The 6 Stages of Growing Your Beard, And How to Groom Them
When it comes to grooming routines, we men are simple creatures. We settle into a nice rut of wash, shave, brush, repeat, and we don’t exactly appreciate it when something dislodges us from that. Unless, of course, it’s to make our grooming routine even simpler. In which case, we’re all ears.
And while you might think that growing a beard would fall into this category—not shaving is less work than shaving, and growing hair on your face happens by default—that’s actually not the case.
The truth is, growing a beard requires upkeep. Maybe not to the degree of shaving, but if you want your beard to look good—and more importantly, to not be driven mad by itching—you’re going to have to be an active, rather than a passive, participant. Cleaning it, conditioning it, taming it—this is all a part of the process.
To learn more about what you're in for and to make sure you keep both your face and follicles in tip-top condition, take a look at the six important stages of growing your beard, as well as how to care for it throughout.
Stage One: Clean Shaven
Beard: Daniel Ostrander
At the clean-shaven stage, grooming is all about lubrication and moisturization. You want to make sure that your skin is in solid shape before you cover it up with hair, so you need a good shaving cream for lubrication and a good after shave lotion for moisturizing and minimizing irritation.
“It’s brutal to drag a metal blade across your face, so you need something to calm the skin down afterward,” says Scott McMahan, a New York-based groomer. “After shave soothes the skin, and it helps take away any redness and stinging.”
A post-shave moisturizer is also a good idea, since (as at any stage in the beard growing process) you want to keep your face hydrated and healthy.
Stage Two: Stubble
Beard: Ryan Weaver
Once you’ve grown out some stubble, it’s time to switch from face soap to a proper beard wash. A beard wash will clean out dirt and oil and keep skin and hair in a healthy state. It’s especially important that your beard wash clean not only your beard hair, but also your face.
“The beard wash is super important, because you want to make sure you clean that out as much as possible,” says McMahan. “You want to maintain a good, healthy skin underneath. It’s living, and you want to keep it in good shape.”
And, as McMahan points out, getting rid of the dirt and the dead skin cells will keep your face from getting itchy, which, as anyone who’s ever grown a beard can tell you, can scuttle your beard ambitions quicker than anything. At the stubble stage, this isn’t as much of a worry yet, but switching to a beard wash will insure that it doesn’t become one once your beard gets longer.
Stage Three: An Official Beard
Beard: Devin Butts
Depending on how quickly your hair grows, the stubble-beard stage can last for a while. But once you get past the one-inch mark, you’ve graduated into official beard territory. Just as with the earlier stages, both skin and follicular health are important. Now, you also want to think about softening the hair.
“The hair on your face is a thicker, coarser texture,” says McMahan. “So anything you’re doing to moisturize and condition the hair is going to make it a lot more comfortable.” With a beard conditioner, you want to take a quarter-sized drop and massage it into your beard, wet or dry. Whether you leave the conditioner in or rinse it out is up to you.
Basically, you want to go with whatever softens the hair most. “The conditioner is meant to make the beard as comfortable as possible. And to look healthy,” says McMahan.
Stage Four: A Beard That Needs Nourishing
Beard: Beecher LaFrance
Soft, flake-free, and smelling fresh are all qualities that you should aim for with your beard. And the best way to do that is with a beard oil. While a conditioner is good for softening your beard, oil helps lock in moisture, which, on top of further softening it, also helps keep away the dreaded beard dandruff. That’s right: Just as with your scalp, the skin underneath your beard can fall victim to unsightly flakes.
Beard oil helps maintain a proper balance with your skin so that it is neither too dry, nor producing too much natural oil in order to combat that dryness—both of which can cause dandruff. Plus, a good beard oil will add a bit of sheen, and it will make your beard smell nice. Which, given the fact that it is extremely close to your nose, is no small perk.
Stage Five: A Beard That Needs Control
Beard: Adam Schubak
Just as with the hair on your head, the hair on your face, once it is long enough, will begin to have a life of its own. A sprig to the east, a wisp to the west, and everything else due north is not exactly a good look for facial hair. At least not if you plan on doing anything other than appearing in an FBI most wanted poster.
To combat this follicular chaos, a good beard balm is in order. Similar to the way pomade works in your hair, beard balm increases pliability, so that you can more easily sculpt and shape your beard into place. “You’re going to want to control the size and the fluff of your beard,” says McMahan. “Especially if you have to put on a suit and tie. A balm will give hold and control. You can run your fingers down through it and immediately make your beard a lot more tidy.”
Of course, you don’t want to go overboard with it. The “wet look” is not ideal for a beard. Stick with a nickel-sized amount and massage it into your beard while it’s damp. This will give you just the right amount of control without making things too sticky or greasy.
Stage Six: The Full Monty
Beard: Jonathan Evans
Now that you’ve moved through the different stages of growing a beard, it’s time to put it all together. Much like your shaving routine, beard maintenance should be a daily ritual. Washing and conditioning it every day will keep the skin underneath your beard healthy, and applying oil and balm will keep your beard soft and manageable.
Remember that a beard should be a feature of your face, and not a sign that you’ve given up. Invest in the right products, and you'll look like the dashing mountain man you always knew you could be. Old Spice makes it easy with a grooming kit that includes the beard wash and conditioner, oil, and balm.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.