The beard may be a powerful centerpiece to your look, but keeping it looking good, feeling good, and all around up to the task can be a time-consuming affair. Skincare brands are very aware of the work that goes into maintaining facial hair, and many are capitalizing on the beard-growing trend with a dizzying arrangement of products set to boost the confidence of all those who want to invest in their grooming.
While variety is a great thing to have, we understand any confusion if you're newer to the world of beards or aren't ready to add another step to your grooming routine. But by briefly setting aside the multitude of brands at play, we can break down this category into three main types of beard grooming products available. The most common, in order of thickness, are beard oil, beard butter, and beard balm. At Byrdie, we love all three for different reasons, but this post is all about beard balm. Like the other two, beard balm moisturizes and softens facial hair, but beyond that, there are a few subtle but important differences. Ahead, we consult our medical experts to help us understand distinctive properties of beard balms, how they differ from other options, and the benefits of adding one to your grooming routine. Keep reading to learn all about beard balms and see five great options to try now.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Charles Puza, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. He also has gained a wider following by sharing his insights on social media.
- Dr. Michelle Henry, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist at Skin & Aesthetic Surgery of Manhattan. She takes a high-quality, holistic approach focused on revealing and highlighting natural beauty.
What Is a Beard Balm?
According to Dr. Charles Puza, MD, “beard balms may vary by formulation and company, but you can think of beard balm as a leave-in conditioner or moisturizer for your beard.” While there's plenty of variation, we have found that most are quite thick—they're often almost solid in consistency, and are usually made with waxes, essential oils, and butters. “Beard balms are designed to both condition and help style full beards,” Dr. Michelle Henry, MD, adds. “Compared to an oil, they're much thicker because they often contain butters like shea butter, mango butter or coconut butter.” Because of their thickness, most balms also work for styling, smoothing down any pieces that stick up and/or helping to direct hair downwards for a sleek and polished look.
Beard butter generally has a thinner consistency than a balm and is less often suitable for styling, although there are exceptions. And what about beard oils, which are plentiful and easy to apply? “Beard oil is using a lightweight oil that is purely for moisturizing,” Puza explains. “Beard balms have harder oils/waxes. These function to both hydrate and allow a styling effect. I tend to prefer balms over oils, as I don't personally like an oily feeling. However, some may choose a beard oil for ease of application.”
Who Should Use Beard Balm
“If you're washing your beard/face daily—as you should—you likely have to add back in some moisture,” Dr. Puza tells us. “A beard balm is a great way to do this. The balms help to soften beard hair, promote uniform growth, and to a certain extent, protect the underlying skin from ingrown hairs.”
Dr. Henry is a bit more prescriptive around who can benefit most from this product. “I would recommend beard balm to men with fuller beards that may have flyaways or strays that they want to comb down and get a sleek look,” she says.
Our experts agree that a beard balm is not for everyone. “If you have sensitive skin, it is important to be careful with new products, including beard balms,” Dr. Puza explains. “Always do a test spot with a product. In other words, don't start out day one with applying the beard balm to the entire beard. Instead, only apply it to one small patch for a few days and see how your skin reacts.” If you're looking for options suitable for sensitive skin, Dr. Puza tells us that petroleum jelly (Vaseline) and shea butter “are two great, affordable options. Beyond that, it is really hard to find a fragrance-free, sensitive skin-friendly balm.” Dr. Henry adds that beard balms may not be appropriate for men “with very fine beards or with sparse beards, who might find a beard balm too heavy or occlusive.”
“When looking for a beard balm, moisturizing agents matter,” Dr. Puza tells us. “Look for shea butter and coconut oil. Those two ingredients are some of my favorite moisturizers. If you wanted to be a purist, you could even just use those two on their own.”
Worried about fragrance? Dr. Puza suggests it's fine as long as your skin tolerates it well. “Most derms hate fragrances and recommend against them. However, it's likely hard to find a fragrance or essential oil-free version on the market,” he says. “Hence, the importance of doing a test spot as those can be skin irritants.”
Dr. Henry concurs that shea butter and coconut oil should be the main ingredients of a beard balm. “I am a fan of those butters as I find them to help to lock in moisture in beards, particularly curly or coarse beards,” she tells us.
The Best Beard Balms to Soften and Style
Though not explicitly a beard balm, I've used this silky, emollient balm on my beard to prevent itchiness while moisturizing and smoothing out my facial hair. The balm consists of an occlusive layer of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and herbs sourced from Italy.
This balm is lighter than many of the products available in the category, as it's free of wax and easier to spread across the beard. Depending on your preference, you can use this product as a leave-in conditioning treatment or a wash-off, deep conditioning mask. Fresh scents of cedarwood, bergamot, and geranium complete the experience.
This beard balm promises to “remove the straggle from facial hair and replace it with softness, texture, and definition.” The main ingredient is Keravis, a vegetable protein. Bergamot and yuzu provide a clean aroma without conflicting with or overpowering any other fragrances you might use. This product also can work to style the hair on your head, if you're looking to simplify your routine.
While the brand has a disclaimer that it won’t protect against “bacon crumbles, rogue wood chips, or squirrels already living in your beard,” this beard balm does contain ingredients our experts say are great for softening the beard and moisturizing the skin, including shea butter and cocoa butter, plus aragon oil and jojoba oil. The product is redwood-scented, which to the unfamiliar, smells like cedar.
Billy Jealousy's Devil's Delight Beard Balm softens and hydrates your beard while also helping with styling. It's formulated to produce a matte finish, which many people prefer over a wet or shiny look, and it contains coconut, castor, and sunflower seed oils for hydration. The black pepper and sandalwood scent gives off a rich, alluring aroma.
Like beard oils and beard butters, a beard balm moisturizes both the hair and the skin underneath, leaving everything soft and well-nourished. Those with sparser or shorter beards may find that balms are generally too thick for their beard length or thickness, although our product picks are more flexible and should work for a range of beard types and preferences. Depending on your grooming priorities, you may want to try balms of different consistencies to figure out how strong of a hold your beard requires to get the result you want. Overall, the right beard balm may be just what the doctor ordered for a refined and healthy appearance.