Sometimes when we talk about being a ‘modern barbarian,’ we have people tell us that Vikings were not barbarians. Sometimes you guys tell us that Barbarians are people from Barbary, which is true, but in our context we’re using the term with a lower case ‘b’ to shoot a nod to a way of life that’s wild and ancient, and certainly not geographically specific.
Since one of life’s simple pleasures is the enjoyment of a well-groomed beard, we present to you the Modern Barbarian’s Guide to Beard Grooming.
Background: The Viking Beard
While they’re certainly not the only ancient culture that walked with the barbaric spirit we admire, we focus a lot on Vikings because their lust for life especially resonates with us.
Viking men were very proud of being men. While there was a lot more respect for the feminine than what we see even in modern-day cultures, to be a man was about more than just being strong. It meant being wise, talented, and strong-- physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
Vikigns had several sources of manly pride ranging from battle prowess to the ability to hold drink and attract women. But perhaps the biggest source of manly pride was their exceptional beardery.
The Vikings were contemporaries with the Arab Empire, the Franks, the Tang Dynasty, the Anglo-Saxons, and the Holy Roman Empire, which means that they had a lot of really nice, well-groomed beards to compete with. But they were by no means the bottom of the barrel.
If you hear the word “Viking” and imagine a man with a huge, out of control, lice-ridden beard with smelly bits of food (or fleshy battle shrapnel) stuck in it, you’re going to need to forget all that. Scandinavian archaeologists will be the first to tell you that Vikings were fastidiously hygienic. They may not have bathed every day (no one did), but they did wash their faces and comb their hair and beards each morning.
The most important grooming tool to the Vikings was the comb, which are frequently found within burial sites. The combs were made of bone (or horn) and were made of either one piece like our beard comb or many pieces attached together to form the teeth.
Vikings were a lot like modern men in that beard length and style changed with the times. Some used wax to curl parts of their mustache upwards to blend with their sideburns, and some had long braided beards. Some had no beard, but mutton chops that connected to a long mustache. And some, just like you would imagine, had long mustaches and full beards.
Decide Your Length and Style
If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably determined that you CAN actually grow a beard. Some guys can’t, and that’s totally ok. But this is a beard care article, and if you can’t grow one, it might make you feel bad. We wouldn’t want that. You should go read this or this or even this instead. It’ll be alright.
For those who are able to select their beard length and style, think about it before you start growing. Print out some pictures and put them up by your mirror, so your beard can see what it can someday become. If you want a long beard, it takes patience and thick (well-moisturized) skin for when people make comments like “whenya gonna shave that thing?” (“Never,” by the way, is the right answer.)
In selecting a beard style, consider face shape. If your face is very round, a square beard can help define your jaw line. In general, it’s a good idea to trim heavily around the cheeks and lightly on the chin. Avoid cutting or trimming your beard into hard lines. Let it grow naturally so it’s a bit longer than your chin or jaw, then trim it back.
Take Your Vitamins
Whatever style you’re going for, the most important determinant of a luscious beard is diet and nutrition. Hair growth consultant Iain Sallis explains:
“The Vikings ate a diet loaded with oily fish and meat, which contain the very important sulphur-rich amino acids that our modern diets are often lacking – and this could explain why they were able to cultivate huge bushy beards. You need micronutrients such as iron, zinc, vitamin D and vitamin B12 to encourage optimal hair growth, and facial hair has a very fast growth rate 0.4mm per day (compared with the paltry 0.35mm per day of scalp hair) making it the fastest growing hair on the body!”
You can supplement with vitamins, or even better, you can fill up on recommended foods to get them naturally. Try eating like a Viking. Eat lots of iron-rich foods like oysters, which the Vikings LOVED. Also grab liver, leafy greens, and high quality proteins like fish, lentils, cheese, and meat.
Keep it Clean
If the Vikings can clean their beards every day, so can you. There are a few different strategies for cleaning your beard. The first is to shampoo it, just like your hair. Use conditioner too if you want, but make sure it’s rinsed or it’ll be greasy and flaky. Pat your beard with a towel and let it air dry.
The second school of thought shuns shampoo as a daily ritual. As described by commentor Duane Allen:
You don’t have to shampoo, and in fact you should wean yourself out of shampooing your beard. Shampoo strips the natural oils out of your hair and damages it. As long as you keep it clean and rinsed every day, your natural oils will keep it healthier than shampoo would.
I also supplement with tea tree oil, as it provides a nice sheen and makes the hair healthier.
This tip is doubly awesome, since our beard oil contains tea tree oil. More on that in a minute.
