Maybe you’ve always wanted to grow a beard but just weren’t quite sure how it would look on you. Maybe you’ve tried a couple times but abandoned the undertaking once things got itchy or appeared unruly.
If you work in a professional environment, or simply if you want to maintain a gentlemanly appearance, growing a beard can be a tricky process.
A smooth face is obviously acceptable in any professional environment today, but a well-trimmed and cared for beard can also be appropriate for just about any workplace.
The Problems Of Growing A Beard
So: How do you grow a beard?
- Obviously, you have to let it grow
- After a week, you may start to look like you’ve simply neglected your grooming. You’re forced to constantly explain to your peers that you’re actually growing a beard and not just waiting on an Amazon shipment of razor blades
- At about the same time, your face starts to itch, and the whole thing can feel completely foreign to habitual shavers
- That’s the point when most men go back to shaving, but wait! I’ll show you the benefits of a beard and explain how you grow one with ease.
Why Should You Trust me? I am a Passionate Beardsman
My name is Nate, and I love fitness, style, and beards. But it wasn’t always like that. Up until 2014, I was an auditor and a beard was not an option, or so I thought. Unhappy with my career, I decided to become a professional blogger focusing on the things I love, and so I launched Iron & Tweed. At the same time, I started to grow my beard and today my full beard is my signature hallmark. Today, I can’t even think of living without one. I know what it’s like to grow a beard from scratch, how to maintain it, and I want to help you to make it as easy as possible for you to grow one.
Benefits of Growing a Beard
- Beards = Equalizer. Beards seem to be a great equalizer as far as age is concerned – they help you look older when you are young, and they make you look youthful when you are older.
- Projects Maturity & Experience. Younger men, especially those looking to climb the ranks amongst seasoned professionals, can benefit from growing a beard as it projects maturity and experience.
- Makes You Look Healthy & Trustworthy. Similar to having a full head of hair, growing a beard can signal vitality, especially when you are older. A beard also projects warmth and trustworthiness. Many men in professions dealing with sensitive information and situations like doctors and therapists choose to grow beards to convey these traits to their clients.
- Makes you look like a leader. Ever sine I have had a beard, I experienced quite a few notable changes in my life. People look to me for leadership more often. I’m still the same man as I was before, but people just seem to see me as more responsible and as a stronger leader.
- Great Conversation Starter. My beard also been a great conversation starter for me. Strangers come up to me to offer compliments and ask questions on a daily basis.
- You are Part of a Community. Similar to the way Jeep drivers feel compelled to wave as they pass each other on the street, bearded men nearly always give each other the nod of recognition. It’s extremely encouraging and entertaining to be part of the bearded brotherhood!
How To Grow A Beard
On a basic level, growing a beard is really very simple – you just stop shaving. But growing a beard in a way that’s comfortable and doesn’t interfere with your well-developed aesthetic can be tricky.
Here’s everything I’ve learned from a few subpar attempts and my more recent success in growing a full beard.
While I’ll mention a few tools, products, and trimming techniques in this article, stay tuned for a comprehensive follow-up article about the products you should take a look at and what to stay clear of.
1. Prepare Mentally & Set a Goal
If you’re used to shaving on a regular basis, seeing yourself with facial hair is going to look incredibly foreign. We identify our face as the center of ourselves, and any drastic change is sure to be noticed. Aside from the psychological aspect, physically it’s also going to feel entirely foreign.
During the early phase of beard growth, remind yourself that your goal isn’t to keep this awkward level of scruff, but to continue until you have the beard you’ve set out to grow.
It helps to gather a few photos of beards that you really like. Having a visual of your end goal can stop you from picking up the razor blade when you encounter an awkward part of the growing phase. You can also use the photos as guidance when your beard reaches its ultimate length, and you want to begin shaping, styling, and maintaining it.
2. Start Growing Over a Long Weekend
The best time to begin growing your beard is over a long weekend or extended holiday. By the time you return to work, you’ll be solidly into beard territory. This means you won’t have to explain your burgeoning scruff or shrug off disapproving glances.
To capitalize on your time off, actually aim to stop shaving on a Tuesday or Wednesday. In doing so, you’ll just be getting to the unacceptably scruffy stage by the time you’re ready to leave for vacation on Friday.
Facial hair grows at a rate of about 1/2 ” / 1.25cm per month. 1/4″ seems to be the length when facial hair starts being perceived as a beard. With that figure in mind, you can estimate that it’ll take about two weeks to reach the boundary of beard territory.
3. Do It for Charity
To make the process of growing out your beard downright admirable, grow it out for charity! Not only will you have a community of supportive peers doing this with you, but you’ll also be doing it for a great cause.
For example, No Shave November asks participants to put down the razor for 30 days and donate the money they save on shaving products. In the worst case, if you aren’t happy with your facial hair by the end of the month, you can just resume your regular shaving routine.
4. Visit Your Barber — Often
It’s unavoidable – growing a beard can make you look unkempt unless you continue to pay special attention to all other aspects of your appearance.
When your hair gets longer, you start to look a bit like a male lion. While some may like it, it will be overkill for most men, and I usually find myself contemplating removing my beard altogether if I go more than three weeks without getting a haircut.
However, as soon as you walk out the barber shop door with a clean cut, your beard instantly looks like a thoughtful addition to your appearance, rather than a lack of grooming. At that point, you may get your second wind and decide to let your beard grow even longer.
5. It Will Help You Dress Better
The whole point of growing a beard, at least for style-minded men, is to have it as a well-considered addition to their overall aesthetic.
