Lee’s Premium Beard Oil: Power to the People
Beard oil producers on Instagram are about as common as pictures of rocks arranged into heart shapes on beaches you’ll never visit. The fact is that making beard oil isn’t terribly difficult, and Instagram provides a platform that allows enterprising folks to promote their own blend and branding without much difficulty. Despite the fact that they’re a dime a dozen, I think that the small businesses that comprise Instagram’s beard oil economy are a good thing. Not only does competition drive quality to the top, it’s evidence of a “maker” micro economy that’s sweeping Instagram, Etsy, and social media as a whole. These small businesses are mostly sole proprietorships, side-hustles, and passion gigs that keep owners occupied and maybe even line their pockets. In many ways, the social “maker” economy is a millennial phenomenon, with twenty-somethings leading the way as they try to figure out how they’re going to hold their own in an economy and job market that’s not been kind to them. Whether your opinion of millennials is that they’re hash smoking freeloaders who studied African Dance and live with their parents, or that they’re an enterprising and tech savvy generation that’s paving the way for social and economic development, you have to hand it to Brandon Bryan, owner of Lee’s Premium. He’s a hardworking young American who’s pursuing success in a crowded space.
Beardin’ on a Budget
Like most college kids, Brandon didn’t exactly have $30 to spend on each ounce of beard oil he purchased while he was living Fraternity life while attending the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Like most of us bearded folks, he wondered why oils were so expensive and decided to just start making his own. As these stories often start, a buddy decided that his home-brew was pretty good and asked to buy a bottle. For Brandon, his beard oil hobby was a minor distraction that occasionally meant a few extra bucks for beer. Family and financial issues brought him away from college life, back to his hometown of New Orleans. Unfortunately for Brandon, his transfer to the UNO was rejected when his financial aid fell through. Living at home and helping his mother get through a difficult time led to a restlessness that he was both unfamiliar and uncomfortable with. During a frustrating job hunt, Brandon found himself thinking about beard oil again. He identified opportunity in the average price of most beard oils due to their high cost. He started researching a way to deliver a product that could compete with more expensive brands as far as scent and feel, but still be affordable for the collegiate bearded.
Most conscious consumers would ask about the difference in product quality given a rather drastic price differential (Lee’s sells a 30mL bottle for $15, and competitors come in around $5 or even $10 more). It’s true that Brandon eats a decent chunk of margin at his price as part of his mission to stay affordable. Not all of his oils are organic, and many of his fragrances are sourced from websites that sell them for candles, perfumes, etc. The result is an oil that isn’t as therapeutic or hydrating for the skin. In fact, these fragrances can (in some cases) irritate sensitive skin. The organic oils on his website are labeled as such, so if you have sensitive skin, go with these! This wasn’t at all my experience, and Lee’s Premium sells small quantities of oil should you want to try before you buy. It seems that if your goal is to have a soft beard that smells great, Lee’s will do you just fine. If you’re looking for an oil specifically to avoid itch and keep your skin conditioned, you may want to order a smaller size first.
Brandon sent me four varieties: Cherry Tobacco, A Cup of Joe, Shave and a Haircut, and Vanilla Tobacco. My testing session started poorly.
Cherry Tobacco: I opened the bottle and shut it. Immediately. The cherry scent was the cloying sweetness of maraschino cherry mash at the bottom of a poorly made Old Fashioned. It was tempered lightly by the tobacco acidity and smokiness, but I was not looking forward to smelling this oil in my beard all day. To be fair, it definitely smelled less potent after I cautiously applied it. While still too sweet and dead-nuts cherry for me (cherry is not a smell I like), I have to admit that were I a cherry person, I’d probably like this. It felt like many other oils, and since I don’t have dry skin or itch, I can’t speak directly to therapeutic properties. I also don’t have sensitive skin, and experienced no irritation to speak of.
Shave and a Haircut: This was hands down my favorite. Brandon nailed the barbershop smell. Many beard oils will have a musky or cologne element that just doesn’t smell clean. Shave and a Haircut makes you smell like you just showered while getting a trim at your favorite barbershop. I definitely recommend this one.
A Cup of Joe: Although it doesn’t smell much like coffee, it does retain the nutty/earthiness that you’d expect from a coffee scent. It smells more like coffee drink to me, but not in a bad way- it’s just a sweeter mocha scent. I personally wouldn’t wear this one, but I can see it being attractive to plenty of folks out there. The sweetness adds a touch of licorice or marzipan, which I find a bit unappealing since I don’t like either of those candies. This scent isn’t unbalanced or unpleasant, it’s just not for me.
Vanilla Tobacco: This smells a lot like cherry tobacco, but much better in my opinion. It has an underlying scent of pipe tobacco and a bit more smokiness than the overly sweet cherry variant. While it’s still lacking in musk or underlying savory scents that you might expect from a beard product, this oil definitely has its place.
Make Your Own
Lee’s does things differently by keeping cost low, but also by offering to mix you up a scent of your own. Brandon is a fragrance fanatic, and one of the first custom scents he made was “Gunpowder” for local firearm enthusiast buddies. If you can think of a fragrance, he’ll do his best to make an oil out of it. He’ll then ship you a sample, and if you like it you can order a whole bottle. Brandon’s starting to move into the beard balm space as well, and they’re now available for purchase on his website.
Red Hatchet Says…
Lee’s Premium does a great job of bringing beard oil to folks who don’t want to pay $25 or $30 for a bottle. The scents aren’t terribly subtle, but you can always order a sampler and find the one that works best for you. The option to custom order an oil is also compelling, and something that we may need to try in the future. Lee’s would make a great gift for the newly initiated bearded, or as a daily wear for folks who aren’t buying into the more expensive products. Overall we think Brandon’s doing a solid job and we wish him the best as he carves out his space in the grooming products world.