Hipsters, rockers, rappers, Mr T, Barry from Eastenders, there aren’t many walks of life where beards haven’t arisen for a number of years. Sporting my own off coloured and omnipresent example for the past four, I am a devoted follower of the trend. To accompany the return of this classic look, the beauty industry was rather slow to react and launch products to cash in, leaving a gaping hole for faster moving, niche companies to fill the gap that appeared in the market. Today things have changed and the usual high street shops stock a range of products from the big players to compliment the online and barber shop offerings. Today I’m focusing on the biggest trend of this recent growth, the beard oil.
Thanks to a greater level of consciousness of the care required to maintain this hairy appendage, the beard oil has taken pride of place on the nightstand or in the bathroom of the discerning bearded man. The brands use edgy, masculine branding, usually proffering a return to simpler times, when men were men, bear knuckle boxing was the sport of the day and life expectancy a mere 55 years. In my mind a peculiar generation to build your branding around, but the stereotypical image of a strong white man with a dark, full bodied, glorious beard at the height of their prowess is the desired take home message. So what are these products going to do for your months of hard work, itchy faces, crumbs saved for later and awkward patchy stages in order to elevate your pride and joy to a whole new level of gloriousness?
Jack of all trades
Considering the relatively few ingredients used, the marketing claims to deliver a one stop solution for all your follicular foes. The primary benefits that almost all products will look to offer are to condition the hair, protect from the daily attacks of pollution, weather and the dreaded ‘free radicals’, and to control frizz and rogue hairs that can plague the most impressive of beards. Certain products will also look to offer secondary features, predominantly a rich, deep fragrance to further increase your manliness, or additional benefits to the skin beneath such as cleansing or moisturising. These are some pretty big claims from a product where typically only a few drops are required per application, so I’m going to try and break down how they look to reach such lofty heights in a 30ml package.
So how do they work? Predominantly by coating the hair, forming a hydrophobic (water repellent) layer which will trap in moisture and block out the stresses and strains your face has to endure in day to day life. This will also help to control the hair, adding weight to prevent flyaways and making the surface slippy to prevent tangling. They also contain antioxidants which will defend the hair from everyday nasties such as pollution and sun damage. The addition of fragrances and certain essential oils will give you a manly musk to compliment your coiffured facial furniture.
More oil than a Jamie Oliver Recipe….
Beard oils are, unsurprisingly, oil based and the majority are employing natural vegetable and essential oils. Some have been based around silicone oils also, but without being able to offer the sexy claim of 100% natural they don’t often take pride of place. For the purposes of this article I’m going to focus on the ingredients in natural products.
After looking at an endless selection of beard oils available, I found that most (but certainly not all) turned to one of 3 natural oils as the basis of their products. These are Jojoba oil, Argan oil & sweet almond oil, and of the products I studied 1 or more were present in 70%. So, seeing as the manufacturers have decided these are the go to ingredients, let’s take a look at what they are doing.
Pronounced ‘hohoba’ and extracted from jojoba shrubs grown in south USA & Mexico, jojoba oil was initially used as a replacement for whale oil when ethics first reared their head in cosmetics in the 1900s. As with the other 2 oils I’m going to talk about, the main role this plays is to coat the surface of the hair, trapping in the moisture to provide a conditioning effect. Jojoba has a relatively high waxy oil content and of the 3 will offer the most moisturisation properties. It also has a number of elements that mimic the make up of the oils contained in the skin, meaning it will interact effectively to moisturise your face beneath.
For years now Argan oil has been marketed as a miracle elixir for hair care, offering to solve seemingly any problem you may have. Perfect for a beard oil then surely? Well, if it delivers on its claims then of course, but does it? It’s main selling point is its antioxidant properties, with many a product and blog referring to its high levels of vitamin e and polyphenols, both well known antioxidants that can help defend hair from sun damage and pollution. Argan oil does contain a higher level of vitamin e (also known as tocopherol) than most other oils used in toiletries, racking up 70mg/100g. Some other oils with higher than average content are sunflower oil (53mg/100g) and the next ingredient on the list, sweet almond oil (39mg/100g). It also has a decent amount of polyphenols, 100mg/kg, however compared to Virgin olive oil at >250mg/kg, this seems less impressive. My personal view? With low inclusion levels and high prices attached to the wide range of products products containing Argan oil, I’m not convinced it stacks up. However for the purpose of a beard oil, it is an effective ingredient.
Sweet almond oil
The least exotic sounding of the 3 main ingredients, and rightly so. It’s usually used as a carrier for more interesting essential oils, but it does offer benefits in its own right. It will coat and condition the hair like the 2 others, and as mentioned has a decent level of vitamin e. It’s also rarely used as the main ingredient in the products I’ve looked at, so think of it as the midfield workhorse in a football team, quietly doing its job while letting the more flamboyant players steal the limelight and the headlines.
An endless number of different oils are used, each with their own different characteristics to bring to the table. A popular inclusion and heavily marketed recently is pracaxi oil. Containing 20% behenic acid, which has excellent skin healing and hair conditioning properties, it certainly is a beneficial ingredient for our purpose. Tea tree oil is fairly common, with well documented antibacterial properties that will help to cleanse your skin below, and also tackle skin flaking (dandruff!). Avocado oil is growing in use in cosmetics and one I like, it is an excellent carrier for essential oils and reportedly has 65mg/100g of vitamin e! One to look out for. Grape seed oil is another key ingredient when included, and will bring a lighter, less greasy feel to the product while still offering moisturisation benefits.
At the bottom of any ingredients list will be a bunch of essential oils. While some may be included for their benefits to the hair, they will usually be a part of the fragrance used. Be careful about getting too excited about any present here as the content will be extremely low. They aren’t to be written off but a little digging may be needed to decide if there is enough present to offer any benefit.
You will often find tocopherol as a separate ingredient, the aforementioned vitamin e. This is used in the oils for preservation, preventing oxidation and the oils going rancid. In its native form it will provide the same antioxidant effects as when found in the oils, bonus!
The Ronseal question
So do they do what they say on the tin, and should you bearded gents be buying them? Well in a word, yes. The ingredients used match up in the most part with the claims made by the products. The selection of oils being used have been deliberately chosen for use in cosmetics due to their similarity in fatty acid content to that of the hair and skin, meaning they will interact effectively. This is key in them being able to form a barrier layer that blocks out all the nasties, while keeping in the precious moisture! There are negatives, such as a need to reapply frequently, as they don’t usually contain any additive to help the oils cling to the hair. They can also make the beard feel greasy when applied too often. A difficult balance to strike but a price worth paying for the improvements they can make to the condition and appearance particularly of longer more majestic beards.
Take my money
You’ve been thinking about buying one, you’ve read this article and now want part with a chunk of hard earned cash. How should you decide which to go for, and whether it’s worth the price tag? This is always a tricky decision, and one I can’t give and hard and fast rules for. However I’d consider the following:
- It is almost a certainty that your purchase will condition, moisturise and protect your beard and skin, no matter what the price.
- For any additional benefits have a look into which ingredients they claim to be doing the work to decide whether it’s worth paying extra.
- For a lighter, less greasy product look for grape seed oil.
- The fragrance is likely to be the key differentiator to each individual, so make sure you are able to take a whiff.
When looking at making a purchase, have a look at the ingredients list as well as the claims, and hopefully with this information you will be able to make a more informed choice!