The 10 Best Beard Balms
Beard Balm Vs. Beard Oil
So, you've grown yourself a beard. Perhaps, it's well along its way to legendary status. That's a good thing. But is your beard too dry, too itchy, too flaky (one flake is too flaky), too thin, too boring? Go ahead, touch it. Take a look at it. I'll wait.
Odds are, if you aren't already using a beard balm or oil, you encountered one of the nightmares listed above. Rest assured, there is hope for you, but you're going to have to decide just how you want to address the problem(s).
At the end of the day, there is no inherent superiority between oils and balms. This is ultimately a matter of personal preference, but I'll endeavor here to save you some time and money in figuring out which is right for you.
Beard Oils are predominantly conditioners. They are designed to soften your beard and sooth your skin, to moisturize and, sometimes, to add fragrance. Like New York Fashion Week, they have no real bearing on style.
Beard Balms, on the other hand, can serve multiple purposes. There are some brands that work exclusively like beard oils: moisturizing, scenting, and softening. But most beard balms are wax-based, and so they also serve as styling agents for your facial forest, providing shape and thickness in ways that oils cannot.
These waxes and sealants also help lock in the fragrant and moisturizing elements that you want to stick around throughout the day.
The downside? Beard balm tends to be pretty stiff at room temperature, so it requires a little handy work (rubbing your palms together) to get it going.
For my money, I recommend the workhorse, the beard balm. That little bit of friction you need to create is a small price to pay for an added level of protection and control.
But What IS Beard Balm?
I probably shouldn't admit this, but I had "blonde tips" in middle school, just in the front where my hair got oh-so-slightly longer and was styled upward. It was a bad look, and it took a lot of work to attain it. My hair is absurdly thick and unmanageable, so I used to use Clubman mustache wax to get those golden locks of shame to stand up.
That thick, utterly sticky material, that mustache wax is the precursor to the modern beard balm.
Essentially, beard balm is a marriage of beard oil–that simple, shapeless material used for conditioning a beard–and beard wax, which is ostensibly mustache wax in bulk.
Where beard balm outperforms beard wax is in its ingredients. Quality beard balms will pass over the more common and less soothing ingredients like petroleum jelly in favor of softer mixtures of wax and oil. As result, beard balm has superior conditioning and a more natural feel, even when heavily styled.
Your basic beard balm consists of a wax base, usually beeswax, shea butter or lanolin. Next you'll find one or more conditioning oils, most often jojoba or argan oil, which are preferred for their long shelf-life and gentle nature. Finally, most balms will contain some combination of essential oils to keep your beard smelling like anything from a seaside resort to a mountain hot spring.
We've Been Doing This for Years
That picture of a funny looking guy on horseback is one of the first images of a curated mustache in the history of art. Theoretically, it's been possible to shave for the last 30,000 years or so, as evidence of stone blades suggests. But in this image from Iran, not only is the man's face shaved down to its mustache, but that stash is neatly curled at the ends like Bill the Butcher's. See?
One of the questions raised by the shape of these ancient whiskers is: how did he do it? Well, if you take a look back into the oldest written histories known to us–take The Epic of Gilgamesh, an ancient Akkadian poem from around 2700 BCE–you'll find all sorts of references to characters anointing their beards and their bodies with various oils. Since tallow and beeswax wouldn't make their way into the middle east until many centuries later, we can assume that one or more of these anointing oils stayed relatively stiff at higher temperatures, allowing it to work as the very first beard/mustache styler.
So remember Iranian Bill there the next time you scrape a little beard balm onto your thumbnail, and realize that you're dipping your finger deep into human history.