I recently interviewed Nicole Miller, the owner of the Seattle-based retailer Blackbird, and she mentioned that she couldn’t keep beard oil in stock. “They’re great. They moisturize the skin under the beard, which gets really dry when you wash your face. It also oils the hair so it looks more healthy and colorful,” she told me.
And she’s right. I’ve had a beard for years and I’ve always had trouble with the skin underneath getting dried out by soap and shampoo. The beard itself gets dried out, too. Beard oil not only keeps the skin under the beard from flaking, it gives the beard itself a soft feel and lustrous look. And it makes it less scraggly looking.
[UPDATE 9/25/13: As of July, Miller has refocused Blackbird from mostly menswear to mostly things like her own branded beard oil ($38 for a 2oz dropper bottle) and a range of Blackbird fragrances and incense.]
There are many options for beard conditioning. The simplest is to use an oil like sweet almond or grapeseed, which are inexpensive and absorb into the skin quickly without feeling slimy.
You could also try to make your own beard oil. I found a great recipe online from a blogger who even includes printable graphics to make your own label. Fresh Picked Beauty’s recipe uses a mix of two oils, jojoba and argan. The latter is a very trendy and celebrated Moroccan tree oil that typically costs about double what jojoba oil does. It’s often used in the sorts of women’s hair care products that cost obscene amounts of money. This recipe uses essential oils of sandalwood, cardamom, grapefruit and bergamot to scent it. I’d love to make this, but using the resource Fresh Picked Beauty links to, Eugene, Oregon-based Mountain Rose Herbs, my first batch would cost me $120. I’d have enough carrier oil to make four one-ounce bottles of it, but still. To get the seven drops of sandalwood oil, I’d need to drop $33 on a quarter-ounce bottle–the smallest size available. Sandalwood is expensive.
So it may be easier to seek out an affordable product that’s already been made. I ordered one from another Pacific Northwest herbalist, Wild Rose Herbs (not to be confused with the similarly named retailer above). Her Wild Man Beard Conditioner is $19.49 for 50ml (1.7oz) or $11.49 for 30ml (about 1oz).
Wild Man uses a base of sweet almond oil (which, incidentally, has virtually no scent on its own) with a simple combination of rosemary, lavender, cedar, and lime essential oils. Ash, the proprietor of Wild Rose, came up with the beard oil idea as an alternative for a bearded friend’s pure jojoba oil regimen. “This kind of drove me crazy because jojoba oil should only be used diluted, 10% at most,” Ash told me via e-mail. “It’s quite thick and can be kind of irritating; in short it doesn’t feel as nice.” She remembered him years later when she decided to expand her Wild Rose line of skincare products to include items for men. The beard oil is currently her best-selling product.
Of her choice of carrier oils, Ash says that she may be moving to grapeseed oil to open the product up for those with nut allergies. “Grapeseed oil feels identical to Sweet Almond, and it’s actually wonderful for hair. There are many other super fancy and expensive oils out there, but I like to save those for serious therapeutic needs, like lightening scars and smoothing wrinkles, as in the Wild Man Stud Tonic, for example.” She also adds vitamin E to the sweet almond oil.
The Wild Man scent, which also comes as a fragrance oil (basically the same thing as the beard tonic, only with a 20% concentration of essential oils for $23.95 for 15ml), is fresh-smelling. It’s very limey and woody, with hints of the underlying rosemary and lavender. It smells masculine and isn’t so light that it seems inappropriate for all seasons.
But Ash didn’t just pick these oils for their scents. “It just so happens that cedar oil, a popular man scent, can help tone the kidneys, an often overlooked component to men’s health,” she told me, her aromatherapy training revealing itself. “Lime prevents blemishes, rosemary strengthens hair and lavender helps everything, really. Lavender is not a manly smell at all, but I try to incorporate it into every formula for its wide range of topical and emotional benefits. Not to mention, it’s a long-celebrated female-specific aphrodisiac. When you smell this oil, you probably won’t be able to pick out the lavender scent in it, but it is still affecting your mood and anyone else who is close enough to get a whiff.”
I’ve been using the Wild Man Beard oil for a few days. I have a fuller beard, so I use about 8-10 drops of the oil, rubbing it into my beard and face. The scent is subtle—it should be, so close to the nose—and it’s noticeable for about around two or three hours.