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The Beginner’s Guide to Beard Care for Black Men

Whether you are looking for an elegant whisper of facial hair like Mahershala Ali, or the slightly thicker, dapper brush of Idris Elba; the shaggy, soulful scruff of Quest Love, or the luscious, thick styling of James Harden’s bristles, a beard can be a statement of style with immediate impact. Those aesthetic grooming choices come with their own struggles, though for most men of African descent, black skin is prone to ingrown hairs, razor bumps, and even keloids (a scar that can result from scar tissue growing over the wound formed by the ingrown hair).

To get the very best advice we could for beard care for black men, we checked in with Gillette Barber Council Member Barry Hairston. He is a Dallas-based barber whose clients have included Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry and Sacramento Kings Center-Forward Tristan Thompson. Hairston has a number of pro-athlete clients in the Dallas area including NBA and MLB players. 

man with long black and gray beard.
Photo by Monstera from Pexels

For further beard guidance:

The Professional Shave

Sometimes the easiest and safest thing to do is to put yourself into the hands of a professional like Hairston. Let’s say you’re the guy who doesn’t want to mess around with his skin and beard, and you don’t mind dropping a few extra bucks a week to make sure you always look good. 

barber trimming man's goatee with scissors.
Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels

“When you go to a barbershop for a professional shave, it’s important to come prepared and be able to describe exactly the look you’re going for,” says Hairston. “I even recommend bringing a photo of someone you think looks fresh as inspiration. When cleaning up the beard, you should ensure your barber is using products and tools that prevent razor burn, because as black men, our skin has the tendency to become irritated easily. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice on the best steps and tools for maintaining the fresh beard yourself at home after leaving your appointment.”

A professional barber is much more likely to use a straight razor. Once upon a time, all men used one to shave, but all men bleed, too, so at the risk of starting your morning with your face looking like you’ve just starred in a slasher movie (trust us, we’ve been there) leave this tool to the professionals. The advantage to the straight razor is that it provides a clean cut, without the possibility that a second (or third, or fifth) blade, like those on most cartridge razors, will catch hairs and push them back under the skin. (More on that below.) 

Maintaining the Beard at Home

Regardless of the tool you’re using (or if you’re cleaning up a beard or going for a full, clean shave), there are crucial steps in beard treatment for black men both before and after shaving that can reduce irritation, and keep that beard soft and approachable. “First, I tell my clients to prep the skin before a shave with a cleanser. A favorite of mine is the King C. Gillette Beard and Face Wash, which helps keep your beard and skin fresh and clean with natural ingredients like coconut water, Argan oil, and avocado oil. After the shave, I recommend applying a cold towel to close the pores and applying a moisturizer to return the oils and moisture to the skin and hair. A new favorite of mine is the GilletteLabs Fast Absorbing Moisturizer, which actually transforms from cream to liquid on the skin to deliver potent ingredients in an ultra-lightweight form. Hydration is key when combatting irritation.”

“One product I recommend for general beard hair health is beard oil, like the King C. Gillette Beard Oil infused with argan, jojoba, avocado, macadamia seed, and almond oil. Using an oil like this can help moisturize dry skin, even underneath the beard.”

Using an Electric Razor or Shaver

There are a lot of electric trimmers and shavers on the market that can help with maintaining a beard’s shape. Many of them are designed to not cut too close, so you’re less likely to have problems with ingrown hairs. Hairston, though, is not a fan. 

“While an electric shaver can be helpful for cutting down maintenance time, I personally prefer a cartridge razor because I feel like I end up shaving less often, which reduces irritation,” Hairston cautions. “I find that a trimmer can be a helpful tool for certain looks and is useful for achieving a specific desired length. It’s really a matter of personal preference.”

image of straight razor, shaving brush, and cup.
Photo by Josh Sorenson from Pexels

Using a classic safety razor is a good way to reduce cuts and nicks, but here again, it can take a little practice, and, like the straight razor, you may shed some blood until you get the hang of it. The most important advice that we can offer is to find one with a nicely weighted handle so that the weight of the razor — in combination with a fresh, sharp blade — does all the work. A clean, efficient cut means that those freshly cut hairs are less likely to curl back under the skin. (We also like safety razors because they are environmentally friendly. There are no plastic pieces to end up in a landfill or the ocean, and the steel blades can be recycled.) 

Using a Cartridge Razor

If you’d prefer an easier method (and we don’t blame you one bit), consider a cartridge or disposable razor that is specifically designed for sensitive skin.

“The Gillette SkinGuard is specifically designed for men with sensitive skin, or for those who get razor bumps. Many black men experience these because our skin has the tendency to become irritated easily. The SkinGuard features two raised blades and special SkinGuard technology that smooths skin and protects it from the blades by minimizing contact. Another plus for bearded guys is that this razor comes with a precision trimmer on the back, so you can create defined lines around your beard,” says Hairston. 

package of gillette labs razor.

“A new cartridge option I like for a close shave is the GilletteLabs with Exfoliating Bar razor, which combines shaving and gentle exfoliation into one efficient stroke for a quick and easy shave. It removes dirt and debris before the blades pass, prepping the skin for a clean shave.”

Finally, Hairston recommends looking at shaving and beard maintenance as some quality me-time.

“It’s important to view shaving as a time to pamper yourself, and I recommend that all guys try to find products and practices that help them feel that they’ve elevated the shave from a daily chore to a relaxing experience.”

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