
Because of vagrancies in color and density, few beards are ever perfect. But if you want to get somewhere near to close, it often worth letting an expert take the lead.
“The best barbers will have some tricks to ensure it looks its best,” says Daniel Davies, General Manager of Pall Mall Barbers. “During the consultation, they will survey your face from all angles, gradually building an idea of what shape and definition works best. Once it has been ‘lined out’ and trimmed into place, it’ll be easy to maintain from the comfort of your own bathroom.”