The other day, we shared the best tactics on how to grow a beard, and as a next step, it’s essential for you to understand how to trim and take care of your facial hair.
You have two options:
1. You can learn how to trim your beard yourself
2. You can have a professional take care of it for you
Of course, both have pros and cons, and we discuss all of them today.
Should a barber trim your beard? Maybe!
If you’re one of the many men who are too busy or simply aren’t interested in the intricacies of beard trimming, and you don’t mind the money and time spent to have it done, go to your barber for a trim. Trimming your beard just right requires thought, time, and fine tuning, so it shouldn’t be attempted by anyone in a rush.
However, many men become very particular, almost obsessive, about their beard after they put in the time and care to grow it out. It’s this group of men who can be apprehensive about allowing someone else to take clippers or shears near their prized facial hair, no matter how skilled and practiced they may be.
I’ve gone to my barber a few times for a beard trim, and while he did an excellent job, the lack of control over my beard wasn’t something I enjoyed.
Unlike learning to cut your own hair on your head by yourself, trimming your beard is a much more manageable task since it’s front and center, allowing you to see everything you do.
Even if you prefer to have your beard trimmed professionally, there may be a time when you can’t get access to a barber because you travel or move and hence it’s important for you to learn to trim your beard yourself.
How to trim your beard yourself
NOTE: I’m not a beard critic and fully respect any style of facial hair that a man chooses to wear. I only consider and refer to particular aspects of beard trimming as “wrong” when they don’t result in the grower’s intended look.
What’s better – a beard trimmer or shears?
For short beards, a beard trimmer is an obvious choice as it makes beard trimming a breeze. But the real question is what to use for long beards.
Well, my barber and many others use clippers. But they’re professionals! They have the hand control to quickly and efficiently skim the clippers around the perimeter of a beard. But you will likely only be doing this once or twice per month, and you’re still learning, and as such, the result will likely not even be close to what they can achieve.
Also, it’s incredibly easy to unintentionally move your hand left when you intend to move right while looking at yourself in the mirror. One false move means you’ll inadvertently take a chunk out of your beard in a split second if attempting a trim with clippers.
So for trimming a long beard yourself, I can only recommend the use of beard shears. Especially while you’re still learning.
Establishing your Neckline and Cheek Line
A beard can look perfectly gentlemanly, provided it’s well-kempt. The two most critical areas in presenting a professional looking beard are:
- cheek line
A beard that’s rough around the edges can give the impression of a lack of grooming, while clearly defined lines showcase your beard as a well-considered addition to your overall appearance.
Despite the great importance of these two areas of your beard, most men get these wrong. Cheek lines are often too low and unnaturally straight, and necklines are way too high.
Try it this way and see for yourself how much better it looks:
Cheek Line – How To Get It Right
Rather than cutting into the dense portion of your beard and creating a hard line, work your way down from the highest point, clipping stray hairs with a small pair of shears until you reach a point where the hair is becoming denser.
Essentially, what you’re doing is trimming away the outliers, bringing the cheek line down until you’re left with an organic transition from smooth cheek to dense beard. This creates a much more natural looking beard, as if your hair just grows in perfectly, rather that a harsh, manicured line.
It’s also much less work to maintain a softer transitioning cheek line. When you have the higher contrast between beard and cheek created by a sharp, aggressive cheek line, any amount of stubble instantly stands out. With a more natural cheek line, going a few days between cleaning up your stubble just adds to the gradual taper.
There is a limit to this, of course. I wouldn’t advise going more than three days without maintaining your lines.
What if you don’t have a naturally straight cheek line?
Remember, when clipping unwanted cheek hairs to establish your cheek line, there’s no need to go laser straight. Most men have a gentle curve to their natural beard line, and so it’s best just to clean up what you have. Furthermore, a lot of men have a gap near their laugh lines, meaning their cheek line does not go straight across from mustache to cheek.
There’s no need to bring the cheek line artificially low to try to balance this; just do your best to clean up your natural beard shape. In other words, work your way down until you have a cleaned up version of your natural hair growth.
Men tend to be hyper-critical of their own beards while glancing over the imperfections of others. For example, Ryan Reynolds, Michael Fassbender, David Beckham, and James Franco are just a few celebrities who don’t have “perfect” beards. Their beards aren’t extremely dense, even, and full all at the same time. But it doesn’t matter. They trim (or leave completely natural) their beard in a manner that makes the most of their beard characteristics, and they wear it with confidence.
In an attempt to avoid the dreaded “neck beard,” (when your stubble extends down past your neck crease), many men cut their neckline way too high. While this is a well-intentioned attempt at sharp grooming and may look appropriate in the mirror, when viewed from any angle other than straight on, it just doesn’t look like a full beard. This style much more closely resembles a chin strap or chin curtain style of facial hair rather than a full beard.
Ideally, for a full beard, your neckline will curve down from under your ear to just above your Adam’s apple, back up to the other ear. At no point should the neck-line go anywhere near your chin. This feels counterintuitive at first and may even appear odd when looking at yourself in the mirror, but it’s the most complementary shape you can make. Also, when you see this correct line shape, you know right away that it’s the best look.
To illustrate this point, hold your hand under your chin with your palm facing and parallel to the floor. Now pat the back of your hand underneath your jaw. Anyplace the back of your hand touches while your palm is still facing the floor should be left bearded.
Now turn your hand so that your palm is facing the wall opposite you and the back of your hand facing your neck. Much like before, pat the back of your hand on your neck. Anywhere the back of your can make contact with your neck is safe to shave.
How To Trim a Short Beard
Trimming a short beard is an entirely different task than trimming a long beard. Unlike a long beard, you don’t have to worry about proportions, tapering certain areas, or accounting for the curliness of your hair. Cutting each beard hair across your face to the same length will serve you well. This means a beard trimmer is going to give you the fastest and most consistent results.
After establishing and cleaning up your neckline and cheek line as described above, you can move on to trimming the length of your beard. When selecting a guard, it’s best to take one much longer than you expect you’ll need and run it through your beard. If you don’t hear it cutting, select the next size down and try again. You can also run just the guard through your beard to quickly assess whether it’s near the correct size or not. Continue moving your way down through the guards until you find one that produces the desired length.
Use this guard to trim your entire beard, running it against the grain in a long, sweeping pattern. You’ll know you have everything trimmed evenly when you don’t hear the clippers cutting anymore.
Once you have completed the process and you’re happy with the length a particular guard produces, just mark it so you can quickly grab the right guard next time you trim. It will save you quite a bit of time.
How To Trim a Short Mustache
The only other detail work you’ll have to do besides the neck and cheek lines is to trim your mustache if needed. If you’re using a guard to trim your beard, it’s likely going to be around 1/2-inch / 1.25 cm long. While that is a great beard length, it’s not ideal for a mustache. The 1/2-inch / 1.25cm guard will leave your mustache too short to style on the sides and too long over your mouth.
So for basic mustache maintenance, just trim the bottom hairs so that they end at your upper lip line. It’s best to take off a little at a time and work your way up to avoid taking off too much. You can trim your mustache at regular beard trimming intervals or more frequently to keep your desired length.
How To Trim a Long Beard
While trimming a short beard is relatively easy, trimming a long beard requires a little more thought and consideration. Not only are the techniques involved more complicated, but the stakes are also higher. Considering the fact that you’ve likely just spent six months to a year growing out your beard, you’ve more than likely become quite attached to it.
Here is everything I’ve learned about trimming a long beard. Unfortunately, I made many mistakes, but you don’t have to if you learn from mine.
Creating the desired beard shape
There are far too many facial hair styles to choose from to explain how to shape each one in detail. Since this is an article on how to trim a beard, I’ll use a standard full beard as a default, and you can adapt the methods and techniques to your unique style.
Preparing for Beard Trimming
Before trimming your beard, it’s important to go through your normal grooming routine. This is especially important if your beard is at all curly or longer than 1- 2 inches / 2.5 – 5cm.
- Wash, condition, and dry your beard
- Apply beard oil as you normally would
- Wait for an hour or more before trimming your beard
Essentially, you want your beard in its natural state before trimming. Have you ever had a haircut that looked to be the perfect length when wet, but ended up far too short after it dried? It’s the same with your beard: if it’s wet or otherwise straightened and elongated, you’ll find that you end up taking off way too much when it dries and shrinks up into its normal shape.
Likewise, pulling your beard hair taught with a comb and cutting at the perimeter of your beard will result in a “divot” as soon as you release the section and it retracts to its resting length (one of the lessons I’ve learned the hard way).
Go through your normal grooming routine, allow your beard to dry for up to a few hours, and then run a wide tooth comb through it as you would during a midday refresher. This gets your beard into its “average” shape, neither messy nor overly fluffed out, allowing for the most reliable trim.
Full Beard Shape
Typically, for a well-groomed full beard, there are a few general shape requirements. In the most simple terms, shape your beard so it follows the shape of your jaw while being slightly heavier near the front. That means that it’s longest near the front and bottom (chin area), and shortest near the top and back (sideburn area).
Square it off, then round the edges
When viewing your beard from the front, start by making your vertical lines on either side of your face and then cut the horizontal line straight across the bottom. Once you have this boxy shape, you can go ahead and round the shape to your liking.
1. Vertical lines
When I say vertical lines, I don’t mean perfectly perpendicular to the floor. You can cut them straight up and down if you’re going for a boxy beard style, but most men choose to add a little curvature or angle to their sides.
Feel free to take your beard closer to the skin near your cheek line while leaving more width near the bottom for a tapered look. You’ll want to turn your head to the side to get a good look at the area near your jaw muscle. A handheld mirror helps tremendously with assessing this area.
Generally, you can trim your beard shorter near the jaw muscles while leaving it a little longer as you move forward. Once you’ve cared for the sides, you can bring the shears around the front of your beard, snipping any of the strays or unwanted bulk that projects out in front of your beard. Again, a mirror will help you accurately assess your beard from the side.
2. Horizontal line
After the front and sides, it’s time to trim your horizontal line. This is what’s going to determine the overall length of your beard. As with establishing your cheek line, I find it best to start gradually and work my way up when trimming the horizontal line. I never “cut into” my beard.
I like to first trim all of the long hairs protruding out of the densest portion of my beard. Then I take a step back to assess the overall length. If I want to take off more, I go back and cut about 1/4-inch / about 0.5 cm from the overall length. Again, I take the time to assess and then repeat the process until I’m satisfied with the length.
At that point, I’ll leave the chin area alone but start taking a little more off the bottom near my neck. This creates my desired, slightly front-heavy beard.
3. Round the corners
By now, you should have a beard that resembles a cube. Unless this is the look you’re aiming for, it’s time to round the corners. Or in other words, shape the jawline.
There really isn’t a lot of technical information to give here. Just gradually trim your beard hairs until you have a natural looking, gentle transition from your vertical to a horizontal line.
The patient trimmers method
When I had my first professional beard trim by my trusted barber, it looked fantastic! The shape was spot on, it looked full and dense, and there wasn’t a single hair out of place. But after showering, applying beard oil, and combing it out, my beard didn’t look nearly as good.
So what happened? My barber obviously did a good job, but it just didn’t look the same. I’ve found that as you clean, dry, and comb your beard different hairs will be sticking out in various directions on different days, detracting from the freshly trimmed appearance.
After the initial annoyance, I’ve found a solution: To get the best possible beard trim, it’s prudent to spread the scissor work across a few days.
Day 1: Rough out the shape, getting it about 90% of the way to perfect.
Day 2: Spend a few minutes trimming any long hairs that poke out from your desired outline
Day 3: Spend a few minutes trimming any long hairs that poke out from your desired outline
Day 4: Spend a few minutes trimming any long hairs that poke out from your desired outline
I’ve found that this method takes care of any long hairs that have the potential to poke outside the lines and results in the most full and dense-looking beard possible.
Once you have your desired neckline, cheek line, and beard shape established, keeping it in shape only requires periodic trimming to retain the intended proportions, shape, and length.
Other than that, you can now focus on daily grooming, which will be covered in the final article of this Beard Care Series along with specific gear and product recommendations.
So stay tuned!