How to Get Perfect Beard Stubble
This is the GQ guide to stubble maintenance. It’s not just about running a trimmer over your chin and cheeks every third day—there’s much more that goes into it if you're taking it seriously. If you don't take precautions, you can end up with dry skin and beard itch on the regular. So follow these steps and give your stubble the TLC it deserves.
1. Pick your weapon
This is the endless beard trimmer vs electric shaver debate.
Since different guys grow their hair at different lengths, and since you might not be able to tend to your whiskers every single night, it’s often smart to arm yourself with both close-shave devices: an electric shaver and a beard trimmer. Or maybe you know which one you need more than the other. Still, it’s safe to have both ready to go.
The logic here goes several ways: You can shave with an electric shaver at night, if your stubble grows fast and full enough to cover the face by morning. It’s also good for cleaning up the neckline and cheek lines, which you’ll read about later in this article.
If your hair is less dense and you prefer to wear stubble a couple millimeters from the skin, you’ll want to have a trusty beard trimmer for the task. They’re adjustable in length—some offering as many as 20 length options—and a naked trimmer guard can snip the hair to a barely-noticeable half-millimeter above the skin. (If your whiskers grow fast and full, you can also opt for a bedtime “shave” with a naked trimmer, or with the guard head on its lowest setting.) If you don’t expect to trim every day, or if you only need to trim every few days, this device will be helpful in many more ways than an electric shaver.
2. Learn your optimal length
You probably already know how quickly your hair grows. With this in mind, it’s your responsibility to maintain the length you want (or the acceptable range of lengths, if you’re not trimming daily). The best way to do this is to first know exactly the length you prefer to have. A beard trimmer is your best device for this: You can adjust the guard to various lengths and work your way backwards, getting shorter and shorter until you love one length in particular.
If you realise it too late—as in, you wish you had stopped on the previous half-millimeter increment—then you only need to wait a day (or two, or less) to get back there. If you don’t want to shave daily, it might be smart to shave half a millimeter less than your optimal length the night before you want to showcase it. Then you probably have a day or two of perfect stubble before you need to trim it again.
And that’s the game. Know your length. Let’s say it’s 2 mm. Trim it to 1.5 at night, and then trim it again when it gets to 2.5, whenever that may be.
3. Be creative
Here’s where things get more complex: Your optimal stubble might in fact be two different lengths, or perhaps more than that. A weighted, millimeter-longer mustache often nicely contrasts a slightly shorter beard. (Get some inspiration from a few well-styled celebrity beards, then apply the same art to your stubble.) Conversely, some guys look sharp with a slightly shorter mustache and a millimeter more around the chin. It’s a nice way to pull attention to or from certain features.
And, since this isn’t a full 3-month’s growth we’re experimenting with, you can go ahead and try a new style each night that you trim. Just snip the beard to it’s usual spot, and leave the ‘stache slightly longer. If you don’t care for it, just bring the mustache down to the same length. A couple days later, try it again in reverse, this time with a weighted beard or even goatee.
4. Mind the borders
Regardless of creativity and your interest in “stubble styling”, you ab-so-lute-ly have to keep the cheek and neck lines clean. This is why you still need an electric razor, or a beard trimmer with a clean T-blade or naked-guard shave. (Or a regular razor will suffice, but of course.) Your whiskers don’t grow in a perfectly flattering row, and the easiest way to show people that your stubble is intentional is to have a sharp contrast between your two-day whiskers and your bare skin. This will also give your whiskers shape, the same way it helps define a beard.
You can trim your cheeks in whatever way you like; usually it’s obvious to see where the whiskers start dispersing and where your natural beard line ends. Just shave anything above that point. As for the neck, it’s a universal rule: Imagine a ‘U’ shape that sits an inch above the Adam’s apple and meets behind each ear. When you look at your reflection, this is essentially the point where the underside of your head meets the neck. Shave everything below this line, forever and always, unless you grow a beard more than a few inches. (At that point a neckline is indiscernible.)
5. Feed the beard
Even small beards need nourishment. In fact, since those bristles are too short to bend (thus arming you with sandpaper skin), they need to be softened and hydrated more than ever. That’s why beard oils and moisturizers are imperative. Oils absorb quickly into the hair and skin, delivering nutrients and hydration so that the skin stays strong and the hair stays nimble. Moisturisers hydrate the outermost layers of the skin, but are also effective at hydrating and softening whiskers from the root.
If you want to apply an oil in addition to a moisturizer, always apply it first, since the heavier product (in this case, the cream or balm), needs to be layered on top. If you have to pick one or the other, stick with a moisturiser, since it’s more defensive against outside threats like toxins (and UV rays, if it’s got SPF). It’s more important to consider your whole face (and your anti-aging skincare regimen) even when countering stubborn stubble.
One rule of thumb is that, the longer the whiskers, the less they’ll harm others. Medium-length scruff will likely itch more than super-short stubble, since it has started to furl back towards the skin. You can’t have it perfect either way, but oils and moisturisers will always fortify the skin and soften the whiskers.