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Getting into beard care can be intimidating given all the products. How’s a guy supposed to just know what he wants or needs or what each product is good for? Even the two products men likely see first, beard balm and beard oil, raise those questions.
Does a guy need both? Is one better than the other? We’re here to clear up the basic questions around beard balm vs oil. That’s why we reached out to Chris Brownless, barber extraordinaire and owner of North West Barber Co in the U.K. He helped explain the differences between the two and when it’s best to turn to one or the other.
Beard Oil vs Balm: What Is Beard Oil?
Beard oil is, unsurprisingly, oil or a blend of oils to moisturize your beard and keep it healthy. It does for beards what conditioner does for hair. The liquid oils can be spread throughout your beard and skin with minimal effort, and they easily penetrate hair and skin, helping prevent beard dandruff and leaving your hair soft and smooth.
“Beard oil is great for adding moisture to your beard and skin and a great way of wearing a fragrance too,” Brownless told SPY. “Growing a beard sucks moisture and nutrients from your skin, so keeping it healthy under that beard is really important.”
Whether your beard is long or short, straight, curly, wiry, whatever, beard oil will soften and hydrate hair and skin and reduce itchiness and flakiness. Depending on the oils, beard oils can be scented and unscented too.
Some of the most common and popular beards include argan oil, jojoba oil and coconut oil.
Beard Balm vs Oil: What Is Beard Balm?
If beard oil is the conditioner of beard products, beard balm would be the pomade. Like pomade, beard balm is thick in texture and often uses something like beeswax as the base ingredient. At the same time, beard balms also use some of the same oils in beard oils to moisturize hair and skin. This gives beard balm the dual benefits of styling and continuous hydrating, like a leave-in conditioner.
“Beard balm is great for taming and controlling unruly or longer beards. Being heavier than a beard oil means it can add a styling element to wearing a beard product,” Brownless said. “Use it to control flyaways and create a solid shape while reaping all the moisturizing benefits of a beard oil.”
However, beard balm is not as easy to spread throughout your whole beard as beard oil.
Like beard oils, beard balms also come in scented and unscented varieties.
Best Beard Oils
1. Fulton & Roark Blue Ridge Formula 5 Beard Oil
Fulton & Roark makes some of the best solid cologne, but it also makes one of the best beard oils too.
With a sandalwood, sage and amber fragrance as well as a lightweight, fast-absorbing formula, the Blue Ridge Formula 5 Beard Oil will make short work of dry, itchy beard skin while leaving your beard smelling fantastic. It can also be used as a pre-shave oil, scalp moisturizer, dry skin treatment and even hair styling product.
In fact, we love it so much that it was our best beard oil of 2021 in our SPY Man Awards. You really can’t go wrong with it no matter what kind of beard you have.
We love the Blue Ridge fragrance, but you can get the beard oil in six other fragrances if you prefer other notes.
2. Bevel Beard Oil
For an overall great beard oil, check out Bevel Beard Oil. You only get 1 ounce but you don’t need much to get the effects of this oil. It’ll take care of dryness, frizz and breakage as well as soothe your skin, leaving your face and beard just plain feeling better.
3. Pura d’Or Beard Oil
Pura d’Or makes our favorite hair-loss shampoo and it also makes one of the best beard oils. The Pura d’Or Beard Oil will make your itchy, scruff beard a thing of the past courtesy of its certified organic argan and jojoba oils. Even better, it comes with 4 ounces of beard oil, double the typical 2 ounces of most bottles.
If you’re not sold on the Bevel Beard Oil, the Pura d’Or Beard Oil is an excellent alternative, whether it’s your first beard oil or your 10th.
The only negative thing to note is the viscosity of the oil. It’s a bit thin, which can make it run a little more than we’d like. But as long as you don’t use too much and rub the oil in thoroughly, it’s not a problem.
4. King C. Gillette Beard Oil
King C. Gillette sent us its beard grooming line a while back and we’ve had plenty of time to test out the King C. Gillette Beard Oil. Our conclusion? This is an overall solid beard oil suitable for any beard. Like most beard oils, it didn’t work any miracles, but the combo of argan, jojoba, avocado and macadamia oils definitely left our beards and skin feeling softer and just plain better.
