In theory, November is dedicated to men growing mustaches for a good cause. In actuality, the month is a celebration of the beard, as many men don’t grow one without the other. It’s also the time of year when guys who have never explored their facial-hair options get brave. A four-week commitment — how hard could that be? Hard, perhaps not, but a challenge nonetheless: The average guy has somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 hair follicles on his face — and once they start sprouting, keeping them tidy takes a little planning. Here, everything you need to know for your inaugural shave-free adventure.
Rule #1: Expect the Ugly
For guys growing out their beard for the first time this month, get ready for what Neville Hall, founder of Bold Beardsmen, calls the ugly phase. “Your facial hair might grow in patchy, uneven, and not yet have a defined growth pattern that compliments your jawline,” Hall cautions. This Caveman look is not exactly attractive, but the worst of it is over after seven to 10 days. In the meantime, comb your hair, dress sharp, and brush your teeth so your boss doesn’t think you’re on a week-long bender.
Rule #2: Do Not Touch
You will want to scratch. And rub. And shave the whole itchy mess off, or at least give it some definition. It’s time to flex that willpower of yours. “A first-time grower might rush to touch up his lines, but it’s best to resist over-shaping your beard until you can see the full potential of its fullness,” advises Hall. It will also help you get a better understanding of your hair type and growth pattern. How long before busting out the trimmer? Says Hall, “for most guys, a general rule of thumb is to wait about four weeks before attempting to sculpt their beards.”
Rule #3: Practice Awesome Skin Hygiene
Believe it or not, for many men, the act of cleansing their face is intricately tied to the routine of shaving. No shave, no wash. But the grime builds up, clogging pores and exacerbating irritation. “You can subdue itchiness by using a deep scrub face wash that gently cleanses your pores and restores moisture to your skin,” says Hall. (Try Clinique for Men Face Scrub, $21.) Follow with a daily moisturizer on all areas of your face, particularly along the beard line where the itchy sensation can be at its worst.
Rule #4: Lube Your Whiskers
By end of week two and into week three, your hair growth will start to resemble an actual beard. Time to start treating it like one. “Poor beard maintenance leads to dandruff, split ends, and dry, irritated skin,” says Hall. “Moisturizing and treating your beard is essential for full and healthy growth.” For first-timers or anyone with sensitive skin, look for natural lubricants that will give your beard a clean, soft texture while coating it with nutrients. Bold Beardsmen’s Valencia Beard Balm ($20) and Virgin Beard Oil ($18) are both 100 percent organic and handcrafted in New York City. To use, first massage a dab of the balm into your scruff, aiming to coat the skin beneath (more or less easy depending on the thickness of your growth). Next, work a dime-size amount of oil up in your hands, then work your hands through your facial hair. The balm conditions the skin while the oil acts to enhance shine and lock in moisture.
Rule #5: Invest in a Quality Comb
Let’s face it, it’s a comb. Ain’t gonna break the bank, no matter which one you buy. So why not get yourself a nice wooden one, like Big Wood Beard Co’s Fine Tooth Comb ($25): Handmade from African mahogany, the comb is small enough to slip in your jeans back pocket and strong enough that it won’t snap if you sit on it. “Using a wooden teeth comb helps spread your oil or balm evenly and smoothly across your face,” says Hall. “The wrong comb can damage your facial hair causing split ends and entangled, rough patches in your beard.”
Rule #6: Know Your Face
So you’ve got a little hair. Maybe more than a little. And you want to do something memorable with it. That’s cool. But first, know the landscape on which you are carving your design. That’s a fancy way of saying, figure out if the look you want works with the head you’ve got. “Understanding the shape of your face will inform you on how to trim your beard,” says Hall. A round face, for instance, looks a little silly with a long, point beard (ice-cream cone?) while a long, narrow profile does well with a shorter, full shape for balance. For first-timers, advises Hall, stick with a simple oval shape that looks good on almost everyone and is hard to mess up.
Rule #7: Add Shape...
Once your beard reaches a desired length, it’s time to pull out the toys. Take your trimmer (a good one: Norelco Beardtrimmer 3500 ($40) and begin by defining your beard neckline. Hall suggests trimming directly up to the Adam’s apple, where your beard and neck meet, then round off the corners of your jawline just below your ears. Define your cheek line by trimming as high as possible for a clean and crisp look. Finally, “visit the upper mustache lip just under the nose and guide over your clippers with a pair of mustache scissors to keep a tight control on your trim,” says Hall.
Rule #8: …Then Add Character
There’s no guarantee that at the end of Movember you’ll be keeping your beard. But if you love it, now you need to decide what it will look like for the long haul. “Choosing the right long-term beard style is based on the lengthiness of your hair, shape of your face, and your specific facial hair type,” says Hall. Coarse and curly are going to require different maintenance than naturally straight or wavy hair. Fuller beards require the least amount of maintenance, but it can take up to four months to reach this status, says Hall. Want the full look without the wait? “A trick that helps give flare to this style is growing out your ‘under beard,’ ” he says. “This makes your beard look fuller while requiring less maintenance for hair under your chin and neck, two very sensitive areas that are susceptible to skin irritation and razor bumps.” And finally, when in doubt, ask your barber.