A home away from home for men’s grooming routines, the barbershop provides more than just hair and face care. Barbershops are often highly social settings where guys catch up, get their news and dispense opinions like dollops of aftershave. For some, the barbershop is also a refuge “where we can let our guards down to commune with one another without worry,” David Malebranche, MD, previously wrote for NBC BLK.
Keep up with our 2020 election coverage.
Whether a barbershop’s style is efficient clean-up, relaxed pampering or neighborly meetup confab, the customer experience is made in part by the barber’s own choices in everything from shampoos to skin toners. Barbershops and salons have been cautiously reopening in a customer-traffic environment reshaped by the coronavirus, but there’s still space for at-home grooming, from DIY haircuts to hair and beard trimmers. With salon-grade products increasingly available for home purchase, we sought top stylists for their best picks in men’s hair and face care.
Men’s grooming products are growing up
“The men’s grooming space has been out there booming for the last eight years now,” said Hollywood stylist and entrepreneur Craig Whitely, who goes by Craig the Barber. The upshot is an expanding line of products for hair, scalp, beard and face in a growing variety of textures and fragrances, sold in brick-and-mortar or online stores, and increasingly through subscriptions.
The challenge sometimes is getting men the information they need in order to choose. “We are still on the learning curve of grooming,” said Whitely, a Men’s Health Grooming Awards recipient for his Burke Avenue shaving line. “We do a step or forget another step, or don’t realize we need another step.” From shampoos and scalp conditioners to pre-shave, aftershave and beard treatments, Whitely said the products that win men over and inspire loyalty have both immediate and lasting impact. “It has to be something that stays in the forefront of our minds afterward,” he said. “Whether it’s the smell, the tingle, the feel or the results. Or the compliments. Compliments are what keep us coming back because a lot of the time, we don’t even notice.” To give you an idea of some of the top options out there, we compiled highly-rated grooming products and expert recommendations below.
Best men's hair, beard and skin care products
With scents including rosemary, peppermint, cedar and sage, Fulton & Roark’s hair and body cleanser also contain vitamins, essential oils and caffeine. “The 2-in-1 combo is perfect for my clients who often travel or who are on the go,” said Carly Edwards, the lead stylist at Emerson Joseph in Charlotte, N.C. “Do yourself a favor and grab the conditioner while you’re at it,” she said. “It’s loaded with antioxidants that will keep your hair and scalp nourished.”
The conditioner-added version of Bluebeards’ popular wash is made for everyday use, with aloe, lime and essential oils added to deliver a daily clean that doesn’t dry out the beard or leave it with a sticky residue. Whitely said he is usually wary of shampoo-conditioner hybrids because they work at cross purposes: “Shampoos are designed to strip hair of oil and conditioners are designed to replenish it.” But Bluebeards Original has developed “a really good shampoo,” that is also hydrating thanks to the blend of glycerin and vitamin E oil.
With notes of frankincense and myrrh, Temple Smoke hydrates and conditions the beard and reduces the chance of beard dandruff. A few drops in the palm is all that’s needed. “You should always make sure to oil your beard from root to end,” said Steve Vilot, owner of Sim’s Barber Shops in Tennessee. Violet explained that while scrubs and washes clean surfaces and remove debris, “beard oil nourishes and conditions.” Whitely called Beardbrand’s oils “a game-changer” for giving men six fragrances in all to choose from because a scent that will be close to the nose all day has to be one the wearer likes.
Australia’s own Professor Fuzzworthy is an independent brand with a following for a line of consistent products, including a high-quality beard shampoo, said Whitely, who also recommended the Professor’s beard treatment. This organic, herb- and wood-scented beard balm gives shape as well as moisturizing nourishment to beards. “It’s a good conditioning gloss that’s more like a wax,” said Whitely. “They’ve really honed in on the care of the beard, conditioning as well as shine.”
With so much energy in the men’s grooming space aimed at beards and faces, it’s easy to forget that the hair on your head also deserves good care. A repeat winner in Allure magazine’s Best of Beauty category, Japan import Supremo Magic Move Light promises a light, sleek finish that is designed for shampooing out easily and gives support without greasy residue. “It offers a really natural-looking hold regardless of whether you have fairly fine hair or really coarse hair,” said Kevin Keller, co-founder of men’s fragrance and grooming brand Fulton & Roark. “The texture also makes applying easy. Often guys can run into trouble with really thick or waxy products, because when attempting to apply it, a ‘chunk’ will get lodged in their hair, making for a sticky section.”
A 2020 best-of pick for GQ magazine’s U.K. edition, Murdock’s pH balanced, sulfate-free beard shampoo is available in the U.S. and gets high marks for a thorough clean that removes daily grit without stripping hair follicles or skin. Using it is simple, too — just massage a thumbnail-sized amount of the shampoo into your beard and rinse. Coconut oil and glycerin help keep your skin hydrated, while the combination of orange peel, cinnamon, eucalyptus and patchouli oils leave behind a refreshing scent. Consider rounding out your grooming routine with the brand’s shampoo, conditioner and body wash.
Before there was the “beard oil revolution,” as Whitely called it, he said there was a general recognition that your basic beard oil is just a pre-shave skin oil repurposed for conditioning facial hair and taming the fuzzies. So if you’re not in the market for separate products, and would like one item that can handle both jobs well, Whitely recommended Nature Boy. “A pre-shave oil needs to trap moisture but not be so thick that it slows down the razor,” he said, “whereas a beard oil wants to be much lighter, but not so light it runs on your clothing. It has to be a nice balance.”
For a full beard regimen with a different product at every step, U.K.-based Village Barber commences the pampering with a pre-shave oil that “smells amazing,” Whitely says. And that’s before you get to their two dedicated beard oils — one for growth and one for maintenance. Whitely says the beard oils smell even nicer than their pre-shave counterpart. (There is also a Village Barber aftershave balm.) The pre-shave oil is billed as a non-greasy, lightweight skin preparation that contains none of the synthetic chemical preservatives known as parabens and goes on easy to minimize razor irritation with a woody, natural fragrance.