Healthy Skin & Grooming

Growing & Maintaining Your Beard: A How-To Guide

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

Beards are definitely in right now. Even for those not following facial-hair trends, many men switch up their look for winter, going from a clean-shaven face to a full beard. And no-shave November (which focuses on cancer) and Movember (created to bring awareness to men’s health issues) have made growing a beard or mustache into a way to do good this time of year. But sprouting attractive facial hair isn’t foolproof.

Knowing how to grow a beard is actually a science that requires patience, persistence and proper grooming.

Strategies for a Better Beard

Sure, you may be retiring your razor for a few months, but that doesn’t mean you can neglect good hygiene. In fact, growing and maintaining a beard requires its own regimen. Whether you’re worried about ingrown hairs or dry skin, Anna Axelson, M.D., a dermatologist at Henry Ford Health System, offers five basic tenets of effective beard maintenance.

1. Be patient. Bearded African-American man in creative office

Growing out a beard can take a month or more. And because hairs usually don’t grow at the same speed a beard can look scraggly and feel prickly for the first week or two. “During the growth phase, beards can cause itchy skin, unsightly bumps and redness,” explains Dr. Axelson. While it’s tempting to even out hairs with clippers or a razor, waiting at least a month will give you a smoother look.

What to do: Pay attention to irritation. If your skin feels red and itchy while your beard is growing in, use an over-the-counter corticosteroid cream once a day until you have a full beard and the itchiness passes.

2. Keep it clean.

Yes, you can get beard dandruff. Dry, flaky skin on your cheeks and chin can cause irritation and ugly white flakes. Avoid beard-ruff by washing your beard every day with a gentle shampoo or face wash.

What to do: If your face starts to flake under your facial hair, use a dandruff shampoo on your beard. “Over-the-counter options that have ingredients like zinc and selenium can help reduce scaling and redness,” says Dr. Axelson. “For best results, leave it in for a few minutes before rinsing.”

3. Watch the neck.

 “A lot of men grow their beards out and shave their necks,” says Dr. Axelson. “That can be tricky because your neck has curves.” You don’t want a close shave in the neck region because that leads to redness, irritation and skin bumps.

What to do: Buy a razor that contours to the skin and keep the shaver below your Adam’s apple. Then keep your skin loose, rather than pulling it taut, and shave with the grain instead of against it.

4. Trim regularly.

A well-groomed beard requires trimming at least every two weeks. The best time to shave and trim facial hair is after a warm shower — the heat and moisture open up pores and free ingrown hairs.

What to do: If you want a clean look, brush the hairs against the grain so they stand out. Then trim your beard with electric clippers. “The guards on an electric clipper prevent irritation and they can help prevent you from shaving too close to the skin,” says Dr. Axelson.

5. Make sure to moisturize.

Beards do best when they’re soft, not abrasive. Some men choose a pre-shave oil or after-shave cream. “The problem is, many of those products are scented, which can cause dermatitis, a type of inflammation in the skin,” says Dr. Axelson.

What to do: Choose unscented, gentle beard oil. You can even use jojoba oil, almond oil or olive oil to tame an unruly beard. But don’t use oil on acne-prone skin. It could make matters worse. Instead, try an acne wash with salicylic acid followed by a gentle moisturizing cream.

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Be Beard Smart

Whether you’re just starting to grow a beard or you’re already a few months in, don’t ignore redness, itchiness or inflammation. Use moisturizer daily after showering. Most important, pay attention to bumps or pimples that lurk beneath your beard hair, especially if they’re bleeding or feel different from an ingrown hair.

“If a bump or sore doesn’t resolve within a month, get it checked out,” says Dr. Axelson. “Men can develop skin cancer even underneath a beard.”

To find a doctor or dermatologist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Dr. Anna Axelson is a board-certified dermatologist who sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Centers in Detroit and Grosse Pointe Farms.