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Combing beard against the grain – good or bad?

Combing a beard is one of the most fundamental acts of maintaining your beard. Although, there are some very simple questions that can arise from this seemingly basic task. One of these questions is all about the direction in which you should comb your beard: combing beard against the grain – is it a good or bad thing? If you scour the Internet for an answer to this question you will find a range of different answers. So, it can be pretty hard to know what you’re meant to do. In this article, we are going to look at all of the different ways of growing a beard and I will share with you the best way to comb a beard whether it is long or short.

Combing against the grain of your beard can be a useful tool for getting out persistent knots, adding volume to your beard, and drying the beard before styling it with the grain of the growth. Used properly it can be something that can add that extra little pizzazz to your beard.

One of the common issues is that people don’t understand what a beard grain is or how to find the grain of your beard. Let’s take a look at that issue now.

Brush against the grain meaning

As your hair grows it naturally lies in one position. That position is determined by the angle of the hair follicle at the point that it leaves your skin. It is common for hairs on the face to be lying in a load of different directions. For example, the hair on your cheek may grow down while the hair on your neck may grow across your neck. If you want to know more about hair position and its effect on cowlicks check out my other article beard cowlicks – the ultimate guide – click here.

The direction that the hair is growing is what we call “the grain”.

When you have stubble this is easy to identify because if you run your fingers over your skin in one direction the hair will feel smooth and in the other direction it will feel rough and spiky. The direction in which it feels rough and spikelet is said to be going against the grain. This is because you are stroking against the natural position of the hairs on your face.

When a beard is long it can naturally lie in a downwards position because of the weight of the hair. This typically happens after about 3 inches of beard growth. In this instance brushing against the grain means brushing upwards and out. I.e. against the natural direction of the hair.

When your beard is longer there are a number of reasons why you would want to brush upwards and outwards including:

  • distributing beard oil better – sometimes you have to brush upwards to distribute the beard oil evenly throughout your beard and to get it to the roots.
  • adding volume to parts of your face where there is little hair – brushing outwards and upwards gives an added boost to your thickness and can be followed up with a light downwards brushing to make sure that it doesn’t look frizzy.
  • getting to persistent knots – sometimes hair knots are found right deep under the neck and in other places brushing upwards and outwards allow you to get to those areas.
  • To find hairs that are significantly longer than others – sometimes I brush my sideburns upwards and outwards because it allows me to see where the super longhairs are and where the hairs need to be trimmed.
  • Drying – if you have a really thick beard and you need to get to the depths of its to dry properly (no one likes a musty smelling beard) you can brush upwards while blow drying your hair to dry it out from the roots.

Brushing against the grain is something that every beard growth can use to achieve a few of the important looks and qualities of a good looking beard. Let’s take a look at the best way you should comb a beard and at what stage during the beard combing process you should consider combing your beard against the grain.

Best way to comb a beard

The best way to comb a beard depends on whether or not it is long or short. In this section we are going to go over the best ways that you can comb your beard and the caveats for if you have long or short beard hairs.

When you should start combing your beard?

There is no strict rule about when you should start combing your beard but if you can pass a comb or brush through your beard then it is time to start brushing your beard.

When your beard is short the brushing will help keep the skin healthy and distribute the sebum (the natural oils on your skin) evenly across your short beard. Brushing your beard does not stimulate beard growth but it can help stimulate blood flow in certain regions. It will also help get rid of any beard downdraught that may be lurking underneath the short hair.

When your beard is long brushing it is a no-brainer. You should be brushing your beard often with a good quality comb or brush. Making sure that you use the right brush for the length of your hair is going to be one of the most important factors which determines how successful your beard grooming will be.

Choosing the right brush or comb for your beard is so important.

1. Choose the right brush

Choosing the right brush for your beard length is the first thing you should consider when thinking about brushing or combing your beard. It will also mean that as you are combing your beard against the grain a certain amount of torsional stress will be placed on your hair.

If you use a hard comb, such as one made out of plastic, you can damage your hair by forcing it into a direction that it does not want to go in. On the other hand, if you use a soft bristle brush, your beard hair will be able to resist the brushing and it will remove the harsh effects that you can get from plastic or wooden combs by yielding to the hair a little bit more.

Here is the simple break down of the brushes and combs you need for different lengths of hair:

You should check out my recommended tools page for your beard so that you know what the best comb and brushes are – click here.

There are some really important tools that you should consider buying for your beard and I have a YouTube video where I talk about each of the different products and how you can use them to make your beard look awesome.

One of the most common questions I get asked is what the difference is between a wooden comb and a plastic comb and why they are better for beards.

Why are wooden combs better for beards?

Wooden combs are better for beards because they have been cut rather than moulded, like plastic combs. The act of cutting a wooden comb out of a piece of wood means that there are no sharp edges or burrs on the comb which can further damage your beard. A plastic comb is often moulded by an injection moulding process which can leave the edges of the teeth of the comb very sharp. This increases the amount of damage that the comb does to the beard and can even cut the beard off.

Simply put, wooden combs are better for your beard because it causes less damage due to the manufacturing process and the microscopic smoothness over plastic combs.

The next level over a good quality wooden comb is a natural hair brush and used in combination they are a winning team for making your beard look awesome.

Once you have the right brush you need to apply a little bit of product to keep your comb running smoothly through your beard and to add a little bit of extra nutrition and hydration to your beard hair.

