October 2, 2022

Man with well-groomed beard in sunny room

The beard is a quintessential way to express your confidence. Whether you’re trying to emulate your favorite celeb, looking to gain some edge at work, or simply wanting to look and feel your best, growing out and caring for your facial hair can provide a major boost. Major players in the grooming space know this well and have responded to market demand with a full range of treatments and solutions to help with caring for beard hair and the surrounding area.  Yet with the dizzying, ever-increasing array of options from both established brands (think King C. Gillette) and startups (like Badass Beard Club), where is the best place to start?

Adding to the confusion, lots of products seem to overlap, having similar ingredients lists or potential benefits. For instance, beard butter and beard balm usually come in similar packaging and share some ingredients. Beard conditioners claim to soften beard hair as well as the skin in the area, but so do beard oils. Certain beard products tout the benefits of essential oils, while others avoid them because of the potential for irritation in some sensitive skin types.

With so many options, what should you do for your beard? Luckily, we here at Byrdie have the answers. We talked to two grooming experts—a barber and a cosmetic formulator—to get their insights on all you need to know when it comes to choosing the best product regimen. Read on as we explain beard oil vs. beard balm as well as share examples of each that are worthy of your beard care toolbox.

Beard Oil vs. Beard Balm

Beard Oil

Celebrity barber Philly “Barberking” Garcia tells Byrdie that “beard oils…use high quality natural oils to moisturize, nourish, restore, and condition your beard and skin while keeping beards looking healthy and shiny.” According to cosmetic formulator Talima Davis,“the benefits of this type of oil is that it has added hair conditioning ingredients that seal in moisture and even promote hair growth. If you have an itchy beard, beard oils and balm are great for that as well.”

While beard oils are primarily for softening beard hair and moisturizing the skin below, some men, myself included, use them in place of shaving cream or gel. The oils generally serve as excellent lubricants that reduce friction and therefore, irritation. For those of you who grow your beards out, oils can be excellent for caring for skin and hair—they prevent beard dandruff, reduce the itchiness that comes with rough whiskers pressing against your face, and otherwise soften the thick hair that comprises most beards. It makes it soft to the touch for you and, just as importantly, whoever gets close to you.

Common ingredients in beard oils are argan oil, jojoba oil, grape seed oil, and shea butter. Most come in a vessel designed to dispense a few drops at a time onto your fingertips and apply to your beard and skin as you see fit. They’re also available in various scents to suit your individual taste or mood.

Beard Balm

Beard balm is, first and foremost, a grooming tool used to shape or tame unruly beard hair. “A beard balm works as a leave-in conditioner, which will moisturize, condition, style, and soften your beard,” Garcia says. “The biggest difference from beard oil is that beard balm also helps tame unruly hairs, helps style and shape your beard, restores natural moisture, and keeps your beard smelling fresh and clean all day.”

While it may contain emollient ingredients in common with some beard oils, including shea butter, beard balm’s primary purpose is to help with styling, similar to applying pomade to the hair on your head. It’s great for people with who want to bring order to their beards. This may include those with curly beard hair, thick beards that need a bit of direction, and people with gray beard hair that’s growing out in different directions or spiking. Used in combination with a wooden beard comb like The Art of Shaving’s Sandalwood Beard Comb or, for thicker beards, a beard brush like Cremo’s Premium Boar Bristle Brush to help spread the balm and style your beard in the direction you want.

If you opt for a beard balm, you should know that they’re generally thick in consistency and usually come in a small tub from which you can scoop out some product, rub it into your palms, and apply it to your beard. Determining the right amount may take a bit of trial and error and will depend on your specific beard thickness and texture. You’ll need to wash your hands well to remove most balms from your hands after applying them, as beard balms are primarily formulated as thick wax in order to add weight and control to thick beard hair. Typical ingredients include beeswax and lanolin, along with some of the hydrating oils often found in beard oil, like jojoba.  Also, like beard oils, beard balms come in a range of enticing scents for you to explore.

