You don’t grow a beard. You earn it.
That’s what I learned. Having moved fresh-faced through the world around me like a plucked turtledove cooing into the deluge I was hardly a prime candidate for a journey to the very depths of masculinity. Yet there was a yearning. A hum from beyond the tree-line that drew me in tightening circles to secret places within myself. Places that longed for violence and hair. Great volumes of hair.
So it was that I ejected the last Mach 3 cartridge into the trash and placed the razor into its jeweled cylinder. So it was that I forsook comfort and safety. So it was that I faced the tree-line and began. My gate was purposeful. My pulse quick.
The first few days of a beard are indistinguishable from life as a shaver. You let it grow over the weekend, you get a little stubble, no big deal. Come Monday morning you’ll be wiping your hand across the fogged mirror and swirling Barbasol into your palm.
No, a beard is different. A beard is more than a few millimeters of fuzz. A beard doesn’t begin until a hair is long enough to bend over and poke into your skin and burn like mustard gas. It’s not a beard until you want to shave. It’s not a beard until you’d rip it off your face just to make it stop.
This feeling will continue for 1-3 weeks. Man up.
It doesn’t have to be all torment, though. There are a few things that you can do to make this initiation ritual less painful:
1. Use the right product. The instinct when the beard starts to take on its character is to obsessively wash it. While it’s important to keep the beard clean and avoid ingrown hairs, you have to be strategic. The beard shouldn’t be washed any more than your face and, since the beard is leaching moisture out of your head (this is why your memories are vanishing), you have to change to an oily soap and establish a moisturizing routine. What worked for me is the following:
The Burt’s Bees was a totally unique feeling for me. I’d always associated squeaky skin with clean skin, but this product leaves your face feeling almost as oily as before you washed. Keep calm and carry on. You’ll get used to it.
The extra-strength Gold Bond is the best moisturizer I found. Not only is it free of irritating fragrance, but it gives your cheeks a tingle when you rub a little in. It’s important that you do this only above the beard on the cheeks and not into the beard. As much as it seems that this will help, it won’t.
2. Keep busy. As with any irritation, it’s easiest to ignore when the mind is occupied elsewhere. Digging in at work or starting a hobby or simply snapping your fingers back one by one will do nicely.
3. Accept it. The big take-away, though, is that there will be a week or more when you will have very little, if any, relief from the itching and irritation of bearding. That’s the price of admission.
But it’s worth it. Soon the hair will run smooth and soft and you’ll trim away the tough dry tips that tormented you all those weeks. As much as you’d like to, don’t save them in a cigar box. Those are for nail clippings and nothing more.