Knowing how to trim a beard is one life skill every guy needs to have down. Chances are, we’re all going to try different beard styles and lengths over the course of our years, and having the know-how (as well as the right tools) will ensure you look polished every time.
It’s imperative to know how to trim a beard while growing it out too. Whether you’re growing a short or long beard, it can take months to reach your goal, and you ought to look good on all those days in between. Plus, a little trim up here and there can help coach the beard into that style or shape that you’re pursuing.
For all the right tools and tips for beard trimming, we spoke with barber Steve Purcell, who is also the founder of Uppercut Deluxe hair and beard care products.
What You Need for Your Beard Trim
What does beard trimming involve? For starters, proper trimming requires more than just a beard trimmer. It’s important to first decide on a beard style (or end goal) so that your trimming is more intentional and informed. After that, you can summon the right grooming tools for the job.
Pick a Beard Style or Growth Goal
Don’t feel stifled by genetic limitations. Every guy can grow a beard that’s unique to him, even if it’s a little patchy or if the cheeks don’t fill out. It’s important to acknowledge and embrace your limits and to work with those variables as you grow things out.
As for choosing a beard style and shape, aim for one that flatters your geometry. The key here is to make things as oval as possible. In other words, if you have a long, narrow face (rectangular shaped), then don’t grow a long beard or it’ll negatively accentuate that length. Instead, aim for a beard that grows more on the cheeks with less volume underneath. If your face is circular or square-shaped, then keep it light on the sides, fuller on bottom. If your face is naturally oval in shape, then go crazy. In this case, you can probably try just about anything and it will flatter the passing eye.
Finally, if you keep a shorter style that won’t reshape your face, consider slightly contrasting the length of your mustache and beard. Maybe a more weighty mustache and shorter beard is your strong suit—or perhaps the other way around. Don’t settle on a single guard length simply because that’s all you’ve cared to try. Play with contrasts, and suddenly you unlock dozens of new potential styles.
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The Essential Beard Trimming Tools
Here are the tools you’ll need in order to manage just about every kind of beard trimming task. We’ll leave out other beard products, like beard oil and beard shampoo, but having those kinds of conditioning products will always make beards more cooperative with your trimming and styling intentions.
1. Beard Trimmer
Get one with long-lasting lithium-ion batteries, and plenty of interchangeable trimming heads and guards, so that you can tend to the finer details that really elevate the finished result.
Braun Series 9 All-in-One Trimmer
2. Beard Comb
Aside from beard styling, a small facial hair comb helps with trimming by either coaching everything into one resting state prior to the trimming, or you can “backcomb” with it to raise the hairs up. This makes it easy to spot-trim longer strays or to trim quickly against the grain in order to guarantee that no hairs are left unsnipped. These combs are especially useful taking the bulk out of mustaches, either by combing the hairs all neatly over the lips or by using the comb as a buffer between skin and blade.
Beardbrand Beard Comb
3. Facial Hair Scissors
These tiny scissors allow you to handle stray hairs in beards of all sizes, but especially medium and long beards. They also make it easy to snip away at the mustache since it’s a little trickier navigating beard trimmers under the nose. As a bonus, the best facial hair scissors are terrific for taming eyebrows and nose hairs, too.
Tweezerman Facial Hair Scissors
4. Beard Brush (for Medium and Long Beards)
A beard brush is the easiest way to move large masses of coarse facial hair, which is often necessary in advance of a trimming. Make sure to brush it up and out first (which might make you look like you just stick your finger in an electrical socket), and then brush it all uniformly into place before you begin trimming.
Zeus Boar-Bristle Beard Brush
5. Optional: Razor or Electric Shaver
Many guys will just use a beard trimmer to clean up patchy cheeks as well as the entire beard neckline. But if you prefer to have the smoothest, closest shave in these areas, then you’ll still need to keep your go-to razor or electric razor at the ready.
Harry’s Shaving Starter Set
Panasonic Arc5 Electric Razor
6. Optional: Beard Stencil
These have grown more popular over the past few years. Beard stencils will help you draw clean, geometrically appealing angles around your cheeks (and sometimes the neckline, too). Most guys can just manage these parts of the face without needing the stencil, but we can’t knock the beautiful swooping lines that these tools provide.
How to Trim a Long Beard
Here’s how to keep a grown beard looking clean and intentional—even if it’s still growing out.
