Readers often ask me tips on how to trim beards (this one’s for you Rodney!). There is a burst of interest in beard styles these days and how to groom them, as men are rediscovering that each beard is unique—a hairy snowflake. Each man’s beard will grow in a way that is better suited for a specific bracket of beard styles (mine is a Garibaldi, for instance). Your best bet is to grow your beard out for a few months and see what mother nature gives you. Then you can trim it down to fit the style you like best.
That said, I highly encourage you to not trim your beard for at least a year. Let it grow out as long as you can. It is much easier to trim away unwanted facial hair until you get the sty;e you want, than to put hair back because your beard wasn’t ready yet. When your beard is nice and long, and you are certain that it is time for a trim, see if you can find any local barbers (not hair stylists) to trim it for you. If, however, you are budget conscious, or there are no barbers near you, read on to learn the best way to trim your beard yourself.
Let’s go through some beard trimming tips that enhance the beard without marring it. See my new review of the top 4 beard trimmers I have personally tested:
Beard Trimming Tools
Fans of the clean-shaven look have an assortment of shaving tools at their disposal, from safety razors to straight razors. For bearded gentlemen like us, we have the beard trimmer. A quality beard trimmer will come with fittings that support various beard lengths. Invest in a durable beard trimmer and it will serve you well for years to come.
These are the top 4 beard trimmers I have personally tested, and recommend:
The Neck Beard
Some men’s beards are so virile that they crawl all the way down their necks. I happen to be one of those fellows, and I leave it be (I prefer the long, fluffy style). If you’re like me, then you’ll need to keep your stray rebels in place.
An example of some glorious neck beard.
Using scissors or a beard trimmer, nip the ends off long, stray strands that either shoot past your beard line or stretch out in unruly directions. Looking in the mirror, find an imaginary line that runs through the end of your beard where it looks full and complete. Then trim everything past this line so you have a neat, uniform look.
The Beard Jawline
Some men may not like the neck beard. If you’re one of these fellows, then you should shave your neck to your jawline. A word of caution: the beard jawline does not look good on overweight men (like myself!). If you shave to your jawline, then you’re showing off your double chin. Here’s a rule of thumb: if you can clearly see your jawline, then this is a good look for you, but if you have to imagine where it might be or feel into your skin to find your jaw, then you should probably go with a glorious neck beard.
An example of shaved neck beard. Note the ingrown hairs (red dots) that form. I’ve found that if you shave your neck beard, you are much more prone to developing nasty ingrown hairs. Use ingrown beard hair remover to get rid of them.
An example of clearly defined jaw line. Thinner guys have an easier time pulling off the defined jaw line look.
The beard neckline should end where your jawline naturally emerges. It’s hard to get your beard neckline to look good trimmed far below a natural anatomical boundary like the jaw.
You’ll find that your cheeks will grow in one of three ways—the crawling-up-your-face, the deep-V, or the U. Basically, some men’s beards crawl up their face, stopped by an imaginary line that stretches from earlobe to nose, while other men have bare cheeks, forming either a U shape between the sideburns and goatee, or a deep-V ending at the mustache.
This is an extreme example of the crawling-up-your-face cheek style. The beard is left to do its thing. This is what I grow, though I do trim the top of the cheek a bit to form a straight line from earlobe to nose.
This fellow has shaved his cheeks, forming a “U” shape with his beard. The key to a successful U is keeping the cheeks shaved smooth every morning.
This is an example of the deep-V cheek style. Notice that the line of the cheek beard points downward from sideburns to end at the tip of the mustache. In this case his beard grows this way naturally, but you can effect this style with a trimmer.
Discover which one you naturally grow and run with it. Now, you can always trim your beard to suit the style you like best. Today I prefer a straight-line, but for many years I shaved my cheeks to form a U. I prefer a more natural look these days, but if the U is calling, go for it.
The Perfect Beard Trimming Template
I found this the other day. I don’t know how much I believe it, but I figured I’d share it with you. It does, however, agree with my philosophy of ear alignment, as I mentioned previously. Notice how the cheek line aligns with the ear, and the beard jawline also aligns with the ear.
So of course I had to find out how well my own beard fits this template.
Well, looks don’t get a gold star on all points. But, notice that my beard line does meet the ear, at least. The bottom of my beard goes far outside the line because I don’t trim it–whether doing so according to the beard trimming template would make it look better or not is, I suppose, a matter of opinion.
Notice, though, that the bottom of my beard does form a 90° angle with my shoulder–and that’s without any effort on my part. So maybe there is something to the math behind this template.
Once you’ve chosen your beard style, it’s time to tame it. Michelangelo, the famous sculptor, is credited as saying that every block of marble has a figure inside it. It’s his job to fee the figure from the block. Similarly, every beard has a unique shape trapped within its scraggly mane. The goal of taming it is not to reduce the size of your beard, but simply to chip away at the marble block to release the form inside.
Once you’ve let your beard grow out, you’ll notice that some hairs grow shorter, and others grow longer. I explained why in my article How Long Does it Take to Grow a Beard?. I recommend only shaving off the long, scraggly strands that make your beard look haggard.
Here is a photo of my beard before trimming. In this photo, you see nearly three years worth of un-trimmed growth. My beard reached its terminal length at about 1.5 years. It is a moderately short, slow-growing beard.
Notice how there is a line within the beard where it grows so thick that you can’t see through it. Your goal is to nip off the long scraggly ones that form the “haze” around your hidden full beard. In order to better see it, wear a white or light colored shirt. If you have a white or blonde beard, wear a black shirt.
Your technique will be to use an electric beard trimmer without any attached style guide, and scrape away at the haze. You can use scissors for this if you want, but personally, I find it harder to control scissors while craning your neck around in a mirror trying to sculpt your beard. If you go to the barber, or if someone is trimming it for you, use scissors. If you have to do it yourself, use an electric beard trimmer.
Looking in the mirror, position your beard so it is contrasted by your white shirt, and start gently chipping away at your outer haze. If you are one-handed, you’ll find it hard to trim your beard using your off-hand. My advice is to use your main hand for both sides of your beard, but just go slower when trimming the side that is furthest away from your main hand. Here is a photo of my beard half done.
Notice that the beard isn’t any shorter. I’ve just nipped off the long strands. You can see the beard’s natural shape begin to reveal itself. Mine is a Garibaldi. (Ignore the spots in the above image–those are on the glass, not in my beard).
When done, you should have a neat and tidy beard, that is no shorter than the one you began with (or at least, not by much). Here is a before and after of mine.
You can see that I did not take much off the beard, and yet it looks much neater. You won’t have to do this much trimming every day. I suggest pruning your beard like this once or twice a month.
Keep It Up
Once you find a beard trimming routine that works for you, keep it up. Some stubble on the cheeks and neck of a styled beard looks bad, so keep smooth places smooth and bristly places bristly. It may be wise to take a razor or trimmer to work or school with you so you can touch up your cheeks and neck throughout the day.
Stubble looks messy, so once you commit to a beard style, keep it up.
You may want to trim parts of your beard (the under-beard, the cheeks) and leave the rest to grow long. If you do, pay close attention to your split ends. It’s important to trim off the split ends of your beard as you notice them. This is because split ends harm the growth of the hair itself. If you nip off split ends, your beard hairs will grow faster, thicker, and healthier. Every morning, I do a cursory inspection of my longer beard to find any split ends, and I nip them off.