Cultivating a thick, lustrous beard – the type that makes patchy-faced men weep into their real ale – requires patience. Dedication. Oh, and a monthly barber’s appointment when they open (the occasional once-over with a decent beard trimmer will not do). But in addition to all that, a beard, like your skin, requires a purpose-built grooming kit – and a beard oil is arguably the most important tool in your arsenal.
Because beard hair is still hair. If you don't maintain it, and nourish it, and look after it as you would the hair on your head, you'll end up with the sort of knotted thatch that causes people to heave whenever you're at mealtime. Modern beard icon George Clooney definitely uses beard oil. Ditto for old school beard icon Papa Christmas.
“Beard oil should be used at least once a week as a deep treatment,” says Sam Hickey, head barber at Murdock London and a man that has built a career on tending to (and creating) impressive beards. “Beard hair requires special care and therefore specialised products, with beard oil aiding its long-term health.” So, in other words, not Head & Shoulders.
Instead, invest in something that's designed for the job at hand, and, with the right beard oil, you'll be as successful as a Midnight Sky-era Clooney. Probably.
What is beard oil?
Put simply, beard oil is a special blend of oils (no way!) that softens and conditions facial hair, which tends to be coarser. That makes the appearance of a beard smoother, and beard oil can sculpt flyaways into a rounder, neater shape. It's not just skin deep, either. The right ingredients can also prevent split ends – especially important if you've a longer beard.
Plus, it smells good which is always nice, but the benefits of a beard oil go deeper than that. “If you’re serious about having a soft, luscious beard, it’s so important,” explains Tom Harrigan, head barber at The Ned, who recommends investing in the right stuff just as you would with top level skin and anti- ageing products. Beard oils are specially formulated to be lighter and less greasy, which mean they're absorbed both by your beard hair and the skin beneath, rather than coating it. You can tell if you've got the right stuff because, after applying, your beard should feel soft, smooth and nourished without leaving any residue on your hands.
The best beard oils use only natural ingredients, like argan, jojoba and sweet apricot oils, although skin-friendly additions like vitamin E are increasingly common. Avoid anything containing silicones or chemicals that you can't pronounce, says Harrigan. These “nasties,” as he describes them, coat the hairs to make them look smoother, but can prevent the oils from actually being absorbed. No absorption means no softness, and in those instances, the quack beard oil is actually detrimental.
Do I actually need to use a beard oil?
Beard oils aren't only for guys who mistake a Gandalf beard for a personality. You've just got a bit of scruff, surely you don't need to go to all that trouble? Not so. “Every beard is different – in length, texture, thickness or colour – and not all of them will require beard oil,” says Harrigan. “If you have stubble, you can probably go without it and just use a good moisturiser. A beard often requires the extra hydration though.”
Once your facial hair moves past an insouciant scruff, a few drops will help keep it in good nick. In other words, if you can pinch some length, then beard oil is required.
Alternatively, if you're growing yours in, you'll appreciate the difference a beard oil can bring almost immediately. As it reaches medium length, the hairs begin to curl back on themselves, which is the cause of that familiar biblical itch around a week in. Beard oil will soften sharp ends and help to keep the skin underneath moisturised, which also reduces the risk of beard dandruff (yes, beard dandruff, which is as gross as it sounds).
Those with longer, thicker beards might consider switching to a beard balm, which is more pomade-like. Typically formulated with beeswax or shea butter, balm sits on top of the beard (unlike oil, which soaks in quickly), meaning it conditions deeper and gives a slight hold. Again, look for beard-specific products. Your face is no place for Brylcreem.
Do I need to shampoo and condition my beard?
In short: yes. "It’s important to look after the skin underneath your beard,” says Harrigan. “Make sure you cleanse and exfoliate to avoid the dreaded flaky beard.”
The jury’s out on whether a specialist shampoo is necessary – more important are the ingredients in whatever you’re using. Sulphates are often added to face washes and shampoos to help them foam, but they are renowned for drying out skin and hair (especially brittle hair types, such as afro). A sulphate- free face wash will probably suffice for most, although some (especially those with longer, thicker beards) might prefer to use a shampoo bar with added conditioners.
