When I first starting growing a beard, I wondered to myself simply:
Is there maybe something I can put in this stuff growing on my face to make it nicer?
In my search, I came across a thing called ‘beard oil’.
As it happens I became obsessed with the stuff – and hence started my website here The Beard Oil Pledge.
There is a lot of disinformation and hype out there on the Internet about beard oil, so let Bobert Brush give you the real facts.
I’ve composed this guide (which I believe to be the most complete available, anywhere) with the real deal on what beard oil really is.
To understand what “beard oil” is in the form that you will likely encounter it, you firstly need to understand the terms ‘carrier oil’ and ‘essential oil’.
An essential oil is basically a distillation of the natural essence of any particular plant, nut, seed, bark, tree (or whatever).
If we prize some valuable object (such as a seed, or nut, etc.) and believe that it has some kind of wonderful healing or beneficial properties, then we can make an ‘essential oil’ from the item. This allows us to capture a concentrated ‘essence’ that contains all the goodness and valuable characteristics and discards the useless, bulky husk.
Essential oils are obtained via ‘hydrodistillation’, which is simply where the raw materials are placed in a giant melting pot full of hot water to make a massive ‘soup’. The steam that comes out from this soup contains the aromatic plant molecules and is captured in a vial.
See an old lady do this at home in this video here:
The other common method used to capture essential oils is ‘steam distillation’.
This is basically the same as the above, except that rather than boiling up all the materials in water, steam is passed through them in a special chamber. The steam collects all the goodness from the material as it passes though and then goes on to be collected.
There are many essential oils that have valuable properties for hair and skin – and therefore beard oil artisans often choose to include them in their beard oil recipes.
Essential oils are very concentrated, so you only need a really tiny amount of them. If you were to apply essential oils directly to your beard, you would probably just end up irritating your skin.
This is why the majority of a ‘beard oil’ has to be composed of a ‘carrier oil’ (to ‘carry’ the essential oils into the hair and skin).
Examples of popular essential oils used in beard oil are lemon, orange, lime, bay leaf, frankincense, myrrh, cedar wood, pine, patchouli, vetiver, black pepper, tea tree and bergamot.
This is just the tip of the iceberg! There are 100s if not 1000s of essential oils to choose from and the list is probably growing every day.
A ‘carrier oil’ is not a concentrated distillation like an essential oil, but a “true” oil that is obtained from the fatty portion of a plant via more simple and direct methods, such as cold-pressing.
Cold pressing is nothing more than using a giant great machine to ‘squash’ the fruit (or nut, or whatever) really hard with a massive press.
This simply makes the juices and/or oils run out of the item and into a collection tray. So ‘cold pressed olive oil’ is nothing more than a bunch of olives that have been squashed with a giant squasher.
Checkout the cold pressing process here:
As you now appreciate: this is a very different beast to an ‘essential’ oil (which is a distilled via heat and therefore much more concentrated).
Of course there are other methods to obtain true oils from materials, but I won’t go into those details. I think you get the point.
Examples of popular carrier oils used in beard oils are almond, avocado, coconut, jojoba, grape seed, argan, hemp, rice bran, sunflower and carrot seed.
Carrier oils are gentler than essential oils and won’t irritate your skin.
Vitamin E deserves a special mention because it is strictly neither a carrier oil or an essential oil.
Yet it is a popular ingredient in beard oil recipes because of it’s well known beneficial effects on human skin.
Don’t consider the presence (or lack of) Vitamin E oil as a show-stopper for your purchasing decision on any particular beard oil.
To be honest, I’ve not noticed any difference in the oils that do and don’t have it. However, if you do see it on the ingredients list, now you know why it’s there.
Bobert is going to draw you some pictures to illustrate how artisans blend carrier oils and essential oils in their beard oil recipes.
As you can see with a “cheaper beard oil” the majority of the bottle is filled up with one of the cheaper carrier oils.
The remainder is filled with a very thin layer of essential oil(s).
In the more premium blend, there is a mixture of more expensive carrier oils – each selected according to their individual properties and according to what the artisan is wanting to achieve with their beard oil recipe.
The premium beard oil also has slightly more essential oil in it (although not too much, don’t forget this stuff is really potent).
Essential oils are very expensive, so increasing the number of drops in each bottle can increase the production costs massively!