5. Honest Amish Classic Beard Oil
MOST POPULAR ON AMAZON
The Honest Amish Classic Beard Oil won’t let you down and has been the go-to beard oil for thousands of Amazon shoppers for years.. You get 2 ounces of oil, and the oil consists of eight organic essential oils to condition your beard hair and soothe irritated skin. There’s a slight fragrance, but it doesn’t linger very long unless you use too much oil. Overall, this beard oil just works and will leave your beard shiny, hydrated and healthy.
6. Cantu Men’s Shea Butter Beard Oil
Everybody loves expensive organic oils and whatnot, but a beard oil doesn’t need to be “premium” or pricey to effectively condition your beard.
The Cantu Men’s Shea Butter Beard Oil isn’t even aiming for that. It’s cheap, it’s plentiful and the shea butter, tea tree oil, olive oil and more all help hydrate your beard and skin.
If you’re not fussy about branding or having pricey organic ingredients, the Cantu beard oil delivers a healthy beard at a price almost anyone can afford.
7. Live Bearded Straight Up Unscented Beard Oil
Live Bearded’s line of beard grooming products has been one of our favorites for our long time for their solid quality and reliable effectiveness. If you prefer an unscented beard oil, the Live Bearded Straight Up Beard Oil will be perfect for you. Not too thick, not too thin, this oil is just right to easily work into your beard for fast comfort and light styling.
8. Uppercut Deluxe Beard Oil
For his two cents, Brownless recommended the Uppercut Deluxe Beard Oil for most guys. “It’s a lot lighter than traditional beard oils and is therefore easier to apply,” he said. “It’s got argan oil, which is a great moisturizer for both beard hair and skin, as well as rosemary oil, which stimulates the skin and helps control any irritation.” Plus, it doesn’t hurt that it smells great, with a masculine patchouli and leather fragrance.
Best Beard Balms
1. Badass Beard Care Beard Balm
Badass Beard Care Beard Balm has been one of our favorite beard balms for a while. Shea butter and cocoa butter deliver the moisture and conditioning your beard needs while beeswax gives you a light-to-medium hold to style your beard and tame flyaways. You can get one of many different fragrances, but we like the Ladies Man beard balm for its sweet citrus scent.
2. King C. Gillette Soft Beard Balm
We’ve checked the new King C. Gillette grooming line and it’s a great grooming set overall. In particular, the King C. Gillette Soft Beard Balm is fairly priced and unbelievably easy to use.
Unlike most beard balms, there’s no wax in the King C. Gillette balm. Instead, it relies more on things like shea butter, cocoa butter and argan oil, which makes it much more workable and spreadable. That means you can use it like a rinsable beard mask or you can leave it for continuous softening throughout the day.
Lastly, this stuff smells awesome and masculine, like bergamot, geranium and cedarwood.
In every way that matters, this is a very reliable and usable beard balm.
3. Every Man Jack Beard Balm
With rejuvenating tea tree oil and shea butter and an amazing sandalwood fragrance, the Every Man Jack Beard Balm is a great choice to hydrate and tame your beard. Just make sure to work it in your hands beforehand because it starts off a little gritty. Once you’ve done that, it spreads and soothes as easily as any other beard balm.
4. Old Spice Beard Balm for Men
That’s right, the classic Old Spice fragrance you know and love is available in a beard balm, and it’s one of the cheapest beard balms out there. If you want the smell of Old Spice in your beard, now’s your chance.
5. Honest Amish Beard Balm
MOST POPULAR ON AMAZON
We’d be remiss for not mentioning the Honest Amish Beard Balm alongside the Honest Amish Beard Oil. Both have been among the most popular beard products on Amazon for years because they’re simple and effective. With a bevy of fruit and nut butters, this balm has no trouble conditioning and controlling your beard.
6. Bulldog Original Beard Balm
BEST FOR A LIGHT HOLD AND CONDITIONING
For a creamier, more conditioner-like beard balm, check out the Bulldog Original Beard Balm. Because it doesn’t use beeswax or an equivalent binding agent, its consistency is more like a lotion, which helps it absorb into hairs and skin faster and better.
7. Duke Cannon Supply Co. Big Bourbon Beard Balm
HIGHLY RATED ON AMAZON
You don’t want to rely only on ratings when determining what to buy, but they are a useful signal, especially when they’re so positive. That’s the case with the Duke Cannon Supply Co. Big Bourbon Beard Balm. Reviewers praised the Buffalo Trace bourbon-inspired fragrance and even the dudes with some gripes still praised the balm’s overall softening and conditioning abilities.