Keep it Trimmed
Trimming is really important to a non-scraggly beard, even if you’re planning on growing it long. Purchasing a nice beard trimmer is a great way to keep yourself motivated. If you prefer to use scissors, make sure to pick up a pair of proper barber’s scissors so you’re not hacking away at all your hard work with big, dull scissors. If you’d like to use a comb and scissors like the barber does, trim the hair on the outside of the comb, not the inside.
It’s a good idea not to trim your beard while it’s wet, since wet hair is typically longer than dry hair and you may trim too much. Some prefer to trim beards while wet, however, since it’s a little easier to keep it straight and manageable. For both long and short styles, you can help keep your beard symmetrical by starting at the ear and trimming down to the chin.
To trim your mustache, comb it straight down and use the beard trimmer or scissors to cut from the nose to the edge of the mouth on one side, then repeating on the other side.
If your plan is to have a long, majestic beard, begin your trim by combing your beard. To trim, use a large attachment on your clipper (like number 4) and pull your neck skin tight in the area you’re trimming. Trim at an angle. Trim the cheek line a bit closer using a shorter attachment (like a number 2). Use the same closer attachment to trim the neckline of the beard. To finish, take the guard off completely and closely trim the neckline so it’s nice and clean.
For trimming shorter beards, begin with a good wash and comb-through. Keep your beard shape plan in mind as you decide where to trim. As you trim your neck, leave two fingers of beard below the jaw. For the rest, fade up into the neckline using different sized trimmer attachments.
Style Your Beard
To style, use a wide toothed comb so the hair doesn’t tug, break, or collect static. Use a brush to finish and flatten. We recommend using a comb or brush made from natural materials, like horn.
Animal horn is made of the same stuff as your hair, so it won’t fight against the fine, delicate cuticles of your beard hairs or generate static. It’s also the best material for distributing oils, both applied as a product or naturally produced by your skin, through your thirsty beard. Plus, it’s what the Vikings would have used. In fact, bone combs were some of their most prized possessions. We’ve written about the benefits of horn combs before, if you’d like to find out more.
Beard Combs and Brushes
When determining whether to buy a beard comb, beard brush, or both, think about what your beard needs. If you just need a few swipes with a detangler after bathing, a comb should do the trick. But if you’d like to train your beard hair to behave a certain way (like if your mustache keeps poking you in the lip, for example), a brush can help tell your hair which way to grow.
A beard brush is also different than a hairbrush, since the shorter bristle length means it’s combing your beard more efficiently. That means less strokes through your beard, which ultimately means less breakage.
Using Beard Products
Many people think that using products in their beard is unnecessary, but beards can become unruly and wiry, and scratchy The skin under your beard can also easily become irritated and dry. Using a beard balm or beard oil can help keep beards healthy, under control, and oh-so manly soft.
Beard oil might sound greasy, but in fact it has the surprising effect of keeping your beard light and clean. Packed full of conditioning agents and essential oils to moisturize your beard and the skin underneith, it allows the beard to keep its natural shape while enhancing its lustre without weighing it down. Plus, it smells great. If your lady complains about your scratchy beard, applying oil regularly will definitely improve your situation. While growing a beard out or keeping a shorter beard, beard oil is a great way to control the prickle.
To apply beard oil, determine how many drops you should use based on the length of your beard:
- Beardless – 1 month 3-4 drops daily
- 1 – 3 months: 4-6 drops daily
- 3 – 12 months: 6-10 drops daily treatment
- 12 months or more: 10 drops and up daily
Drop a few drops in your hand. If your bottle uses a dropper to dispense the oil, make sure you always place the dropper back into the bottle so it doesn’t become contaminated by germs on the countertop.
Rub the oil between your palms to prepare for even distribution and to warm it up a bit. Start by working it into your skin, and then work out toward the ends of your beard. Don’t forget your mustache. The oil will work best right after showering, since your pores are open and ready to be moisturized. Adapt your oil use to your preferences and climate. A humid climate may call for less applications, and a dry one might require more.
Beard balm has many of the same nourishing and conditioning ingredients that beard oil does, but it offers more shape control whereas beard oil allows your beard to keep its naturally freeflowing shape. If you’re constantly frustrated by the wild unruliness of your beard, then beard balm is the right choice.
Just like beard oils, beard balm allows you to add product to your beard without it looking glossy or overly styled. If you work outside and find yourself with course, dry skin and hairs, beard balm will help offer a little extra protection from the elements.
To apply beard balm, swab two fingers of balm from the container and rub your fingers together to heat the balm. massage it into your beard first near the face, then outward toward the ends. Finally, use a brush or comb to help distribute the oil while shaping your beard.
If you’re looking to get yourself started on a beard maintenance regimen, visit the Modern Barbarian section of our shop.
Sources: Vikinganswerlady.com, beards.org, gq.com