Bare this landscape in mind when you select a beard oil. The profit margins on beard oil are huge, so if you choose to buy an expensive oil you want to make sure it is expensive because it contains a decent blend of carrier oils and a decent number of essential oils!
Note: this is not an exact science, but a broad guide. Beard oil artisans will all argue differing points of view about their products and about what does and doesn’t constitute a “cheaper” carrier oil. However, the above is a useful terms of reference.
So in the very plainest terms, a simple bottle of olive oil could be used as a beard oil. In fact, I have smothered olive oil all through my beard and found it wonderfully effective.
You don’t absolutely need a blend of carrier oils and essential oils to achieve the major benefits of a ‘beard oil’.
However, some of the premium beard oils really are very nice products that are a pleasure to use – so it can be worth the investment.
Now the difference between The Beard Oil Pledge and all the other beard related websites out there on the Internet, is that Bobert Brush is not going to bullshit you.
I’m going to give you to the raw truth, as ugly as it may be.
To understand what beard oil is really for, we firstly need to understand the nature of ‘androgenic hair’.
As you can see from this useful diagram, androgenic hair is the ‘male’ hair that differentiates us from the female of the species.
Have you ever contemplated that the hair on your face, chest, pubes, etc. is of a different type and nature to the hair on your head? It is courser and to all extents more brittle and ‘crispier’.
The interesting thing about androgenic hair is that it is directly related to the ‘androgen’ (sex hormones) levels in your body. For all practical purposes, this means your testosterone levels.
Your testosterone levels drive your ‘manly’ character traits. So things such as physical strength, motivation, ambition, risk taking and athletic ability are all driven by your hormonal system and in particular testosterone.
A beard is a direct display of a human male’s primary sex characteristics
Think of it like a peacock’s tail.
The male peacock attracts female mates with his tail, by using it to display his awesomeness and virility.
He struts around, showing off his enormous backend and all the girl peacocks think “wow, that dude has an awesome tail, I want his babies – now”.
The precise same concept applies to male facial hair.
The density and cover levels of your facial hair are a direct statement of your masculinity and therefore your attraction level to females.
Based on this understanding, we have to examine what beard oil is really for.
When we stick any exogenous substance in our beard, what we are really attempting to do is make our beard look bigger, better, or more attractive to potential mates (females) or make ourselves look more fearsome and intimidating to other potential rivals (males).
Now, don’t stop reading at this point!
Don’t feel bad if you have a patchy beard, or wispy facial hair. I myself have quite thinly spread hair on the sides of my face, so I choose a beard style (the van dyke) that emphasise the hair at the front of my face, where it does grow well.
Humans are a complex and nuanced species (just like any other), however scientists do agree that the evolutionary purpose of human facial hair is for sexual selection.
You may not have been consciously aware of this until now.
Take some time to digest it.
However, being aware of your real reasons for growing a beard will help you not only to grow the best type of beard for you, but to optimize your deployment of beard oil.
So with all that being said, the question arises: “does or can beard oil increase testosterone?”.
This is a complex question that begs deeper scientific experimentation. To this ends, I have established the Great Beard Oil Testosterone Experiment. You can read more with that link, but for now we will concentrate on the anecdotal evidence that is available to us.
There is no direct evidence available to me that suggests applying beard oil will actually increase your testosterone levels.
However, out of all the possible things you can do to attempt to increase your testosterone, only one is really proven to work.
Having more frequent and more satisfying intercourse will directly increase your testosterone levels! This is irrefutable scientific fact!
Therefore, the next question that logically occurs to us is:
“Does applying beard oil result in more sex?”
This again is a fascinating question worthy of further study.
I conjecture that, “yes”:
Applying beard oil will emphasise your existing facial hair. This makes you more attractive to females. This results in more sex, which – in turn – increases your testosterone levels and promotes greater androgenic hair growth. The greater levels of androgenic hair also increase your attractiveness and the cycle starts again.
A continuous cycle of positive re-reinforcement!
So, now you are beginning to understand the true nature of beard oil!
So, now that we understand the purpose of beard oil is to make your beard look better and why, let’s examine how the substance actually does this.
We will start with what a beard hair actually is and thus the job that is required to make it look better.
This delicious looking Cadbury’s Flake like object on the right is actually a close up shot of a man’s beard hair that has just been cut by a razor blade.
The hair is made up of three layers.
