by Adam Swanson
There are two types of bearded men in the world; those that confine their beards like caged animals at the zoo to specific boundaries of their face, and those that just let them roam free like wild beasts. Over the years, I’ve been both. I’ve had a long full natural beard with no clean lines on the cheeks and neck, and I’ve had the George Michael (God rest his soul) sharp geometric coffee grinds/shadow look. I’m going to walk through some advantages and disadvantages to the clean edged look first and then give you a couple tips on how to accomplish it.
There are advantages of cleaning up the edges of your beard. First up, you will look more kept and clean. Now, now, don’t get offended. While some may appreciate the untrimmed beard, many folks have been trained to respond positively to a more manicured look, it’s just the how society is. If you have a job that still has rules about facial hair then cleaning up your edges might allow you to grow out your beard, as it can look more “professional”.
Another potential advantage of keeping it looking clean is that it may increase your physical appeal to potential love interests. Some assume that a wild beard may mean a lack of hygiene standards, and while we all know that’s absolutely not true, a clean cut cheek and neck line may be just the thing to signal that you do know how to groom. You’ll have to decide if it’s worth your time dating someone who’d judge you for that in the first place, but it’s undeniable that we live in a world often based on first impressions and sometimes those superficial things matter.
There are just as many disadvantages of lining up your beard as advantages, and it’s definitely a tough decision to make. The biggest drawback is that it requires a crazy amount of precision to keep your cheek lines symmetrical, and screwing up your line can throw your off your whole look. One-quarter inch (or less!) too deep, and you’ve messed up a lot of patience over the years.
I’m speaking from experience, in high school when I’d grow a nice Leprechaun/Everlast strappy beard I would occasionally have to take it all down to skin and start over with my beard due to a slight slip up in the mirror. Sure, you could leave the mess up. Hair grows back, right? But it’s hard to look at yourself in the mirror when you look like an uneven wreck. You just have to weigh it out, what’s worse? Having a clean-shaven face, or an occasionally mismatched or non-symmetrical beard?
Another disadvantage is once you’ve started; you have to keep it up. That first day (or hour if you’re anything like me) you look FRESH! Nice, clean cheeks seem to make the beard POP off of your face. And then there’s regrowth for the days to come. This creates a problem, as you get ready to head out for the day, you realize you look even more unkempt than if your beard were one length all over. Lining up your face adds another morning ritual that you must keep up, and that may not be worth it to some. One of the drawbacks that almost keep me from doing it is the time it takes. It is a timely process, especially compared to just letting it grow.
You’ve weighed the options, now what? Well, now it’s time to jump in and get ‘er done. Here’s a quick how-to.
There are a couple options to your approach. You can either start with a shower first as it softens the hairs and prepares the skin, or you can shower after to clean up unwanted hairs and shaving solution. I’m a “shower after” kind of guy, so I start out with running warm water, splashing some on my neck and face to warm up as the sink fills. Next up you’ll need to prepare your shaving soap, cream, or oil and place it on those places you want to shave. I use oil, as it works the best for me and allows you to see the line you’re attempting to shave in. As a young man I used shaving cream, but I’d always wipe if off before attempting to cut in the hard lines and I ultimately found it wasteful.
Next up, make sure to position yourself so that your face is lit similarly on each side. This may sound silly and unnecessary, but I’ve managed to ruin a clean up by having more light come in from the left than the right. If you have one of those well lit vanities in your bathroom, than you’re in luck, if not, do like I do and cover the small window with a towel or lower the blinds.
Now that your hair is soft, your skin is slippery, and your razor is in hand it’s time to start. Speaking of razor, I prefer a straight edge, as it creates the straightest lines for me. I’ve also managed to create solid lines with disposables, so use what works best for you. I position myself in front of the mirror, and start with the left side because I’m right handed and it’s more comfortable to cross my body. I found that if I line up that side first, the second is always easier because you’ve set the boundaries. Shave first with the grain to minimize irritation.
Starting at the sideburn, Use short strokes with the razor as to not take too much off at once, creating a single line, working your way toward the mustache. Shave a bit, then stop and look from different angles to assure that you’re on the right track. Once you’re happy with that side, bang out the second. Stand back, enjoy the masterpiece, or make needed adjustments. Once you’re happy with the way your cheeks look, you can splash a little more water and/or cream or oil and shave against the grain of your hair to create a really smooth surface.
Next up is the neckline. Everybody is different, but I like to look in the mirror straight on, and use a buzzer/trimmer perpendicular to my throat to create separation of the neck and beard. I judge the point at which my neck makes a hard turn toward my chin for my guide. Then I turn my head to the side and do the same, just at the base of my jawline under my ear. After those two steps, I connect the two spots with a straight line. Next, repeat the steps on the other side. Once you’re happy with the shape, finish with oil and straight razor. Keep in mind, if you plan on growing your beard long, trimming the neck can make your beard appear thinner, and have gaps. If you plan on going long, but still want a trim look, I’d recommend only lining up the cheeks.
As I mentioned above, this is a timely process, especially if just starting out. I wanted to offer a couple time saving tips.
One of the ways to eliminate error is to leave the heavy lifting to the professionals. If you’re lucky enough to have a great barber close by, take advantage of their services and have them do it for you. For a fee, they’ll make sure your beard stays lined up for years to come.
Ruler (protractor for your face)
I’ve seen a few tools offered online for those that like keeping their beard shapely. I personally haven’t had any hands-on experience, but I’m willing to try anything twice.
Start sooner in the growing process
If you start when your beard is short, you’ll grow to be a professional over time, and it will become second nature. It’s much more difficult to hop in and start after years of growth.
That being said, lining/cleaning up the edges of your beard is purely based off of preference. Doing so doesn’t make you any less of a man, and not doing so doesn’t change the fact that your beard is awesome.
This post is part of an ongoing Can You Handlebar series designed to help our customers. Please visit our full library of articles at TheBeardMentor.com