If you have a beard, you need beard oil. Even if you don't sport thick facial hair, it doubles as excellent moisturizers and natural colognes, with a unique blend of scents that range from woodsy to spicy to summer citrus. Unlike those scents, however, there's nothing synthetic or lab-created in most beard oils, which are usually handmade in small batches by independent grooming companies and apothecaries across the U.S. In theory, it's something you could cook up in your own kitchen, but creating the perfect ointment for your whiskers takes time, patience, and a whole lot of trial and error.
Lisa Brodar, co-founder of the Portland General Store, handcrafts the company's beard oil herself up in Maine. "It's messy and time consuming to figure out what works," she says. "But it's so much fun." When Brodar, who has a background in perfume-making, began experimenting with beard oil back in 2007, a market for the product didn't really exist.
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"Men have been putting things in their beards for centuries, but there wasn't really an equivalent of a modern-day beard oil yet," she says. At that time, Brodar lived and worked out of her apartment in Brooklyn, NY. "We'd had a few requests, but we weren't sure how it would sell, so our first batch we literally made 8 ounces, poured into half-ounce glass bottles to see how customers would respond." Her timing couldn't have been better: With the return of beards to the mainstream, the beard oil market has gone from 0 to 60 nearly as fast as an Italian supercar. Brodar says she now crafts her beard oil in 500 bottle batches, and is steadily moving toward a five-gallon cask approach (about 1,200 bottles per cask).
Brodar gets most of her ingredients through a contact she made back in New York. "When I was just starting out and looking for quality oils to use, I found this woman up in the Bronx," she says. "Her stuff isn't cheap, but she sources very high quality ingredients." Brodar's most recent shipment: Palo Santo, an essential oil with a sweet, woody scent that some believe to have medicinal properties, is wild harvested from fallen trees in Peru. "I am always looking for oils that are ecologically sourced, rather than cutting down live trees," she adds.
Essential oils, made by squeezing the scent out from a flower or plants and removing everything else, are what gives the product its fragrance, but they account for only about 15 to 20 percent of the actual oil. The rest is a carrier oil — a lighter, less-concentrated substance that forms a base to "carry" the scent of the essential oils. "There are several options, but I like using hempseed oil," says Brodar. "It has a stronger scent and I find it works well with the other scents I mix in — it smells more manly." (Because essential oils are very strong and highly concentrated, never put these directly on your hair or skin, as it could cause irritation or an allergic reaction.)
Certain essential oils are more popular than others — rosemary, lavender, patchouli, and sandalwood are all frequently used — but the final product is more art than science. Portland General Store's bestselling beard oil, Tobacco, is one of the simpler formulas, with just five essential oils blended together. "It's like cooking," says Brodar. "I add a little of this and that and eventually you get to a place where it smells just right." Other scents in the collection contain up to 20 different oils in various proportions to each other. "Over time, you learn which ingredients work well together," Brodar says. "In art school, they teach you about creating balance in your compositions. It's the same with scent. When you start, you learn the rules about what works; then as you get better at it, you learn which rules you should break."
DIY Beard Oil
If you want to give this homebrew a try, you'll need:
- 1-Ounce glass jar with dropper
- 2 Tablespoons of carrier oil (choose from jojoba, hempseed or almond)
- 5-10 Drops of your favorite essential oil, or blend of essential oils (rosemary, thyme, lavender, cedarwood, sandalwood and patchouli are good manly scents)*
- 2 Extra glass droppers
Directions: Carefully pour two tablespoons of the carrier oil into the glass jar. Using a clean dropper, add 5-10 drops of essential oil. If you are blending oils, you'll want to use a separate dropper for each oil, since it is easy to contaminate the bottles. Place lid on your beard oil jar, and swirl. Let sit for a day or two for the oils to properly blend.
*Note: You can buy your oils at any apothecary in your area; GNC also carries some; or order online.