The Cuticle: the very thin outer layer of the hair
The Cortex: the inner bulk of material
The Medulla: the ‘marrow’ of a hair – just like in a bone
So, in essence, if your hair is really dry, scratchy and basically unhealthy, then the nice clean cut shot to the right will look like a bit of a bird’s nest, or a granny’s thatch.
What we need is a substance that is going to penetrate the cuticle and absorb into the cortex and medulla, filling them will all the inherent goodly properties of the oil itself.
So how to hell are we going to do that?
That hulky solid thing looks pretty bloody impenetrable to me, right?
Well, there is a secret. What we need is an oil made of really, really tiny lipid molecules. In fact, they need to be less than 18-20 carbon atoms big.
These tiny, weeny lipids act like miniature needles and smoothly and delicately slice through the cuticles and slip into the inside of your beard hairs.
Any more chunky oils (like those over 20 carbon atoms…) are simply going to bounce off the impenetrable husk of the cuticle and slide down the outside.
But that’s not all.
The oil also needs to be monounsaturated and not polyunsaturated.
Because apparently those poly oils are ‘branched’ which means they have giant spikes sticking out the side of them which latch onto your cuticles like anchors and therefore don’t slip inside the inner cortex like their more aerodynamic cousins the monos.
In fact, there are a number more factors that determine whether or not any particular oil will penetrate into your beard hair. There is in-depth scientific research available on the subject and you can read all about it here, if you wish.
So, in essence, a good beard oil contains a carrier oil that matches these characteristics and will penetrate properly into your beard hair to fill it with goodness.
If you look at the table of oils you will see that in fact Jojoba oil has less than 1% tiny lipid molecules! This shatters the pervasive industry myth that jojoba is the best oil for your beard! And this is in light of the fact that Jojoba is one of the most popular ingredients used in beard oil.
If you really want the best beard oil, then go for a recipe which has a decent proportion of coconut oil, palm kernal oil or babbassu oil – as these are all based on tiny molecules and will sink into your beard properly.
Now I’m not saying that artisans shouldn’t use Jojoba at all – as it is is able to delivery many valuable properties to our skin (to which it does absorb well) – but I will be warning any artisans I find who use Jojoba as their sole carrier oil.
But Bob (you say), that is all great, but what the hell does it actually do?
Once the oil has actually impregnated your beard hair, what are it’s measurable affects on the facial hair?
Here is a list of tangible benefits that applying beard oil will have on your beard:
‘Beard’ oil is just the same as any other ‘oil’.
Oils are generally made with one thing in mind: that’s making things all slippery and slidy. Just as the oil in an engine lubricates the parts and allows the machine to operate smoothly, beard oil will lubricate your beard hairs.
If you think back to the Flake picture above, imagine hundreds of those hairs in your beard all tangling and rubbing into one another. When the hair is dry, friction will come into play and the hairs will get caught up together.
Also consider for a moment the actual intent of ‘combing’ hair.
The goal is to get all the hairs aligned nicely next to one another and flowing in the right direction. Just like when you comb the hair on your head, right?
If you comb your beard when it’s dry and lacking in oil (either natural or exogenous), it will be a struggle as excessive friction will cause all the hairs to tangle.
The beard oil lubricates your beard hairs, so that when you comb them, they fall more easily fall into order and align themselves.
Note: this affect is limited. Beard hair is naturally curly, so you are never going to have a perfectly ordered beard – regardless of whether you oil it.
OK, it’s time to talk about skin.
The beard oil is also going to have an effect on the skin at the base of the beard hair and this is one of the major benefits that begs to be expounded on.
So how does skin work, you ask?
All mammals have things called sebaceous glands. These are tiny little glands that sit under the skin and secrete a natural oil called sebum. This is basically a fatty substance. It fact, babies are born covered in the stuff, where it is known as vernix.
It is this sebum that keeps your skin waterproof and moist.
You will also be interested to know that sebum production is again something that is directly related to your testosterone levels. Are you senseing a theme here?
When you see a man with healthy, glowing skin you are imparted with a sense of his well-being and virility right?
Now unless you naturally have the testosterone levels of Charles Bronson (and let’s face it who does?), it seems sensible to give ourselves a little top up. And why not?
Beard oil will ‘top up’ our natural sebum levels to help achieve the same effects.
This is why many artisans praise the benefits of Jojoba oil, because it is chemically the most similar to the natural sebum we produce and therefore most easily absorbed into the skin.