Whatever you use, Harrigan advises you go deep. “Make sure you get your fingers right in there and give your face a good scrub, rinsing product out thoroughly.” He also suggests using a soft bristle brush on your beard twice a week or so, to help exfoliate and slough off dead skin cells that can get trapped in your thatch.
Once you’ve patted your beard dry, apply a beard oil or moisturiser. Hickey recommends oil as a weekly conditioner, with a specific beard moisturiser as part of your daily routine. These specially-formulated serums are better at reaching the skin underneath your beard than your usual lotions, and won’t leave any sticky residue (moisturising is extra important if you've got a beard because all that facial hair sucks moisture out of the skin beneath, which dries it out, makes it flaky, and causes dreaded beard dandruff). They can also be mixed with an optional drop of beard oil, for those who need it.
How to use beard oil
“Beard oil should be applied to a dry beard, which will help avoid it dripping onto your clothes,” says Hickey. “I would recommend three pumps of beard oil into the palms of your hands. Rub them together and work into the beard upwards and downwards to ensure maximum coverage.” Once rubbed through, use a beard brush or comb to guarantee an even spread, and to style. If you’re unsure about the amount of oil to use, start sparingly – you can always add another drop or two, but you can’t take any away. The Deepwater Horizon look is not what you're after.
The Best Beard Oils in 2021
Haeckels Hydrating Beard Oil
“I’ve used literally hundreds of beard oils and balms over the years and this is my top recommendation,” says Harrigan. With a blend of seaweed extract (good for dry hair) and oils including neroli (antibacterial and smells delicious), it’s a great all-rounder. Haeckels, £34 for 50ml
Murdock London Beard Oil
Murdock knows its way around a beard, and this nous extends to its products. Fresh-smelling and reasonably-priced, this beard oil's blend of jojoba, almond and other natural oils is lightweight and dries matte. Murdock London, £18 for 50ml
Tom Ford Conditioning Beard Oil
A light blend of almond, jojoba and grape seed oils are enriched with vitamin E, which helps prevent dandruff and itching. Available in four of Tom Ford’s covetable Private Blend scents: Neroli Portofino, Fucking Fabulous, Tobacco Vanille, and our favourite, Oud Wood. Harvey Nichols, £44 for 30ml
Mr Mullans Beard Oil
Biker turned hair stylist, John Mullan is a busy man. Between running his salon, boutique Soho store and jumping on editorial shoots, he has his own grooming range, crafted from all natural ingredients, including his made in England beard oil. Mr Mullans, £20 for 30ml
Redken Brews Beard And Skin Oil
Rest assured, despite the name this beard oil hasn't been home-brewed by former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone. Rather, it's part of a men's skincare line that's been made in New York City for more than 50 years, and is formulated to be especially soft on your skin. Harrods, £22.25 for 30ml
Le Labo Inc Beard Oil
An entirely plant-based, paraben- and colourant-free beard oil that’s good for sensitive skin. Enriched with jojoba, grapeseed and protective sunflower oil, it also smells the business. But what else would you expect from Le Labo? Selfridges, £48 for 60ml
D R Harris & Co Beard Oil
Good for those annoying early days of beard growth, D.R. Harris’s oil combines a fresh, citrusy scent with vitamin E, jojoba and Abyssinian oil, said to be the next big thing in grooming. Mr Porter, £20 for 30ml
Lab Series 3-in-1 The Grooming Oil
Sea buckthorn (which is filled with fatty acids and vitamin A), jojoba and sweet almond made this 3-in-1 a real winner. Use before or during your shave when cleaning up your edges, and smooth into your beard to condition and tame. Lab Series, £22.95 for 50ml
The Püre Collection Beard Oil Organic
Oud oil, so rare that it's worth more by weight than gold. Earthy, dark oud is balanced with baobab, prickly pear, sandalwood and rose otto oils, with the promise that it'll stimulate beard growth and eliminate dandruff. Smells nice, too. The Püre Collection, £74.13 for 50ml