1. Wash and Dry the Beard
You need to start with a clean canvas, free of any oil and grime buildup. Use a dedicated beard wash (think middle ground between face wash and shampoo) that will hydrate skin and scruff while it cleans, and is gentle enough for two washes a day (morning and night)—or more as needed. Be sure to scrub at the base of the hairs, too, to flush away any oil on the skin. Pat it dry with a towel afterwards.
Scotch Porter Moisturizing Beard Wash for Men
2. Brush It Out, Then Down
“Back brush” everything in an upwards direction so that it gets all wild and frayed, then brush it back into place. Doing this extra step (as opposed to just brushing it all down) ensures that everything lays uniformly instead of strange unforeseen pockets of space or bulk.
3. Keep Your Head Still
“Always keep your head at the same angle when looking in the mirror and trimming,” Purcell advises. “If you change angles mid-trim, it can undo months of hard work growing a long beard.”
4. Hold the Clipper at a Single Angle
Similar to the last point, Purcell adds that you need to hold the clipper at one uniform angle while trimming. Constantly positioning it in different directions will only yield uneven results, and might take out a chunk of hair that you didn’t mean to mow.
5. Take Out Any Bulk
Before you get to the finer details, Purcell suggests using the trimmer to remove any bulk. That is, to do the major passes over the cheeks or beneath the chin—if the lengths allowed on your beard trimmer satisfy the task.
6. Trim a Square Shape at the Bottom
When you focus on the bottom of the beard (the part that visibly gets longer as it grows), use your trimmer or scissors to draw a clean, square-like shape there. “This will take out weaker areas in the beard,” says Purcell. Which leads us to the next step…
7. Finesse Based on What Looks Good and What Meets Your Goal
“If you prefer a square shape just refine both sides to match, but otherwise, slowly remove one corner until you’re happy with the round or oval shape,” says Purcell. “Then copy your shape on the other side.”
8. Tend to the Mustache and Perimeter
Now you can tidy up the mustache and any sideburns, strays, and such. You can use the comb to train the mustache hairs over your lips and trip along the top lip (unless the aim is a big walrus mustache style or something else bulky). Chances are your beard is too long to worry about your neckline, but if there’s any visible neck fuzz that distracts from an otherwise clean beard perimeter, be sure to tidy that up too (tips on that below).
How to Trim a Beard While Growing It Out
Beard trimming doesn’t change much from stationary styles to growing ones. If you’re trimming as a beard continues to grow, the main thing to keep in mind is the end goal. On the one hand, you need to just let the beard grow in order to build that mass. But by keeping the bottom of the beard shapely, and by making sure your cheeks and mustache stay tidied up, you can accumulate length without losing much time in the process.
Do these periodic cleanups every week or two while the beard is still short—and definitely clean up the neckline while it’s still visible. Then tidy things up every 2-3 weeks when the beard is medium or long. On a daily basis, the best beard oils and balms go a long way to keep things looking shapely and intentional, too.
How to Trim a Short Beard
1. Wash and Dry the Beard
Again, start with a clean canvas. And be sure to pat it dry really well, to make trimming less messy; those wet strays really like to stick to everything, including the mouth of the trimmer.
2. Use Your Trimmer and Its Guards
“Trimming a short beard is always easiest using a trimmer with guards,” says Purcell. “This will help keep the hair length consistent throughout the whole trim, and give a nice even shape.”
3. Consider a Taper
For a nice flourish, you can taper the sides of your beard into a buzz cut or faded crew cut. Totally optional, of course. “This can be achieved by gradually changing down your guards until you’re at the shortest length, moving up a few millimeters with each guard into the bulk of the beard,” says Purcell.
4. Mind the Details
Clean up the neckline, the cheeklines, the mustache, and spot check for strays.
How to Trim a Beard Neckline
Purcell has a hack for trimming a tidy neckline: Just look straight into the mirror at a zero degree angle and draw around the shape of your chin with a pencil. “Pay attention to where the pencil touches; this is your neckline template,” he says. “Trim this shape, and if you’re unsure, then start a little lower since you can always trim it up a little higher later.”
You can also imagine a point roughly 1.5 inches above your Adam’s apple, and connect a “U” shape from behind both ears to this point on your neck. Shave everything below it. If you’re feeling really fancy, you can study up on fading your beard neckline, too. The skill translates to the cheek and sideburn tapering that Purcell outlined above, under short-beard trimming.
Last, “look in the mirror at different angles to check that it’s even,” says Purcell, “and tweak where necessary.”