When you apply a little beard oil to your skin it sinks in and moisturizes any dryness.
Now, applying beard oil is going to make your beard hair softer.
I believe every man would prefer a soft beard to a scratchy one. This will prevent you from damaging your woman’s skin with your abrasive fibers when you mate with her.
Let’s look at the action behind this as well (told you nobody else was going to give you this much detail).
Ultimately, hair softness is driven by the moisture content of the hair. Usually it’s that sebum again that does the job of keeping your hair lovely and moist. However, when you grow a decent beard, the hair is too long to take advantage of the sebum that your skin is producing.
So by applying a penetrating beard oil, you replace the natural sebum that has gone missing in action and replenish your beard with the softness that it craves.
This is the big one. Every man wants a beard that looks healthy and shiny.
I don’t mean something so luminous that it blinds people as they encounter you in the street. I mean a beard that looks strong, healthy, lustrous and full of vitality.
Going back to our example of the peacock’s tail, did you ever notice how a peacock’s tail literally shines and reflects the light?
It wouldn’t have the same effect, if it looked dull and matt, would it?
Beard shininess is a primary sexual selection criteria and will make you more attractive to potential mates.
A beard that is full of oil (whether its natural sebum in an ultra high testosterone male or exogonous beard oil in a normal man on the street) looks strong, vital and shines with power.
‘Beardruff’ is basically dandruff in your beard. It’s real. I’ve experienced it.
Dandruff is nothing more than ‘flaking skin’.
And why does skin flake?
Because it’s dry!
And how do we re-moisturize dry skin? That’s correct – well done for paying attention – with an oil like Jojoba or coconut oil.
Since your beard oil probably contains one of these wonderful ingredients (if you specifically are buying beard oil to treat ‘beardruff’, then make sure it does) then by virtue of this fact the oil will moisture your skin and prevent it from flaking.
Finally, a scented beard oil is actually going to make your beard smell good!
Firstly, for yourself (because it’s ultra cool to sniff manly scents emenating from your beard).
Secondly, for any woman you pull into your beard.
When you lean in for an embrace you expose a woman to your natural pheromones.
Men naturally secrete a substance called androstadienone from their armpit sweat. This substance acts as a pheromone (basically a hormone that travels outside the body and influences the behaviour of other members of the species) and makes woman inexorably attracted to you.
It enters their noses via a special gland called the Jacobson’s organ. This has a direct pathway to the hypothalamus, where it acts upon the recipients brain.
So, when you apply a nice smelling beard oil, you hit woman with a double whammy! Firstly you strike them with the wonderful smell of the oil itself, which causes them to linger closer to you than usual.
It is during this second lingering that they are more exposed to your masculine armpits – which in turn makes them irresistibly attracted to you.
Beard oil most definitely has a shelf life.
Though this probably won’t be an issue for you.
Beard oil tends to be sold in rather small little bottles (30ml being the average). You’d really need to be stringing the stuff out to make it last for over a year!
Plant, nut or seed (of which beard oils are invariably made) oils do tend to go rancid after a while. The exact shelf life of the beard oil you buy will depend on exactly what ingredients are in it.
You can see a giant list of oils and their use by dates here.
However, as a general rule, beard oil should last you about 1 year.
OK, so now you know what beard oil is, what it does and why.
You are wondering where you can lay your hands on some?
As of 2016, beard oil isn’t really something you can acquire at your grocery shop or in the supermarket (yet).
Whilst there are a few large commercial manufacturers, the larger they are, the more likely they are to add synthetic perfumes rather than relying on natural essential oils.
The best beard oil on the market tends to be produced by a very large number (thousands upon thousands) of small artisan producers who hand-craft their Beard Oils according to their personal and highly developed recipes.
These artisans are spread all around the world. So the particular beard oil blend that meets your requirements might be hand produced in the foothills of the Himalayas, Russia, India, Jamaica, UK, Australia or the United States!
In fact, that’s exactly why I started this website – The Beard Oil Pledge – to gather and curate the entire planet’s wonderful collection of exotic beard oils into one place and methodically grade them all.
I use a transparent beard oil review methodology, so you know for a fact that somebody has taken the time to fairly compare a given oil to many others on the market, before you buy.
Check out the master index of oils I have collected so far as see if one takes your fancy.