Within the vast treasure trove of beard and grooming products are found two crown jewels: beard oil and beard balm. However, they can sometimes be difficult to tell apart at first glance—especially since both products work to condition and moisturize the beard.
So, what’s the difference, and which one should you plunder? Though oil and balm share a common purpose, their ingredients, applications, and benefits are fundamentally different. Ultimately, beard oil only moisturizes the beard hairs, while beard balm moisturizes both the hairs and the skin underneath.
Now, belay that first thought: While you might be tempted to snatch the beard balm after hearing that “two-in-one is always better”—right?—you might be better off with the beard oil. In the end, the right beard product you choose comes down to your beard, your skin, your preferences, and the product itself.
It may seem like a lot to think about, but don’t worry! By the end of this short guide, you’ll be on course to finding the best beard oil and balm for your (black)beard.
Why We Condition Our Beards
As many a pirate—and, frankly, many a sailor—has sported a long, scraggly beard, it’s easy to think that they simply don’t condition them at all: Perhaps the combination of sea spray, sweat, and rum is enough for the job. While it’s safe to assume that the sea spray, sweat, and rum definitely help, any sailor worth their salt knows that using a conditioner is essential.
Whether it’s an oil or balm, using a beard conditioner is crucial for protecting your whiskers while keeping your skin hydrated and clean. Both products moisturize and nourish beard hairs, with beard balms performing double-duty to moisturize the skin underneath. In doing so, beard conditioners help:
- Prevent dandruff (or “beard-ruff”)
- Prevent itchiness
- Prevent dry, broken beard hairs
- Keep the skin clean and moisturized
- Make styling easier
However, some conditioners do some of these tasks better than others; it all comes down to the ingredients and type. Maintain a course to learn more about beard oil and beard balms and choose which one you should use on your scraggly ol’ mane.
What Does Beard Oil Do?
The first stop on our beard conditioner course is beard oil. Beard oil is probably the most widely known beard grooming product, and it’s exactly what it sounds like: oil for beards. However, there’s a bit more to it than that.
Beard Oil Ingredients
Beard oil isn’t just oil: It’s a rich combination of at least two types of oil, often with added vitamins and fragrances. Each ingredient plays an important role in conditioning your beard.
- Carrier Oils: These oils do most of the work when it comes to conditioning and nourishing your beard hairs. Common carrier oils include argan oil, grapeseed oil, and jojoba oil—among many others. Carrier oils also help moisturize the skin and help prevent itchiness and skin flaking—i.e., beard dandruff—which are especially common problems in new beards.
- Essential Oils: Essential oils perform some of the work of carrier oils but are typically added to provide fragrance and, in some cases, vitamins and additional nutrients. For the most part, though, essential oils provide the vast array of pleasant scents you’ll need to keep the smell of the bilge at bay.
- Vitamins: Some beard oils also contain vitamins essential for beard and skin health, the most common being vitamin E. In any case, a few drops of vitamin oil are usually included.
While so much oil might make beard oil seem better suited for greasing the capstans than greasing your beard—and let’s be honest, it could do both—it’s lighter than you might think, and it’s easier to use than a pocket telescope.
Using Beard Oil
Beard oil is fairly straightforward to use: Simply massage a small amount into your beard and you’re on your way. If you’ve only just become a pirate—i.e., are just starting a beard—then you’ll want to pay special attention to make sure enough reaches your skin so that you can prevent itching and flakiness. Of course, even those with advanced beards should follow this principle and make sure to get even and thorough coverage.
Despite the many beard oil benefits, beard oil isn’t necessarily a styling product. Though just a few dabs of oil might be enough to help coax some beards that don’t usually need a styling product, most beards won’t be able to be styled—think handlebar mustache—with just beard oil alone.
Thankfully, there’s an alternative for the more stylistically minded: beard balm.
What Does Beard Balm Do?
Beard balm shares many of the same ingredients and benefits as beard oil, only it also includes additional moisturizers and a “holding” ingredient such as beeswax. As a result, beard balm benefits from additional moisturization and styling ability, though it’s also noticeably thicker than beard oil.
Beard Balm Ingredients
Beard balm contains the same ingredients as beard oil, but with the addition of extra moisturizers (butter) and holding agents (beeswax):
- Carrier Oils: These oils still work double-duty to moisturize beard hairs and the skin underneath.
- Essential Oils: In addition to providing a great scent, some essential oils also have antifungal properties that will help keep both your beard and your skin healthy long after styling.
- Vitamins: The usual suspects (vitamin E).
- Butter: No, we’re not talking about the same now-rancid butter that’s been sitting in the back of the galley for four months. Here, natural butter such as shea butter works to provide additional moisturization, which is especially useful for thick or styled beards that might need a little extra moisturizing.
- Beeswax: Beeswax not only helps style even the most untamed beards but it also works as an additional layer of protection, especially against moisture and cold temperatures—sailors in northern waters take note. However, most beard balms use only a very light amount, allowing it to be worked into the beard comfortably.
While it may seem like the butter and beeswax would make a thick, goopy paste, most beard balms are very light and easy to work with.
Using Beard Balm
Only slightly thicker than beard oil, beard balm is just as easy to work into the beard: Simply massage into your beard, enjoying the warm fragrance while ensuring even, thorough coverage. Once you’ve put in the right amount—less than you think!—use a beard brush and/or beard comb to style to your heart’s content.
Looks like Patchy will have some competition at this month’s shipboard beard-off.
Beard Oil and Beard Balm Compared
If you’re still on the fence—or “on the bulwark” in pirate speak—about which product to try, you’re not alone: Many newcomers to beard grooming aren’t sure either. While we’ve covered a lot of material here, there are three big points to walk (or sail) away with:
1. If you want hold and styling, choose a beard balm.
Beard balm has the extra holding agents and moisturizers to style and protects even the rowdiest of beards—unfortunately, beard oil simply won’t cut it in most cases. So, if you want style, choose a beard balm!
2. If you want to condition and moisturize, choose a beard oil.
If you don’t want extra styling or hold, beard oil is the perfect solution. Acting more as a conditioner than anything else, beard oil moisturizes and nourishes your beard and skin—no more, no less. This property also helps avoid the uncomfortable itching and flaking commonly encountered when people first start their beard voyage.
3. If you’re still unsure … just try both!
There’s only one true way to know which product is for you: try both. Most beard oils and balms come in small, affordable formats, allowing you to try both without sacrificing too much of your plunder. Plus, if you find one you prefer, you’ll have the other as a backup or for when you’re feeling a change of course.
Navigating to the Right Product
While there’s plenty of beard oils and beard balms to choose from, not all are made equal. Here at Blackship Grooming Co., we’ve opened our hold wide to provide you with a selection of beard oils, beard balms, and shaving equipment to keep that ol’ mane of yours looking prettier than a clean deck mop.