The formula is very simple. If you dress sloppily while growing a beard, the beard will magnify that. If you keep your dress sharp while growing a beard, it will act as a sharp addition to your look.
Before growing a beard, all I needed in the morning was a clean dress shirt to look halfway presentable. Now, before showering my beard is in complete disarray and I don’t have the liberty of running out for a coffee straight out of bed. My beard forces me to be even more diligent with my dressing and grooming routine, and it will be the same for you – a beard will help you to dress better.
6. Establish Your Lines Early & Maintain Often
One of the reasons most men throw in the towel during the early stages of beard growth (myself included … multiple times) is the dreaded neck-beard. Some guys are lucky and have a naturally high neck-line. But mine comes down past my Adam’s apple, and for many men, it goes even lower than that.
This area of the beard, along with the cheek line, can make or break a well-groomed look. One of the best things you can do to make your beard appear intentional is to establish a neck-line early. I would recommend that you start trimming your neck and cheek lines after the first or second week of growth. You’ll find that you instantly go from scruffy to bearded.
But before you reach for the razor, I have to point out that one the most common beard mistake is shaving the neck-line too high, encroaching on the chin. This leaves more of “chin strap” rather than a full beard.
I’ll discuss the best ways to establish and maintain these lines in a future installment of this series.
7. Maintain the Length & Shape
When growing a beard, some hairs grow faster than others, some fall out, and some are curly while others are straight. Letting the length of your beard go unmaintained will create a silhouette that becomes wispy over time. So the occasional trim is in essential.
To achieve a full, dense appearance with your beard, it’s important to trim those outliers. When you snip the longer hairs that may be giving the ends of your beard a wispy appearance, you create a solid front — a clean outline.
Moreover, you must maintain the proportions of your beard. Most beard styles call for more length near the front and bottom of the face and less up near the cheek line and back toward the ear. Periodic maintenance will help keep your beard balanced.
Stay tuned for a step-by-step tutorial on how to trim a beard in an upcoming article.
8. Get Some Sun
This may sound odd to you but after several attempts at growing my beard over the years, I found that short to long stubble just looked better in the summer or early autumn, when my skin is at its darkest.
If you’re growing a beard for the first time, the initial weeks are going to be unfamiliar and awkward no matter what you do. But this stage just looks much more natural when you have a little tan on your face. It seems to communicate, “I’ve been on an extended holiday and was too busy relaxing and enjoying myself to bother with shaving.”
Contrast that with pale skin during the winter which appears to say, “I’ve been defeated by the extreme cold and am preparing to hibernate for the next several months.”
If you’ve naturally tan or darker complexion, you’re already in business!
How to Deal with the Itchy Beard Growing Phase
Few things in life are as certain as an itchy beard. Your face will itch for a period somewhere between Week 1 and 3 of beard growth.
Because of this initial irritation, a lot of men (myself included in years past) end up shaving it all off during this stage. When you get there, keep in mind that the itching is just temporary, and that your face will feel completely normal as soon as you make it through the end of week 3.
So, what causes the itchiness?
Many incorrectly assume it’s the action of the hair growing out of your face to be the cause of irritation, but it’s the result of your beard hairs becoming long enough to start curling around and poking and scratching at the sensitive skin on your face. But don’t worry, it doesn’t last very long!
Having a beard for more than a few weeks can be more comfortable than consistent shaving. Once your beard grows out, you’ll be free from razor burn, ingrown hairs, and nicks and cuts. My beard doesn’t cause any more irritation than the hair on my head bothers my scalp.
That’s not to say that the itchy phase isn’t uncomfortable — it can be maddening. But I’ve been through this itchy phase several times and have found some products and techniques to help make this period as comfortable as possible:
1. Use Clippers for Your Last Shave
Your last shave can have a pronounced effect on the degree of itchiness you experience during the early beard growing days.
I’ve found that it’s ideal to use a beard trimmer without a guard for the last shave before kickstarting beard growth, because it essentially “chews” off the hair, leaving a blunt end.
Contrast that with shaving with a blade, which slices the hair on an angle into a sharp point. I think you’ll find that it’s much more comfortable to have a more dull, “chopped” hair poking you in the face than one that’s been sharpened like a miniature spear.
2. Use a Beard Oil
While a shorter beard doesn’t necessarily require the same conditioning as a longer one, using a beard oil can help with the itchy phase in several ways.
First, since adding beard oil to your routine hydrates your beard hairs, they’ll be less rigid and sharp and won’t cause as much irritation when touching your skin. Second, beard oil will also provide a layer of lubrication between the ends of your whiskers and your face. Finally, beard oil (especially one with tea tree oil) is good for your skin and will moisturize the areas of your face that are no longer being treated with your daily face lotion.
3. Keep a Comb Handy
I would tell you to avoid scratching your face completely … but I realize it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to consistently stop yourself from the simplest human reaction — scratching an itch.
A much better approach is to accept the fact that you’ll have to scratch your face throughout the day and use the appropriate tool rather than your fingernails.
My preference is to carry a comb in my pocket or work bag. After irritating my skin with cheap, injection molded plastic combs which have rough edges and sharp points, I discovered hand cut and polished acetate combs. They’re made of a plant-based plastic which is the same material used in high-end eyewear. They’re extremely durable, look beautiful, and are comfortable against your skin.
Try to avoid using the comb to dig aggressively or pick at your face. Rather, use it as a tool to gently graze the areas that itch for the short time when you’ll be in the trenches of the uncomfortable growing phase.
Now Start Growing Your Beard!
Since this was just that start, stay tuned for the other two articles in this 3-part Beard Series: