BEARD OILS 101
Oils, the foundation of every beard care routine. You hear about it from friends, you pass it in shops and you see it online. But there's so many questions that can come with oils; Do we need to use it? What is it for? How and when do I apply them? What is the difference between store bought brands and specialist brands?
All these and more can come into the mind of someone new on their beard journey. But more often than you think, people quite far in their bearded life want to know a bit more about it all as well. In this article I will try and answer some of the common questions you may have. I may do a second part to this at some point, especially if we get a lot of follow up questions, but for now I'll cover some key points.
So for starters, I'll go with the most common thing I see online that stirs up debates, but when explained enough, it answers itself.
Do we need to use oils and why?
So, you technically don't need it. I know, that's a bit of a confusing start to all this isn't it? Why are we even here then? But if you haven't heard it already, it is something you will definitely hear at some point. The thing is, in some senses it is true, as you can grow a beard without it and a lucky few are blessed with good genetics that there may not be many repercussions with not using a beard oil. But if you are serious about growing a beard then you very much should use it, as the health of your beard and skin will not be near its best if you didn't.
The reason why it's debated over, is that some people (correctly) point out that your skin produces its own natural oil like substance. This oil is called Sebum Oil, it is produced from the Sebaceous Glands (hence the name) under the surface of the skin. This is the natural oil your whole body produces, from your head down, to help nourish the skin and hairs, although it is normally noticed more in your head and face.
The sebaceous glands are normally attached to the hair follicle, which helps your skin and coat the beard hairs as they grow. Your head produces far more of this oil than your face does which is why oil is often not needed to be applied on head hair (although it still can be).
At the stage of short - long stubble, unless you've got naturally dry skin, you probably won't be needing to apply much oil for some of the reasons you would have with a longer beard, as the sebum oil you produce will likely be enough to lubricate your skin and hair. However, when your beard is short it is really beneficial to still apply oils as not only is it a good opportunity to form decent grooming habits and routines, you will also get the nutrients into your skin from the oil far easier than when having to fight through long bushy hairs. This will give you a slight boost in growth that you wouldn't have had without, and it can aid in the soothing of the "short beard itch" that plagues many people trying to grow a beard at this stage.
The main reason that beard oil exists, is that you do need it as your beard grows. As what happens is, as you go from the stubble stage into a short beard and longer, the hairs pull the sebum oil away from your face. This causes your face and hairs to dry out, causing it to become itchy, sore and flaky. Your beard will also be prone to becoming dry and brittle which feels rubbish, and can lead to damaged hairs. So you need to apply an external oil as there just isn't enough Sebum produced by your face to nourish your skin and all of the hair as well.
*The point when the sebum oil stops being enough on its own, is normally where a lot of the men give up their beard growing journey. As I pointed out, what follows with the lack of natural oil is often excessive itching, dry and sore skin and sometimes flaking/beardruff. Not what anyone wants, but may sound familiar to some of you who have tried to grow a beard before.
So when you put a beard oil onto your beard and skin, it is replacing and effectively topping up where your sebum oil starts lacking. But thanks to you applying oil, you will have that extra nourishment and lubrication for your skin, follicles and hair. Reducing and even getting rid of many of the problems that come without its use. Also depending on what oil you use, you will possibly be providing your skin and hairs with valuable additional nutrients that help with the overall health of your skin and hairs, as well as potentially helping the growth.
A good oil (usually from a specialist rather than a high street brand) often has ingredients specifically chosen by the makers to have nutrients and effects that will benefit your beard and skin as much as possible. I will go over these ingredients in another article but the benefit of using beard oils is you will get nutrients that you might not have gotten without them. These nutrients also can help with the overall health for your skin and hair, such as preventing or helping to control split ends, helping dry and cracked skin and reducing beardruff among others. So as you can see there are many reasons to use beard oils.
When to apply, how much to apply and how do I apply it?
The 'when', is down to individual circumstances however there is a general template that a large amount of bearded men go with, myself included, and this is twice a day. Typically this would be once in the morning, once before bed. Doing it in the morning before you start your day is beneficial as it helps nourish and protect your beard as the day progresses. When I say protected, I mean from elements like strong sun and heat or harsh winds and cold, as well as from dirt and grime from a job. Not to mention the bashing it gets from day to day living like rubbing on clothes, hobbies, young children grabbing at it (and stroking it in your own self admiration).
Doing a second application in the evening helps to repair any damage done through the day and replenish the oil that will have depleted over time. It also gives a spell where the oil can just sit and soak into the skin and hairs where it's not being worn away by activity, allowing a proper nourishment window for your beard. Additionally, 2 applications allow for what your washing routine may be as if you are a frequent washer it will clean the oils out your beard anyway so it is always good to top up after that as well.
The twice a day suggestion isn't a golden rule however, as you may have a naturally oily beard and feel that you don't need to apply it as much as twice. Equally, you might find your beard is naturally very dry, and may need to apply it a 3rd time, like mid-afternoon to help it through the day. But as a general guide, always at least once a day, and I wouldn't recommend doing it more than 4 times a day even with a dry beard.
Another part of the 'when' that is often hotly debated, and that is to do with if it should be put on a wet or dry beard. There's lots of arguments for both sides that are all equally valid, and fundamentally it shouldn't make a huge difference, especially not in the short term. There isn't a hard and fast right or wrong rule either, it is also largely to do with what works for you. But from my own research and from what I've found that works best for me, is you want your beard to be about 5-10% damp before applying your oil. To make it clear, you only want it to be slightly damp, it is better to be put on a dry beard than on one that is very wet as that will just repel the oil completely. But having it that 5-10% damp, you will get the best benefits for your beard.
My reasoning for this is that your beard is porous, so is your skin, and you need water for your hair and skin to be hydrated and healthy as oil technically doesn't hydrate you, but nourishes and lubricates you instead. So if you have a completely dry beard and then you apply oil, while you will be getting the benefit of direct oil contact, it will repel all moisture that your beard may receive from the air etc. But if you have a slightly damp beard and skin, and apply oil onto that, what happens is the oil locks in that moisture into your skin and your beard. This gives it longer lasting hydration as the water will evaporate slower due to the oil barrier and will also take on some of the nutrients from the oil as it is sitting in the hairs and skin. Then, as the water evaporates, the oil will take its place in your beard and skin giving you the benefits of the oil following the water.
I have tried it all ways for long spells and for me, my beard has never sat better and been healthier than since I found out about applying oil on a slightly damp beard. So after you wash in the morning and/or the evening, dry your beard how you choose until it's 90-95% dry, then apply the oil. In the circumstances that it's a time of day that you aren't washing or you've simply felt there wasn't a need to wash at that point, you can just slightly damp it before by either wetting your hands and running them through your beard and rubbing it into the skin, or what I do is use a small spray water bottle and mist my beard then rub it in. This gives just the right amount of moisture you need to benefit the beard.
Now, the 'how much'. The amount is (again) based on how naturally dry your beard is, as well as the circumstance you find yourself in daily such as career, climate etc. The length and density of your individual beard is another big factor. For getting the "right" amount of oil, some people measure based on the number of drops they put in their hand, this doesn't suit me personally but fair enough if that works for you. What I do is cup my hand and put drops in until it makes a slight pool in it, and I put oil drops in my hand, roughly judging the amount I need based on coin sizes. As I was growing my beard in the early stages where it was between the long stubble and short beard stage, I only needed a pool roughly the size of a 1 pence coin. This varied based on my circumstances and of course grew in size along with my beard. Now my pool is the size of a 50 pence coin, my beard is quite absorbent and I found if I do less than that my beard and skin are still quite dry.
Lastly the 'how'. The oil, despite being called beard oil, is more for your skin than its for your beard hairs themselves, although it is still for them of course. So once you've got the amount of oil you want, rub it together in your hands so it warms it up slightly and is spread over your hands evenly. Then you give it a nice gentle, but thorough massage into the skin under your beard, making sure to get all the areas you are growing it out. Then run your hands and fingers through your hairs, coating them nicely from the base right to the tips of your hairs.
After you have massaged it nicely into your skin and through your beard, I would then suggest combing through your beard with a wooden comb like the Bangin' Beards folding pocket comb here. This helps distribute the oils evenly from the base of the hair to the tip. Also, as you go over your skin with the comb, it slightly exfoliates the area and stimulates the blood flow to the area as well, which brings all that beneficial hydration and nutrients inside your body straight to the follicles of your beard. Some people suggest using boar bristle brushes to distribute the oil, which I am not against in general as they can be very beneficial in ways a comb can't (the comb is the same in vice versa) especially when your beard is shorter. However I suggest not using them until the oil has been in your beard for at least 5 minutes, this is so the oil has a chance to absorb into your beard a little bit. As I've found brushes tend to take some of the oil off the beard and you want your face to get every bit of that liquid goodness that it can.
Is there a difference between store bought brands and specialist brands?
To put it simply, yes there is a difference and it's normally quite big, picturing microwave food vs a good meal at a restaurant is not an unrealistic comparison.
A lot of people who start out on their beard journey are often put off by the price of the specialist products when they have seen the prices of the ones in your local supermarket. This is normally because they don't understand the difference of the products. You may have noticed that none of the 'specialist' brands are in standard shops. The reasons for this is largely the ingredients and the supermarket brands are normally packed with the cheaper, less beneficial ones. This is often filler/ bulking ingredients, paraffins, silicones and preservatives among others. These are all of very little to benefit you, and can even be to the detriment to your skin and beard. The reason these products are chosen is they are cheap to make, easy to get hold of in bulk and have long shelf lives. This is everything that a supermarket and mass produce companies want as they can sell a large amount to several stores for very little cost, making profit margins larger and accumulate them faster.
Where a specialist brand stands out and differs is the people behind the brand tend to care a lot more about what goes into their products as more often than not, they are using them themselves and want the best for their own beard. So as a result, they normally do a huge amount of research and experimenting of ingredients and their combinations. This is so they can give you a product that has a good viscosity, has a good absorbency rate and beneficial nutrients that can interact positively with each other and your skin. There is more to it that goes into it than that, but it's a big part of it. What also makes specialist brands stand out is they aren't normally in big factories, with machines pumping out 100 bottles an hour, they are small companies normally run by a small number of people. Here at Bangin' Beards, it is run by one man who researches, tests, makes, prepares and bottles every single one of the products by hand. This is not only due to it being a passion of his anyway, but due to care and pride he takes in his products and so that his customers are getting among the very best that can be offered anywhere.
So as you can see, there's a bit more to the beard oil world than you may have thought. But using a good oil, as part of your care routine, can be very therapeutic and it is a great chance to do a little self care as well and can do wonders for your beard. Anyway I hope you found this first article in the BanginBlog helpful and interesting, if you have any questions don't hesitate to get in touch, and thank you for reading.
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Written by your friendly Bangin' Bearded Blogsman