Beard envy is a real buzzkill, and it happens to the best of us. It seems like there’s always someone who can grow a full beard effortlessly, leaving those of us with patchy, sparser beards in the dust.
Truth is, a patchy beard is every bit as enviable and glorious as a full beast of a mane—as with any super sparse facial hairstyle. However, anyone with a little patchwork has certainly wondered how to fill in a patchy beard, if only because it seems like their beard is 75 percent of the way there. Why not get it filled in all the way, and cross the proverbial finish line?
If you’re trying to thicken your whiskers, fill in patchy spots, or simply give the appearance of more fullness, then there are a few things you can do to achieve any or all of the above. Here are nine tips on the topic, with intel and expertise from a few expert friends of ours. Put these tips to the test if you want to make a patchy beard look fuller... even if it’s all smoke and mirrors.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Tiffany J. Libby is a board-certified dermatologist at the Warren Alpert School of Medicine at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
- Dr. Serkan Aygin has completed more than 10,000 hair transplants in his career, which has spanned more than 25 years. His practice is in Istanbul.
- Lester Rivera is a barber at The Spot Barbershop in Miami.
- How long does it take for a patchy beard to fill in? Patchiness and growth patterns differ from one person to the next. It can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a few months for mildly patchy beards to fill in. Stay patient.
- What causes a patchy beard? Beard growth is based on genetics. If you have always had a patchy beard, then it’s in your DNA. If your beard has become patchy over time, then it might be stress-related, or the result of picking at the hairs. Consult with your dermatologist if the patches appear where there was once hair.
- Can you use minoxidil to fill in a patchy beard? Consult with your dermatologist before using any minoxidil on your cheeks or chin. The drug is formulated for the scalp and may cause dryness or irritation on the cheeks. Plus, it cannot stimulate new follicle growth if there is no hair in those areas. Minoxidil instead can encourage dormant hairs to grow or to strengthen and fortify existing hairs. Many dermatologists will adamantly oppose its use on beards, but some will endorse it (given you monitor results carefully under their supervision).
Get Proper Vitamins and Nutrients
Your diet and overall wellness have a big impact on the quality of your hair, including your facial hair. By staying healthy, active, and well-rested, and cutting back on processed and sugary foods (along with vices like alcohol and smoking), you, in turn, promote fuller, thicker, and faster hair growth. This, of course, can help make your beard denser and help you fill in patches quicker.
“There is a lot of misunderstanding surrounding oral supplements and hair growth,” says Libby. She notes that the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements, so you need to do your own research when it comes to the promises each brand makes with its formula. Still, certain vitamins do prove more effective for thicker, fuller hair growth. “The strongest data exists for marine complex and plant derivatives like saw palmetto, a natural 5-alpha reductase inhibitor,” she says. “In patients that are deficient in certain vitamins and minerals like zinc or vitamin D, supplementing with these can also show benefits.”
There are a lot of brands that offer one or multiple vitamins from Libby’s list above. One product that includes all of them—plus a variety of other fortifying and strengthening ingredients—is Nutrafol's Hair Supplements for Men. It’s targeted to the hair on top of your head, but it’s not like your body is so selective that it won’t serve the same nutrients to your beard, too. Plus, saw palmetto is proven to help inhibit hair loss up top, so you get the added benefit of hair retention in addition to beard growth.
Grow it Out
And speaking of growth: Sometimes a patchy beard will fill itself in if you simply let the hairs grow longer. This might mean growing a disproportionate beard in some spots, as you maintain the length of your mustache but let the cheeks grow in more. Of course, this all depends on exactly how patchy your beard is to begin with, and how curly your hairs grow. But with a little extra volume and curl, those spots start to disappear under the nest that is your beard. Give it a few weeks, months, or more, and see for yourself.
Use Beard Oils
You should be conditioning your beard regularly. This can be done daily or nightly (or both) with beard oil, in tandem with your moisturizing regimen. Beard oils are filled with vitamins and nutrients that absorb into the hairs to help them relax and soften (while also nourishing the skin underneath the scruff). In terms of filling in beard patches, this can make the whole thing more cooperative with your comb or brush as you coach it into place, or with the stylers you use.
