Grooming

On the one hand, it's a symbol of progress. On the other, it's kind of lame.

Why Is There Suddenly So Much Beard Oil Everywhere?

At this moment, I have no fewer than three tiny bottles of beard oil on my desk. The coolest looking one is The Grooming Oil from LAB Series. To highlight its three-in-oneness, it’s layered like a fancy cocktail, with a darker hued oil resting at the bottom. The newest addition to my small collection is from Bulldog, a British grooming company that has just launched in Canada. Earlier today, I received a press release informing me (and, consequently, you) that dippity-do MEN1—the hair gel brand you used to perfect your b4-4 hair spikes in junior high—is “bringing good grooming back” with, among other things, some beard oil. Don’t ask me which brand is best, though. I don’t have enough facial hair to be oiled, but I assume they are all pretty effective at lubricating your beard.

The point is: there are suddenly a lot of beard oils on the market. What was once a kind of niche product has somehow become a staple. Basically, if you make grooming products for men and you don’t offer beard oil, what the hell are you doing, other than throwing all your money and business and dignity out the window? Beard oil is essentially the IPA of grooming products: deceptively simple to make, surprisingly popular, but only honestly appreciated by a small fraction of dudes who are, let’s be honest, kind of insufferable.

What’s odd is that this recent influx in oil has corresponded with a decrease in beards. Granted, I have no hard data to back this up, aside from this 2014 study that claimed society had reached peak beard. That was four years ago. But, it seems right that beards have become less popular. You still see them—Captain America will even be rocking one in the next Avengers flick—but the days of the lumbersexual are, thankfully, over.

Why all the beard oils now, then? Is it simply that it took this long for grooming experts to come up with the ideal mixture of essential oils and fragrances? Were grooming big wigs wary—they’d been burned by the aborted moustache trend of the early aughts, after all—and so they dragged their feet until now? The truth is, it doesn’t matter. Beard oils are here. And while they likely won’t stay, the fact that they exist is a sign that the world is a better, more just, more welcoming, more egalitarian place. Beard oil is a sign of hope.

But I still think beard oil is dumb. Maybe that’s just because I don’t have a beard.

So why are they a sign of hope? Cast your mind back to when the lumbersexual was a constant subject of think pieces. Culture critics liked to talk about how men were growing beards in response to new economic realities that left them feeling less traditionally manly. Beards were like workwear for the face. They let dudes project an image of rough-hewn manliness, even if the only thing they could build was a crisp Old Fashioned or a catchy-as-fuck indie rock hook.

Of course beards complete an image—they don’t complete the man. They are artifice. But what the explosion of beard oils demonstrates is that traditional masculinity is, too. Because here we have these signifiers of strength, individualism, and rugged, carnal earthiness growing on the faces of urban men who just want their beards to be less scratchy, dammit. The existence and popularity of beard oil is a contradiction you can lather all over your face. Something to make looking tough feel softer.

And that’s kind of great, right? Because—say it with me—there is no right way to be a man. And the fact that brands are betting on beard oil proves that more and more of us understand that. It’s all image. It’s all vanity. Identity is a choice.2

Beard oil is a beautiful symbol. And as a symbol, I’m all for it. Try Bulldog! Try LAB Series! Try American Crew (which was the first beard oil I ever tried, back before every brand was mixing up the stuff)! Celebrate the artifice of masculinity and make your face more kissable while you’re at it. Hooray.

On a personal level, though, I can’t help but feel like beard oil is among the many products I classify as solutions looking for a problem. Unless you need to grow a beard for religious reasons, if you find your beard is too itchy—just shave it off. It’s like men using hair straighteners: maybe you just need to cut your hair instead.

Now, that being said, there’s a kind of beauty in its inessentiality, too. Because have you seen how many products are made for women and their hair? We’re a long way from making up for the women’s tax that all females pay when they just want to look presentable (according to society’s standards) but it’s kind of nice that men are being seen as chumps…I mean, consumers…now, too.

This is what equality looks like. How it smells is up to you. But I suggest going for one with notes of sage or sandalwood.

References   [ + ]

1. As if we needed the gender distinction. It’d be like rebranding Vagisil for WOMEN.
2. And obviously, by that I don’t mean gender identity. Although how you present that identity is still a choice, of course. But then, breathing is a choice, too.