Disclosure: This is a genuine DIY beard oil article however it’s been written by one of the scientists at Milkman Grooming Co, a commercial beard oil producer. Even though that’s the case, this isn’t intended to be a spruiking article. This is a serious piece aimed at helping anyone interested to brew their own beard oil at home without a lot of effort or cost.
If you’ve been growing a beard for a while you are no doubt aware of the many benefits of a beard oil. From the conditioning effect it has on your facial hair, to the way it can alleviate itchiness & dryness, beard oils are a god send. On top of that, you can even get a scented beard oil that acts as a cologne, gently wafting fragrance from your man mane all day long. But with prices that typically anywhere between $20-$30 an ounce (and there are versions that go even higher), when times are tight you might want to think about home brewing your own concoction.
A quick look around at commercial beard oils on the net will show several oils that tend to come up over and over again. Unfortunately though, this won’t necessarily tell you how much of that oil has gone into the product, or the reason behind why each was added. It may reveal a number of oils which aren’t readily available & that you wouldn’t buy otherwise because you have no other use for them (not in the kitchen anyway). Jojoba & argan oil come to mind as examples of this. We also suspect that a lot of so-called beard oil manufacturers are actually just washed up marketing grads or salesmen making stuff in their kitchen with no idea what they’re doing. Copying their products could end up lack luster results.
In this article we’ll show you how you can make an effective beard oil at home with ingredients that are readily obtainable. Although it won’t have the polish & refinement of a good commercial brand, it will get the job done at a pinch and if money’s tight, this will tide you over till better days come.
Let’s Get the Science Out of the Way
In broad terms, beard oils should be blended so they have a combination of absorbing & filming properties. The former means that the oil will absorb into the skin & hair, alleviating dryness & conditioning it. The latter means that the oil will provide a thin barrier around the hair & skin to lock in moisture & to reduce irritation from hairs rubbing against the skin (which is a problem particularly affecting new beards).
Unfortunately, unlike burgers from McDonalds, not all oils are built the same. In fact, they can vary markedly in their ability to absorb into the skin or form a barrier. At the extremes you’ve got castor oil which barely absorbs at all but will sit on your beard like an oil slick, whilst coconut oil gets sucked up into the hair faster than the clothes come off at a Miley Cyrus concert. Many other oils tend to be somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Oils also vary in terms of their density & “stickiness”. You’ll find olive oil & castor oil will tend to feel dense and sticky whereas safflower oil & grapeseed oil feel lighter.
The reason for these differences is due to the relative concentrations of fat molecules (called lipids) in the oil. Generally oils are made up of “families” of molecules such as triglycerides, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
One key to whether or not an oil penetrates into the hair is the amount of triglyceride and short-chain fatty acids it contains – as well as how the components of the triglyceride are arranged. The fat molecules need to be small in order to penetrate the hair, but that's not the only indicator of good absorption ability. Another factor can be the polarity (electrostatic charge) of the oil. Although oils are non-polar there are some triglyceride components that are slightly positively charged and are therefore actively pulled into the hair by their negatively charged proteins.
Furthermore, monounsaturated lipids tend to be better at penetrating your hair than polyunsaturated lipids. This is because the former are small linear molecules that penetrate the hair more deeply whereas the larger polyunsaturated lipids are more likely to film on the outer layers of hair as they’re less compact and more branching. If your beard needs a good amount of softening and moisturising (most beards do), the deeper-penetrating oils are a better choice. However, if your beard is easier to maintain in good condition, having filming oils that only reside in and on the outermost layers of the hair follicles is still going to give you benefits. The trick is to get the mix between both fairly balanced so you can have the best of both worlds, no matter what your beard type.
Here’s a table that we've combined using information from wikipedia and at http://science-yhairblog.blogspot.com.au/ - we can’t guarantee the accuracy of the data, but it does accord with our understanding and even though it does not have all the information we’d like for each oil, it’ll be a great reference for our DIY concoction. It shows just how different oils are with respect to their saturated, mono-unsaturated & poly-unsaturated fatty acids (presented as approximate amount of fatty acid (in grams) per 100 g of oil - note that this doesn't always add up to 100% because oils can contain other molecules).