Choosing the Best Option for You

With some overlapping ingredients and benefits, how should you choose between beard oil and beard balm? Davis explains that “beard balm is similar to beard oil but it usually has a larger percentage of waxes and butters that aid in taming frizzy beards, and is a little heavier. It is great for thicker beards with more texture.” Garcia says that the choice depends on the growth stage of your beard. “If you’re in the process or beginning stages of growing out your beard, you would use beard oil…to create a clean, well-balanced foundation for the hair to grow,” he explains. “For the man who has a full beard and needs grooming or minor upkeep, the balm is the way to go. The balm will help give them the style to shape the beard while moisturizing at the same time.”

Those with sensitive or acne-prone skin can find a suitable beard product by paying close attention to the formulas. “Beard balm usually has some pretty great ingredients,” Davis says. “Most beard oils and balms include a scent that adds a really nice sensory effect for the user. However, for those sensitive to scents in their skincare, I would use fragrance-free.” She also advises that “those with acne-prone [skin] look for non-comedogenic ingredients, such as jojoba oil and sunflower oil.”

The Best Beard Oils and Balms

Jack Black Beard Oil small bottle with pump top
Jack Black Beard Oil $26.00

Packaged in a bottle with a pump top to easily dispense the right amount of product, Jack Black’s Beard Oil helps you achieve a conditioned, healthy-looking beard while soothing any flaky, itchy skin. Antioxidants including Kalahari melon oil, vitamin E, brown algae, and carrot extract protect skin from pollutants and free radicals, while marula oil and plum oil add hydration and shine.

Cremo Cedar Forest Revitalizing Beard Oil dropper bottle
Cremo Cedar Forest Revitalizing Beard Oil $13.00

If you love a forest scent, this beard oil may be a great option for you. In addition to helping you feel fresh with its cedar fragrance, the formula soothes skin while hydrating and softening your facial hair thanks to argan and jojoba oils among other nourishing ingredients.

Le Labo Beard Oil small brown bottle with screw top
Le Labo Beard Oil $63.00

Are you a fan of Le Labo fragrances? Keep the luxurious vibes going with this beard oil, which will keep your facial hair smooth and moisturized with the likes of sunflower, grape seed, and jojoba oils. Of course, the product has its own intoxicating scent, which features notes of bergamot, lavender, violet, and tonka bean.

Tom Ford Conditioning Beard Oil pump-top bottle in tobacco vanille scent
Tom Ford Conditioning Beard Oil $57.00

This beard oil from Tom Ford is sure to have you feeling distinguished. Its blend of almond, jojoba, and grape seed oils as well as vitamin E will leave your beard soft and nourished. Take the time to comb it through each day and you’ve got a true self-care ritual.

Almathea Huile d'Amande Douce sweet almond oil bottle
Almathea Huile d’Amande Douce $15.00

This multipurpose sweet almond oil has a high concentration in oleic acids, which help with skin softening and regeneration. Apply it to your beard or any area of your body that needs soothing.

King C. Gillette Soft Beard Balm with Cocoa Butter tub
King C. Gillette Soft Beard Balm with Cocoa Butter $13.00

Unlike waxier balms, this lightweight formula spreads easily through your beard, providing nourishment with cocoa butter, shea butter, and argan oil. Whether you use it to style your beard for the day or try it as a deep conditioning mask, the bergamot, geranium, and cedar notes are sure to please.

Scotch Porter Conditioning Beard Balm jar
Scotch Porter Conditioning Beard Balm $15.00

This beard balm smooths and styles your facial hair while also promoting healthy growth with biotin. The gentle formula also includes vitamin B, marshmallow root, and willow bark extract for a healthy, shiny result.

Duke Cannon Best Damn Beard Balm container
Duke Cannon Best Damn Beard Balm $14.00

Living up to its name, this product helps give you your best beard yet with high-quality ingredients like lanolin and cocoa butter. The woodsy fragrance ensures a pleasant experience from start to finish.

Cremo Cedar Forest Beard Balm tin
Cremo Cedar Forest Beard Balm $12.00

If you’re looking to get a matching beard oil and beard balm, Cremo offers its cedar forest scent across both formulas. Similar to a pomade, this product helps with styling and shaping all while nourishing your beard with oils and shea butter.