Snake Oil + Micro Brews + Beard Care
“Beards are just hair.” Dustin settled back into his chair, smiling. “Every beard is unique: everybody has cowlicks, swirls, this that and the other. Everyone has their own challenges to work with.” Beards are definitely, hair but they’re not exactly the same kind of hair as what’s on your head. Body and beard hair is androgenic, while the hair on your head is vellic. The difference is that androgenic hair is associated with the hormones in your body, meaning that it is different for everyone, and grows in different cycles (typically more slowly) than vellic hair. That said, it’s basically the same stuff. It’s probably just fine to treat your beard exactly like you treat your hair, but now that the beard is returning to glorious popularity, an absolute tidal wave of beard products is flooding the market.
Dustin was quick to jump in when the conversation turned to beard products: “In the 21st century, people have gotten really into grooming beards, shaping beards, and having the right beard… conditioning it or making sure it smells the right way.” I think this is partially because beards are invading the workplace. There are few feelings worse than realizing that you smell like a teenage water buffalo when you sit down at your desk. Scented beard oils are a natural extension of our constant quest to stay pleasantly odored. The modern man may be rugged, but he smells nice at the office and at the bar.
I like these products because they help me tame my own beard, which is prone to wiry hairs that stick out. A beard oil or balm will keep these in check while hydrating the skin underneath. Your face can get dandruff just like your head once your beard grows in, so it’s important to keep it from drying out. Dustin provided a unique perspective on the subject: “Essentially, because every product line has a different spectrum of viscosity, weight, and scent, they all have different uses. An oil will hydrate your beard, give you a sheen, hydrate your face. A balm may do the same thing but if they’re heavier they’ll act more like a pomade and give your beard more shape… Some products are very useful and make sense. They keep your beard and your face healthy. Some things are out there as a gimmick- people focus too hard on getting the coolest thing or the most obscure product. It’s great for the industry because there are so many different products available, we can kind of filter through things here: sift through the bullshit and find something amazing.”
It turns out that beard oils, at least, are pretty easy to make. That may explain why there are so many new companies producing the stuff. I counted 30 unique brands on the first four pages of Google for the query “beard care companies.” While oils may be easy to mix on your own, pomades, balms, and waxes require a bit more chemistry to get right.
It’s also important to remember that these “micro breweries” of beard compounds cater to different climates, says Dustin: “There are lines out there that make a really good beard oil, and a beard balm that you don’t find much use for. Remember the climate: in Colorado or Arizona where it’s a lot more dry, they need a much more viscous or hydrating product.” It also depends on the kind of beard you’re sporting: a super thick mustache wax would literally be visible in my relatively thin mustache.
The folks at The Standard are on a mission to find the best products for their customers. “It’s hard for the average person to just find what’s right for them, that’s where we step in as professionals,” says Dustin. Here are a few solid places to start:
- Bearded Bastard: I use their Woodsman beard oil. It smells incredible, and is just thick enough to keep my beard in check, but light enough so I don’t notice it’s in there. The cedar scent is very pleasant and assertive, but not overpowering. I’m a huge fan. Bearded Bastard is owned and operated by Jeremiah Newton of Austin, TX. According to his website, Newton is trying to do things right: “rather than use the petroleum-based synthetics found in most mass-produced grooming products, we work hard to track down the finest original ingredients for our products—often from some of the most exotic locales on Earth.”
- The Holy Black Trading Co: Stefan Vincert, owner of Holy Black, is doing very cool things with 100+ year old Bay Rum recipes. His fascination with the old school is apparent in the name “Holy Black,” a reference to gunpowder purists who refused to switch to new smokeless powders, instead sticking to black powder, or “holy black.” Vincert and Dustin seem to be kindred spirits. According Holy Black’s website, “I wanted my aftershave to have the look, feel and most importantly smell of something you would see in a barbershop during the glory days of barbers in the 1800’s. Everything I make is designed to emulate the aesthetic of gold rush barbers, from the days when your barber was also your dentist and your surgeon, when the barber was the most important person in the whole town.”
- Cliff Original: This brand is obsessed with simplicity and all-natural ingredients. Cliff is also true Americana, named for founder Jared’s grandfather: “As siblings growing up on a small family farm in Ohio, we shadowed our Grandpa where ever he went. Our admiration and drive to be just like him started at a very young age. Grandpa was passionate about his faith, family and his farmland. He was always considerate to other people and he cherished his family.” The brand feels like an authentic statement about heritage and hard work. They offer simple scents like Bay Rum, Tea Tree, and Musk, as well as soaps, lip balms, and more.
According to a Study by the University of Western Australia, beards are back because society is becoming more crowded, and sexual competition more stiff. The Aussies believe that the beard is plumage of sorts, intended to scare off other males as well as attract females. They’re not really wrong, are they? I think think it goes a bit deeper than simple competition, though. The past two generations of men have been deeply coddled (comparatively), at least in the United States. Since Vietnam, we’ve experienced a period of economic comfort and peace that may have caused us to lose some of our competitive edge. I can still remember when they banned dodgeball in my school for being too violent, and getting a trophy for my laughable performance on the soccer field. It’s hard to ignore that times are getting tough again. The post 9/11 world has seen America return to war on two separate battlefields. Folks from Generations X to Millennial are starting to react negatively to false childhood promises of a peaceful world, and we’re seeing a higher value placed on toughness.
It could also be that beards really are just sexy as hell, and that there’s too many damn dudes crammed together in urban centers. I don’t know. What I know is that I like having a beard, I like going outside, I like shooting guns, I like getting dirty, and I like testing my own limits. I wear a beard because it reminds me to toughen up when I’m feeling soft, and because my girlfriend can’t resist it.