However, a few users said the balm will melt in hot conditions, so there is a minor risk of losing some balm during delivery. But that’s a pretty small risk overall and we think Duke Cannon’s beard balm is worth it.
8. Grave Before Shave Bay Rum Beard Balm
BEST BAY RUM FRAGRANCE
Grave Before Shave Bay Rum Beard Balm is one beard balm you won’t want to miss. Notable mostly for its Caribbean-reminding Bay Rum fragrance, it’s also a great conditioner and styler thanks to various oils, vitamin E, aloe vera, shea butter and beeswax.
Whether you want it for the fragrance or the beard conditioning, this beard balm will take care of your beard.
9. Live Bearded Straight Up Unscented Beard Butter
Beard butters exist somewhere between beard oils and beard balms but they offer the same kinds of conditioning and control. The Live Bearded Straight Up Beard Butter is a perfect unscented exemplar. Made with jojoba and other oils as well as shea butter, this beard butter will easily control and upgrade your beard, leaving it feeling so much better.
10. American Provenance Beard Balm
American Provenance sent us some of their beard balms a while back and they worked really well for us. Even with a longer, wiry beard, the American Provenance Beard Balm had no problem taming and conditioning our beard hairs. Plus, all of the brand’s products are made right here in the U.S., so if you want a great beard balm and to buy American, look no further.
Which Is Better? How Are They Different? Who Is Each Product For?
Neither is better, and both have different uses, depending on your beard situation.
“Beard oil can be used in any length of beard (even stubble!), whereas beard balm is better in mid-long length beards,” Brownless said. “Think of beard balm as a moisturizer for the skin and hair and a styling product for your beard… Beard oil is best for anyone who wants light control for their beard with a bit of natural shine and plenty of benefits for the skin/hair.”
He added that beard balms can also be a nice option for those with oily skin who don’t wish to add more oil in the form of a beard oil.
Ultimately, they’re both trying to improve the health of your beard, they just go about in different ways. “They both share common goals, to treat your skin and beard hair and boost their condition, but generally use different ingredients to do so. Beard oil adds shine to your beard, while beard balm generally keeps it looking more natural,” Brownless said.
If you’re just looking to maintain the general health of your beard and skin, don’t need much styling and don’t mind a bit of shine, go for beard oils. They’re lightweight, help keep the underlying beard skin comfortable and healthy, which will promote a healthy beard in turn, and offer basic beard styling.
If you’re looking for a little more styling and hold due to a longer beard as well as more targeted hydration and a matte finish, go for beard balm. The waxes and butters that frequently appear in beard balms offer that extra degree of hold so you can use a beard brush and beard comb to style.
What Should I Buy if I Only Want One?
We wanted to get an expert answer here and, perhaps unsurprisingly, Brownless said it boils down to personal preference and your beard’s needs. “There are no hard and fast rules here,” he said. “If you’ve got a long beard that needs some control, beard balm is for you. If you’ve got a really short beard, oil is going to be better. Anything in between, I’d try both and see what works for you.”
Speaking from personal experience, we’re inclined to agree. For us, we find using beard oil is better to keep our skin hydrated and comfortable while beard balms are better for the beard itself, like for taming flyaways or hydrating dry strands.
In any case, there’s room for both in any Dopp kit, so we rounded up some of the best beard oils and some of the best beard balms below. Whatever your needs, if you don’t have either of them, we beg you to get at least one, if not both. Whatever you land with, it’ll change your beard’s life for the better.
If you have questions about application, jump to the bottom for a few tips from us and Brownless.
How Can I Apply Beard Balms and Beard Oils for Best Results?
Whether beard balm or beard oil, make sure to apply to a freshly cleaned and dried beard. If you have a particularly long beard that takes forever to dry out, Brownless recommended using a hair dryer to make sure your beard is dry.
Both products should be warmed up in your fingers beforehand, especially beard balms, which will break down into a more oily substance when rubbed in your hands. Once you’ve got your beard prepped and products in hand, all you have to do is thoroughly massage the product into your skin and beard. “Make sure you rub it deep into your beard and your skin,” Brownless advised. “Use your fingertips to massage the product all the way through to your chin and stimulate the skin while applying the product.”