Many years ago, growing a beard was easy. You just stopped shaving. Where your beard ended—chin, neck, or somewhere after your chest hair began—was nobody’s concern, least of all yours. Now things are different. People tend to have jobs and fewer diseases, and beards require more tailoring. A wild, unkempt beard might showcase your impressive manliness, but it’s doing you few favors in the dateable, employable, and all-around-approachable department. The better route is to keep your face fur in check. Here’s how to do it.
The first thing you’ll want to do is wash your beard with a beard shampoo, and then condition it. The conditioner will help soften the beard, which will make it easier to perform step two.
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After it dries, take a brush and run it against the grain of your beard, so that the hairs stand up and out. Not only will this make it easier to trim, but it will also highlight any inconsistencies in length.
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Use your clippers to trim to trim to your preferred length. (It’s best to start with a bigger guard, to prevent accidentally cutting everything too short.) If you’re looking for something simple and not too long, an even length all around is fine. If you want something with more shape, aim a longer guard around the chin and a shorter one at the cheeks and temples. Usually, a differential of one or two is all you need—think a 4 on the cheeks and temples and a 5 or 6 around the chin. To trim the mustache, you can run a shorter guard over your upper lip, but your nose will obstruct anything much longer.
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Your mustache will be harder to trim with the guard on the clippers, so a better option (provided you have a steady hand) is to comb all of the hairs down over the upper lip and use the bare clippers to trim away anything that covers the lip. If you don’t have a steady hand, just use mustache scissors instead.
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Now comes the most important part: trimming the neckline. The biggest way to compromise your beard is to ignore this crucial demarcation, or to trim it in the wrong place. Stop too close to the jawbone, and it will make it look like you have a double chin, even if you don’t. Let it wander too far down your neck, however, and you’ll invite comparisons to feral creatures or communist firebrands.
The safest bet is to trim it to just above your Adam’s apple. Here you manage to have both a legitimate beard and something of a neck. First, take two fingers and place them above your Adam’s apple. Imagine a point that sits atop your fingers at this spot. Now, draw an imaginary line from behind each ear; the lines will curve down to this point, creating a “U” shape. Shave everything below this spot. Yes, everything—the neckbeard must go.
It’s just as important to not shave anything above this line; the hair should still wrap around the jawbone and underside of the chin. Some guys like having a “hard stop” on their beard neckline, meaning they don’t want to fade the hair gradually from this neckline and up into the full beard. To achieve this, simply shave below the neck like as you would shave your face.
Should you want to fade your beard, however, just set your clippers at half the length of your preferred clipper setting. Using this shorter guard, trim up from the neckline approximately one inch around the entire base of the beard. You can then fade it even more closely: Halve it again to fade a half-inch from the bare skin to this medium point, or fade it on three-quarters of your usual clipper to fade it a half-inch from the full beard to the initial fade length.
Fading requires gradually longer lengths, starting from the bare skin and ending with the full beard. You don’t want to fade it any more than an inch away from the neckline, though, so if you’re nervous, just start with a hard-stop neckline and next time you’re at the barber, ask him to show you how to fade it.
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Just like you would the hair on your head, you need to comb your beard. First, apply a good beard oil to soften the hair. Then run a beard comb through it to distribute the oil, as well as to style your beard back into place, post-trim. This will also help reveal strays that got passed over while trimming, which you can take care of with your scissors.
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