2. Use beard oil

Before brushing vigourously you should consider using beard oil on your beard. The beard oil will condition and smooth your hair – this will make your comb glide easier through your beard meaning that if you come across any snags your be less likely to break the hair.

For a full run down on beard oil check out my other article – what does beard oil do? [A comprehensive guide to beard oil] – click here.

You only need to use a couple of drops of beard oil and you can distribute the beard oil throughout your beard with your fingertips being sure not to rub too hard at the base of the hair.

Some people like to put the beard oil on their brush before brushing it through their beard hair but I find that this is a less effective way than rubbing it through your hands and onto your fingertips and then using your hands and fingers to distribute the beard oil throughout your beard. However, you should find the best option for you and it could be that applying it to your brush first better suits your hair. It could be that your hair is straighter and so the bristles are able to penetrate deeper into your beard. In my case, my beard is very thick and curly which means that the brush does not often get deep into my beard.

3. Gently brush against the grain

Once you have applied beard oil this is where you can brush gently against the grain (or natural growth direction) of your beard. Brushing gently against the grain has a number of benefits, as stated above, but you should be very careful not to overdo it.

Gently brushing up and out will mean that your beard will start to look frizzy and the hairs will become more disperse and exposed. This exposure of the hairs means that they are subject to more pressure when combing (as they have not got the hairs around them to support their strength) so you have to make sure that you go slowly or you risk breaking more hairs.

Also, if you are brushing against the grain after your shower you have to remember that the beard hairs are more prone to damage. This is because when you are sharing the hair absorbs water and this swelling leaves the hair more vulnerable to breakage.

Brushing against the grain is something that a lot of bearded men do as soon as they get out of the shower. The issue is that the hair is weaker and if you are using a plastic, or wooden, comb you can increase the amount of damage caused. So, proceed with caution and your be sure not to lose any more precious hair required to keep your hair looking dense and full.

4. Brush with the grain

After brushing against the grain you can brush with the grain. Going with the direction of your beard growth allows you to shape and control the lines of the beard. And at this point I often use scissors to trim any of those nuisance hairs which just won’t lie in position.

I don’t trim more than a couple times a week as I find I was becoming overzealous and my beard was getting shorter and shorter. In other words, I was cutting it quicker than it could grow.

You should now brush your hair into the shape that you want it to sit in for the rest of the day stop

5. Don’t pull through snags

One of the common mistakes I see bearded men make is that they are too rough with their hair. Beard hair is naturally wiry (if you want to look at the science behind wiry hair click here) this means that it easily tangles upon itself.

It’s very rare that your beard is genuinely knotted together.

It is more common that the hairs are sitting in such a way that they just need to be teased apart. Don’t be tempted to pull all the way through your snags with any force. This is because you will likely just rip the hair out rather than dealing with the main culprit which is the slight intertwining of the beard hairs.

6. Do it often

You should be combing your hair at least once a day. I wouldn’t recommend combing against the grain of your beard more than once a day due to the extra stress that it can put on the individual hairs.

However, you should consider using a good quality comb to brush your beard hair another 2 to 3 times a day. This will help keep the beard in a manageable condition by dealing with those annoying little knots rather than allowing the beard to gain many of them.

Brushing in the morning after your beard has been crushed up against your pillow is important and it will also add a nice shine to your beard throughout the day. This is because the cuticles on the outside of the hair can be flattened using a natural hair brush which adds to its shininess and lustre.

The situations in which you should comb against the grain

Combing against the grain has got a pretty bad name as it is synonymous with rough combing. That doesn’t have to always be the case and there are some really important situations in which you should comb against the grain and your be doing less damage than going with the grain of the beard growth.

Here, are some of the best reasons why you should be combing against the grain.

To get out persistent knots

Combing against the grain can be an excellent way to tease out any persistent knotting or tangling that your beard has. For example, I often get relatively large tangles underneath my chin and so combing against the grain is one of the only ways that I can be sure to get to them.

Persistent knots can happen where there is a significant difference in beard growth all your beard is just long enough to become tangled.

To add volume to your beard

Some styles rely on a thick and bushy beard to look good. Brushing against the grain of your beard allows you to add a little bit of volume to your hair. This has commonly been used in the hair industry for a while and is known as back combing. Back combing is a way to separate out the beard hairs and to cause them to push up a little bit more than usual.

It can be used to cover up thinning patches of your beard or it can be used just to add a new dynamic and look to your beard.

During blow drying

During blow drying of your hair you can comb against the grain of the hair growth to get to the depths of your hair. This will allow you to get rid of all of the moisture which is trapped at the base of the beard and could cause a musty smell. You want to get rid of all of the musty smells because they will quickly build up over the course of the day and no one wants that!

To define the sideburns

Another area of my beard where I brush against the grain is on the sideburns. This allows me to see where there are really long hairs and makes it easy for me to trim them. Brushing up and out on other parts of your beard will also allow you to identify these hairs that have been missed during clipping and you will be able to easily trim them once they have been combed up and out away from your face.

Conclusion

There are all the reasons why you would want to comb your beard against the grain. Of course, it is not all bad! There are some good reasons for combing your beard against the grain you just have to remember to be gentle with it. That is because it exposes the individual hairs and if you are brushing against the grain after a shower it can significantly increase the amount of breakage that you see.

Play about with combing against the grain of your beard to see if it is beneficial for the look and style that you are going for – just be gentle!

The Author


Andy Stapleton

Andy is a writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. He has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. He is an avid beard grower and after many years of growing and trialing different beard styles, he started this blog to share the tips, tricks, and science that he has learned along the way!