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June 9, 2005 7:44 PM   Subscribe

I have a rambling, multi-part question regarding hair, beards in particular, and hair care products. (Short version: what should I use to wash and possibly style my beard?)

So since leaving my former job where I couldn't have a beard, I have been growing mine back. It grows fast anyway, and it has been (almost entirely) untouched for just over four months now, other than trimming my moustache to keep it out of my soup. This makes it longer now than I have ever previously worn it. The hair on my head, on the other hand, is not so much long as long gone. I have shaved my head for over five years, and buzzed it short for a couple years before that. But from what I remember, it was like what my beard is now - wiry. The hairs aren't particularly fine, and I don't think they're necessarily dry, but they feel like little wires - I had long ago been accused of wearing hair spray (on the hair on my head, when I had it). My beard is also, now that it's significantly long, beginning to show signs of being wavy like my head hair was. I don't intend on going ZZ Top with it, but I would like to attain some length, and would like to keep it neat, as well as smooth, soft, etc. How do I figure out what shampoo and conditioner to use? Do I even need conditioner? Should I try to tame some of the strays by using some sort of styling gel until the hairs are trained to lay down by themselves? Possibly tangental question - I have heard that shampoo (and presumably similar products) in other countries are adjusted for different pH levels (some sort of "racial" difference). Is this true? Could it be I need a Scot's or New Zealander's shampoo?
posted by attercoppe to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (6 answers total)
Husband has had a beard for as long as I have known him, and here is what he says:

Johnson's Baby shampoo on the beard to wash it. This silkens it and makes it manageable. He sometimes conditions it, sometimes not, and usually uses whatever he is using on his hair (he has lots) to do so. But this is not essential.

DO NOT use gel on your beard. In fact, even Bryl-Creem is problematic- these substances dry, and when you rub or massage your beard (in an effort to look more thoughtful, no doubt!), they will flake off like dandruff. Use something like a loose pomade or a very small amount of leave in conditioner to keep it soft and neat.

Also, trimming the runaways, even with scissors and a comb, is always a good idea.
posted by oflinkey at 9:34 PM on June 9, 2005

I agree. Treat your beard how you would thick almost wire like hair. Even sauve works pretty well but defitently stay away from heavy thick oily junk. Check this site out:
posted by cdcello at 10:12 PM on June 9, 2005

Couple of points:

1) Don't assume that the texture and consistency of your beard hair will match your head hair until you've grown out for at least a few months. Until it's had a chance to thicken and mature, it'll very likely be finer and thinner than the end result. (For example, my beard hair is much coarser and curlier than my head hair, and has been for the last 20 years, but for the first year or so, it was definitely straighter and finer, like my head. Now, it's more like...well, let's just say it's more like the carpet than the drapes.)

2) With that in mind, the only way you're going to find out what works is to try a number of different approaches. The "pH difference" between your head and your beard could easily be more than the difference between the "Scottish" you and the "American" you. (Not that I even buy that premise in the first place.) oflinkey's recommendations all make sense...try different variations along those lines. Find what works best now, and if your beard changes as it matures, experiment again in a year or so. (I keep my own beard cropped pretty close, so all I do is wash it out with whatever shampoo I use on my head.)

3) Groom regularly. I just got one of those newer trimmers with the little built-in vacuums, and so far, it's _awesome_. I'm not sure it's going to last very long, but for cutting down on the mess and clean-up hassle of staying groomed, it makes a huge difference. I used to let myself get much shaggier just because every time I trimmed it took as long to clean up as it did to actually trim--while the vacuum doesn't get 100% of the hair, it gets at least 80% or so, and it makes it much easier just to touch up on a regular basis.
posted by LairBob at 10:28 PM on June 9, 2005

I have little to add other than a trimming tip, which will likely become less useful as your beard gets longer: Trim the stray hairs, then mess up your beard with your fingers. Trim the strays again, and repeat a few times. When I do this every few weeks it prevents the thing from getting to out of hand.
(I am a blond haired guy with brown eyebrows and a red beard. Go figure.)
posted by wzcx at 11:05 PM on June 9, 2005

There's a fair bit of info in this thread you may find pertinent.

And I would add, perhaps unnecessarily, that you should always wash your face first, then shampoo your beard. That way, the shampoo gets the soap residue off of the skin under your beard. Soap residue makes your skin dry, itchy, and generally unhappy, and when you scratch your beard, the soap comes out of it like dandruff.
posted by bricoleur at 4:38 AM on June 10, 2005

Pretty sure that adjusting ph for the hair of different types of white folks is a myth. Some shampoos are lower ph than others, though.

Shampoos and styling products for black hair will tout a lower or higher ph as a special formulation to account for racial differences in hair, though.
posted by desuetude at 6:11 AM on June 10, 2005

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