Oils with high
|Palm Kernel Oil||83||15||2|
Oils with some
|Sweet Almond Oil||5||70||25|
Oils with little to no
|Rice Bran Oil||25||38||37|
Now for the Recipe
The first thing to note is that there is no exact science as to what makes a great beard oil. Everyone’s skin & hair is different so what works brilliantly for one person may not be as good for someone else. Having said that, we’re not going to throw out the science altogether and that’s why we started this article by discussing some of it – it’s critical to getting an acceptable result.
We’ve seen guys on beard-related forums saying things like “I just use olive oil and my beard is perfect”. It sounds like a potentially reasonable proposition except when you look at the science it turns out it’s might not be a great idea. When we went to work formulating our shave oil a few months ago we discovered a clinical study published in Paediatric Dermatology (2013) which found that daily topical application of olive oil caused significant redness and damage to the outer lay of skin of adult volunteers after 4 weeks. Understandably our preference is to leave out oils that have the potential to damage the skin after prolonged use so olive oil is out.
There are however other oils you could use and we suggest you do use because:
- They’re easily accessible and can be used for other things so if you buy half a litre of the stuff you can use it for cooking your steak as well. We’re looking at oils you can obtain easily at a decent local supermarket, not a specialty supplier from the internet or elsewhere. We're also interested in oils that have a relatively good shelf life. Unfortunately some food grade oils (like hemp) tend to go rancid more easily so we'll leave them out.
- They aren’t too expensive. Let’s face it if you’re going to DIY beard oil instead of buying a professionally formulated one then you’re probably doing it to save some money. Sure you can get jojoba, argan oil, hemp seed oil and other exotic oils but you’ll have to pay more for them than the one’s we’d suggest. At that point you may as well just go ahead a buy a quality beard oil & save yourself some time.
- When used in combination they give a good balance between filming & absorption. Yes, you may also see guys on forums saying “I just buy pure argan oil and it does wonders” but we’d seriously query claims like that. We’ve tried using pure argan oil from our lab and although it does do a good job softening & moisturising it leaves the beard with one hell of a greasy shine. Not the best or most natural look to have. Don’t get us wrong, argan oil is great, but it isn’t the be all and end all – in fact this will be a topic for another post.
Without further ado, here’s a home brew beard oil recipe that we suggest, if you find it doesn’t work for you, you may find small variations in the formula (a little more of this, a little less of that) will give better results – like we said (as with all cosmetics) it’s different for everyone.
To make it as easy as possible, you’ll need equal parts of the following (no need to measure different amounts of this and that):
- Grapeseed oil – super easy to find & a profile that is very similar to the skins natural oils (sebum). A beard oil is a skin product as much as a hair product so this is a fantastic choice to include in the recipe. If you have some left over it also makes a brilliant deep frying oil as it has a high smoke point. This oil is also pretty high in vitamin E so it will be stable for quite some time (see further discussion of vitamin E & oxidation below).
- Coconut oil – this is one of the best oils for absorbing into the hair and if you see a commercial beard oil without coconut oil you’ve got to question the quality. There has been scientific research demonstrating that this stuff absorbs beautifully into the hair. It’s very high concentration of triglycerides is no doubt an important factor here. At room temp coconut oil is a solid so you’ll need to heat it up briefly in the microwave first.
- Avocado oil – another really great oil that will help with that dry skin (aka “beardruff”). Do a search on Google and you’ll find an unbelievable amount of people testifying as to how great this oil has been for their skin. It’s also packed with vitamin E and it's great as a salad dressing so if there’s some left over, chuck it on the wife’s / girlfriend’s salad.
- Sunflower oil – will help to lighten up the formulation so it’s not too greasy and like coconut oil it absorbs really well into the hair.
