Zac Efron is living his best life. The newly 31-year-old actor recently posted a photo to Instagram where he is riding a horse on a Costa Rican mountaintop in a t-shirt that one can assume was designed exclusively to make his arms look maximally swole. But none of those things are why the photo has more than 3.5 million likes to date. The photo broke the internet because of his beard.
The decision to grow a beard, and the collective gasp from millions of fans around the world, ushered in a new Efron: grown-up edition. Beards can be signifiers of a lifestyle change and, according to master barber Matty Conrad, “have always been symbols of strength, wisdom and masculinity.” They’re also a vehicle of personal expression, which means that this could all be a way for Efron to tell the world that if he wants to grow a beard, he will grow a freaking beard thankyouverymuch.
What separates a good beard from a great beard, like EfronBeard™ is the shape: it should accentuate the jawline and make it look more square. And while a man’s ability to grow a beard (and how thick that beard is) depends largely on genetics, there are simple steps anyone can take to make sure the beard they grow is Efron-level awesome. Whether you’re growing it for the first time or want to refresh existing face follicles, we asked Conrad to lay the guidelines.
1. UH, STOP SHAVING
No brainer? Yes. But if you’ve ever tried to grow a beard (and failed), you know this step isn’t as easy as it sounds. Conrad says you should commit to about two months of no shaving. The trouble most guys have with this first hurdle is patience and dealing with the uncomfortable sensations a new beard can bring. Don’t get discouraged. “Even people whose beards look patchy when they’re short can grow in thicker when given a chance to get longer,” he says.
2. KNOW YOUR LINES
s a new beard grows out, letting your facial hair go wild will make any face look rounder. Many guys give up because they think their faces look chubby. “Beard shape really boils down to three lines,” says Conrad. “The Top Line along your cheek from sideburns to mouth, the Base Line on the neck from the corners of the jaw around the Adam’s apple, and the Lip Line. One of the easiest ways to push through the early stage is to make sure your Base Line is clean so you don’t have a lot of hair growing on your neck.” Use a trimmer to remove any hair visible below your jawline when staring straight in a mirror. It’s the best way to keep your jaw defined.
3. CONTROL THE ITCH
Another reason many guys abandon beard growth is because it’s just so damn uncomfortable. “Hair on the face is courser and curlier than hair on top of your head,” says Conrad. “Beard oils are leave-in conditioners that will help smooth the hairs, moisturise the skin underneath and soften everything, which will help mitigate itch even on short hair.” He recommends only using beard oils that contain argan oil, grapeseed oil and jojoba oil since they have smaller molecules that penetrate hair and skin faster and won’t leave a shiny residue. Stay away from synthetic fragrances or any cream-based products that can clog pores.
4. GROOM FOR GROWTH
“To stimulate growth and maintain thickness, don’t use a beard comb, which puts too much tension on the hair,” says Conrad. “Use a flat-bristled brush with natural bristles like a beard brush or barber brush. It will stimulate the blood flow around the follicles which means healthier, shinier, thicker hair and it will help to distribute the natural oils to keep the beard well conditioned.” Brushes also help exfoliate the skin underneath without the use of harsh scrubs which can dry out your skin further. “Regularly using a good oil and a brush will help keep the skin moisturised and healthy and won’t strip your skin with harsh ingredients,” he says.
6. IT’S ALL IN THE SHAPE
Once your beard has a little length, but is still relatively short (around the two-month mark), start using a styling product like a balm. “A balm is like a light pomade,” says Conrad. “It’s meant to hold down some of the flyaways and help you control the shape into the direction you want.” While beard oils are about keeping the hair healthy, a balm is all about style and shape, which is important to create as the beard grows out. Stiffer products like waxes offer more control, but are better used on the more unruly moustache hairs than the full beard itself.
7. SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP
Once you reach about an inch of growth (which can take around two or three months for most guys), head to a barber to get your first shape up. Do not try to do this at home. “The goal of this period is to create the shape of your beard, which should be a little on the square side,” says Conrad. “It’s best to seek professional advice on what is going to suit your face shape and bone structure, especially the first time.” Your barber should create a taper by narrowing the cheek portions and leaving the hair around the mouth and on the chin longer. They’ll also be able to connect the beard with your sideburns so it looks natural. Sound complicated? It is, which is why a trained (and objective) barber should be the one to do it.
8. TRIM (ONLY) OUTSIDE THE LINES
This isn’t to say that the barber is the only person that should ever touch your beard. A good beard trim should last about three months with a bit of at-home upkeep. This is where a trimmer comes in. “A trimmer’s job is to create nice clean lines,” says Conrad. “They’re not for cutting the beard. Let a professional handle the interior and you can handle the outline.” Many trimmers will come with guards to trim at various lengths, but Conrad says to not use them. They’re best suited for maintaining stubble looks, not actual beards. Trimming flyaways and stray hairs is different. Brush and style your beard into the shape you want and use scissors to delicately trim strays. Take care to not go overboard. “It’s crazy how many people take off too much when trying to trim their beards themselves,” warns Conrad.
This article originally appeared on Men's Health