Sometimes I meet guys who lament the popularity of beards because they feel they can't grow one themselves. There's an element of beard envy out there, with the prominence of images depicting majestic beards, guys who don't have a thick, lush beard feel inadequate. In other words, they feel they aren't cool enough to grow a beard. It's a disappointing scenario but not altogether uncommon. There are many examples of body image perceptions influencing people's behaviour and it seems to affect men just as much as women.
Here's the thing, your beard is you. It defines you as much as your hair style, your eye colour, your body type... you get the picture. If you don't like the way it looks because it's patchy or thin then rest assured, there are very likely to be things you can do to grow some facial hair and look cool at the same time. First and foremost, for any one with a patchy or thin beard, the number one thing to improve it, is time. Over time your beard will grow thicker, the hairs will grow longer. This will fill in thin parts and "even out" your beard. You'd be surprised how many guys with seemingly full beards actually just have grown-out patchy beards.
In my case, I have two "bald patches" at the point where my chin hair meets my jaw and cheek hair. This is far more obvious when I keep the beard tightly cropped for the "corporate beard", something that I'm currently sporting. When I grow my beard out, it becomes far less visible, but it does mean I'll probably never have a "competition-winning" beard. Do I care? Not a jot. In my case, the patchiness more or less matches on both sides of my face, so there's some symmetry about it. This means it looks less "wonky" than if just one side were affected and it also gives me the option of just growing a goatie - that way no one would ever know about the bald patches.
"First and foremost, for any one with a patchy or thin beard, the number one thing to improve it, is time."
If you're still not convinced about the benefits of time, have a look at these images of Keanu Reeves and one of my favourite actors of all time, Heath Ledger. In the images on the left, their beards are tightly cropped and some patchiness is evident. However, the images on the right show that when their beards were grown out the patchiness is much less noticeable. Another option may be to shape your beard hair in a way that makes the patches less of a problem. To help with shaping, you could try a beard balm that contains waxes to help shape the hair into a position that makes patches less obvious. For stubborn hairs you could try a matte hair pomade for extra hold. What you want to try and do is cover patchy areas with neighbouring beard hairs (a bit like a "comb over" for the face, but hopefully not that obvious). This may be particularly effective if those hairs are sticking straight out from your face instead of laying over it to cover the skin underneath.
Another way to shape the beard is to shave the patchy area. This is especially suitable when the patchiness occurs in the cheek area around the perimeter of the beard. Rather than trying to grow this out or comb neighbouring hair over it (which would require brushing hair into unnatural angles), you could get rid of the thin hair located in the patchy area altogether. This leaves the denser hair to thicken up and no one will ever know there are spots where it doesn't grow as well. To manicure your beard evenly, its best to shave using a clear lubricant like a shave oil, so that you don't end up with a result that makes you look unhinged.
Once you have tried the techniques above, you're left with a few other things that may help a little bit, but are more along the lines of what one might term "one percenters". Products that may help to thicken the hair like a beard oil that is designed to soak into it, a thickening conditioner or hair serum could help the beard look more dense and are a great compliment to growing the beard out and shaping it. Some guys tell me that they dye their beard hair to make it look thicker. This isn't for everybody. If your beard hair is thin, blonde and sparse, then making it darker may just accentuate you inability to grow a lush face bush. Also be aware that dyes used for your head hair aren't the same as ones meant for your beard. You should use the latter if you're going to try this.
Of course, some guys have really big patches, uneven patches or practically no facial hair at all. For them, there isn't a lot that can be done simply via grooming techniques. For those desperate for a fuller beard, there are a couple of medical interventions that may work. However, as with all medical treatments, there are risks and you shouldn't make any decision to go down this path without fully informing yourself of them, ideally in consultation with a doctor. The first intervention, that is practically guaranteed to work if done properly (but extremely invasive), is a hair transplant. If you've got upwards of $8,500 then you too can have a surgeon slice hair from donor regions on your head and body, before plugging them into your face for a genuine, lush beard without thinness or patches. Some may question the sanity of this, but from the interviews I've read, guys that have done it were very happy with the results. Kudos to them.
Another medical option people talk about is minoxidil (found in products like Rogaine and Hair Again). This was originally investigated as a blood pressure medication but through a good measure of serendipity, researchers found it promoted hair growth. It is now used topically by millions of men world wide for male pattern baldness. There are a couple of things to note about this. First, although it seems plausible that it could work, as far as I'm aware, there do not appear to be any studies proving that minoxidil will make your beard grow thicker. It may be a leap of faith to think that it will and the manufacturers do not market minoxidil products in this way. Also note that for hair loss on the head, minoxidil is typically applied twice a day. This is a lot of work. It could also have unwanted side effects because the drug is usually dissolved in an alcohol-based solution. Putting this on your face is likely to dry out the skin and cause irritation. It's also possible that the active drug could be absorbed into your blood stream or you may accidentally ingest some whilst applying it. Do your own homework before venturing down this course.
Aside from the aforementioned medical interventions, there aren't any other potions, lotions or massaging motions that will make a patchy beard look dense and lush - at least not that I've seen. Notwithstanding this, there are a lot of confident claims out there from people who claim they have products that can help. There are too many to cover in this post but if you'd like me to look into any of them, please let me know and I'll give you my opinion, if you want it. Until then, beard on and stay beardiful.
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Author: Ben De Campo