As to how much you make, that’s up to you. At most we’d suggest just making 100 ml (3.5 ounces) of the stuff because a little bit goes a long way. It’s also easy to measure with kitchen utensils. To get 25 ml you need one tablespoon (15 ml) and two teaspoons (5 ml each) of oil. Having said that, if you make more you can always give them away as gifts.
To give you an idea of cost, we’ve found each of these oils at Coles online (we’re in Australia). To buy now (in 2015) you’ll pay approximately 35 cents for 25 ml grapeseed oil, 35 cents for 25 ml of coconut oil, $1.15 for 25 ml of extra virgin avocado oil and 10 cents for 25 ml of sunflower oil. For 100 ml that’s a total spend of $1.95 – BARGAIN!
The following two things are optional, they’ll make the formulation better but if you leave them out it’s not the end of the world.
- Natural Vitamin E – grab a bottle from your pharmacy and, if you can, crack open a 1000 IU tablet (or equivalent) for every 100 ml (~3.5 ounce) of beard oil you make up. If you put a bit more or less in it won’t matter. One of the biggest enemies to the other oils is oxidation. By adding some vitamin E (which is a really good antioxidant) you’re helping your DIY beard oil to have a longer shelf life. Make sure that you get the natural vitamin E though as the synthetic version doesn’t have the same anti-oxidant activity.
- Essential Oil – although they’ll add to the cost, some essential oil can help you to fragrance your concoction in the manner of your choosing. To keep it easy, look on ebay and you’ll see a tonne of manly essential oil fragrances like sandalwood, cedar, peppermint, bergamot & blood orange. You can even combine different fragrances for a more complex scent, just make sure you test them out before adding to your beard oil. To avoid skin irritation we’d recommend you keep the essential oil concentration to between 1-2 % of your total volume (so 1 to 2 ml per 100 ml of beard oil). If you do add essential oils we also recommend you patch test the final product to make sure you aren’t sensitive / allergic to it, before putting it on your face.
How to Package Your New Creation
Once you’ve made your beard oil you’ll need to store it in something. Although you might be short of money, it’s not a good idea to use an old jam jar. We recommend a simple brown boston bottle with dropper because it will keep sunlight from damaging your oil and provide a convenient way to dispense just the right amount for your beard. These bottles are easy to obtain. We found these four 50 ml bottles on Ebay for $20 bucks. For most blokes, that’s a year’s supply & possibly also a gift for dad.
What you’ll end up with
Once you’ve mixed the oils together (along with the optional vitamin E / essential oil) and bottled them you’ll have a very capable beard oil considering what you spend on it. You’ll also probably have a lot of oil left over which you can use to wrestle with your partner or to deep fry potatoes. All you need to do now is dispense a few drops into your hand and rub through your beard daily (working it into the skin against the grain and then patting it back down). This is best done with a clean beard after a shower.
Will you get the same results or complexity of fragrance as a commercial beard oil that’s been tried & tested on thousands of beardsman? Probably not, but then you aren’t paying anywhere near as much. It begs the question, why are commercial oils so much more expensive compared to what you can do at home. Well for one thing, they should use cosmetic grade oils which are more expensive than what you get at the supermarket. They should be using a more sophisticated balance of oils that include some which aren’t easily obtainable at your local shops (jojoba, argan etc). They should also be using a descent variety of essential oils and/or other fragrances so that the final product has a complex and alluring fragrance. Lastly, they should have a branding that looks great on your bathroom cabinet and makes you proud to have your own sexy bottle of thoughtfully formulated & beautifully scented beard broth. All of these things cost money (and so does the convenience of not having to do it yourself) so that’s why you’ll pay more than the DIY route.
DIY or commercial, no matter what path you choose you’re miles ahead of what you would be without a beard oil. It is truly one of the great inventions for the beardsman and it’s not likely to fade away any time soon. Happy bearding and stay beardiful.