Beard oils can also increase the life of your whiskers and prevent split ends, which themselves can stunt hair growth. By fortifying your beard every day with beard oil, you incrementally make it easier to wear—while also making it stronger, fuller, and more stylish in the process.
Deploy Heavy Beard Stylers
A dense beard balm or wax can give pesky, stubborn stubble the push it needs to stay in place. Beard hairs seem to have a mind of their own and refuse to settle into place, but it’s nothing that these heavier products can’t overpower. If you’ve got enough length to help cover those patches, then emulsify a pea-sized amount of product into your palms, and tamp everything down into place. This works especially well when the hair is still worn close to the face, as opposed to in bigger, bushier beards where tamers are better for flyaways and strays (since the patchiness at that point is less of a concern, too).
Here’s another secret: Most stylers for your head hair work just as well for your beard, too (but it’s still worth shopping for something designated towards your facial hair if you aren’t sure it’ll keep pores unclogged). Try to target a wax or balm at the roots of the hairs if you want more control over how it settles into place, or simply layer it over top everything if you want a more plastered-down effect.
Keep It Short
One way to mask patchiness is to wear 24/7 stubble. If it’s always 5 o’clock on your face, then people aren’t as likely to notice the lack of growth in certain spots, either, since everything is barely there to begin with. This obviously might be a compromise on your definition of a beard, but it is one way to draw focus away from any patchiness while still sporting some facial hair.
Consider Beard Dye
A little smoke and mirrors go a long way when it comes to thickening patchy beards. And beard dye is a superhero in that way—it can darken lighter undertones in your facial hair, giving everything a greater appearance of fullness, and even draw focus away from any gaps in density. Rivera explains the two best options you have to consider:
Demi-permanent hair dye: “This is the original tool for filling in a flimsy beard, or for men trying to hide their grays,” he says. “It's an easy at-home kit that you mix and brush on to your beard. Leave it on for 10-20 minutes and rinse it out with some shampoo. The longer you leave it on, the darker it stays.” But be careful: Leaving it on too long will have you looking like you colored it all in with shoe polish.
The best demi dyes work to gently match the grays or blondes, without making them as dark as the rest of your whiskers. It’s a good way of getting a natural, middle-ground dye job that doesn’t look like said shoe polish. And it might even confuse your colleagues, in the best way possible—they’ll wonder how you grew your hair that much fuller over the weekend, without questioning that it’s dyed (assuming you matched the color properly).
Semi-permanent hair dye: “This is a one-night-only dye that darkens your hair (and sometimes the skin underneath) for an even contrast across your beard. Some are already premixed, some you have to mix yourself.” They might last a few days, as opposed to the demi-permanents, which can retain their vibrancy for a month or more.
It should be no surprise that we’d sooner endorse the demi-permanent option, of the two above.
One alternative to the temporary and semi-permanent dyes is the beard/eyebrow pencil, which works by coloring in the skin beneath the hair to give an untrained eye the appearance of fullness. This works better with lightly patchy beards as opposed to super sparse ones since you still want a generous amount of hairs to catch focus over the filled-in areas.
If You Insist: Get a Beard Transplant
The most drastic and permanent step is, of course, the beard transplant. And while it may seem a little outlandish at first, it’s worth understanding how the process works, since the technology has come a long way.
A beard transplant begins by extracting hair follicles from the back of the head, between the two ears, under the chin, or from the neck (if patients have any), says Aygin. These donor follicles (or "grafts") are sorted based on how many hairs they each sprout (one to four) and are then implanted strategically onto the area based on need and designation.
“The back of the head is always our number one choice for a donor area since the hair extracted from there is strong and resistant to fall out,” says Aygin. The current method used—the DHI method, or direct hair implantation—leaves no scar on the face and allows for individual, accurately angled implants (10-20 degrees for beards). Other methods of hair implantation can sometimes leave tiny incision scars, but not the DHI method, as there is no incision made prior to implantation.
The operation typically takes 2 to 4 hours, says Aygin, depending on how much area is being covered by the implant. And since you’re wondering about permanence: Yes, a beard transplant is a permanent solution for a patchy beard and lasts forever if performed properly. However, it may take six to 10 months to see the final results, since the transplanted hairs will initially fall out after the first month before they begin to regrow. After a few months, the first sprouts will appear, and the beard will steadily fill in the months that follow.