When some service members put the uniform away, the razor goes away with it.
Once troops escape the grooming regulations that have kept their facial hair in check, they are more than ready to embrace the scruff. Styles and lengths might vary, but beards serve as a way to mark the move into the civilian sector.
Facial hair may not rank high among the transition concerns of most service members, but many who grow beards will be doing so for the first time with any regularity since their teenage years, if ever. So Military Times asked a handful of beard-care aficionados to share their wisdom; from products to trimming and more, here's what they had to offer:
1. Shower skills, Part I. How committed are you to a good beard? There's an easy way to find out.
"Take cold showers every morning. As cold as you can make it," said Paul Meixner, a former sergeant with the Wisconsin Army National Guard who made two combat deployments to Iraq and is now an actor-writer-director in Hollywood. "Minimum of five minutes. Don't be a little pansy about it."
It may sound extreme, but Meixner's far from alone in his advice: Good Housekeeping and Health.com have offered similar tips when it comes to strengthening hair with cold water. The cold closes up the hair cuticle, locking in moisture for a healthier, shinier look.
Former Wisconsin Army National Guard Sgt. Paul Meixner hasn't ditched his post-service beard often, but he was clean-shaven for a small role in "American Sniper."
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Paul Meixner
2. Shower skills, Part II. Time to shave it off? Meixner suggests reversing course.
"First take a hot shower … then oil up your trimmers and buzz yourself down to a nice Dylan McDermott scruff for a day or two," said Meixner, referencing the often-scruffy star of "The Practice."
"Let your skin breathe and get used to your lack of mop. Then go to a proper barber for a hot towel and straight-razor shave. If you can't find anyone, take a nice long hot shower, grab your favorite razor and cream and go to town. The hot water softens the hair and opens up the pores on your skin."
3. Check your neck. Setting the neck line too high "ruins more beards than any other mistake," said Steven Wilson, the founder and webmaster of All About Beards, which launched in 1996 and moved to its current home, Beards.org, in 2005.
Charlie Moyer, a former Coast Guard gunner's mate and creator of BadassBeardCare.com, agreed, saying that a high neck line "is fine if you plan on keeping [the beard] extremely short, but if you want a full beard with any kind of length, you have to let the hair grow on your neck to right above the Adam's apple, or you'll have a 'chin curtain.' "
Moyer, for the record, said he started growing his first beard "the day I separated from the Coast Guard."
4. Let it grow. Many of our experts advised patience, especially for first-time beard growers.
"Thin or patchy areas will eventually be covered by the rest of your beard," Moyer said. "It takes time, but it's worth it."
That also goes for the occasional trimming misstep: Beard owners can be their own worst critics, but chances are, so long as your beard is still symmetrical, you'll be the only one to notice that trimmer slip. After a day or two, even you'll have trouble finding the weak spot.
Charlie Moyer, retired Coast Guardsman and founder of Badass Beard Care, poses with family (and facial hair) near Lake Tahoe.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Charlie Moyer
5. Go natural, but be smart.
Moyer’s Badass Beard Care products are all-natural, and most other experts recommended similar treatment. But Marine veteran Michael Acosta — a member of The Gentlemen's Social Club of Los Angeles, which sponsors facial hair contests as well as events like toy drives and charity fundraisers — pointed out that not every product works for every beard.
"Some beard products … just aren't good enough for really thick hair," said Acosta, who served as a percussionist in the U.S. Marine Band before becoming a combat videographer. "The important thing is to really know your hair, and I mean, the texture, the quality and quantity, because there is no single beard product that is best for everyone."
Acosta recommends the Tea Tree product line, while Meixner backs shampoo and conditioner from The Wonder Seed line. His product review: "It's hemp-based, all-natural, doesn't smell all froo froo and is just freakin' awesome."
6. Comb vs. brush. As beards get bushier, you'll need more than just a quick shake in the morning mirror to keep neat. Moyer recommends a boar's hair brush and wood comb combo as a last step to your beard-care routine. Meixner also goes the boar's hair route and uses a "horsehair shoeshine brush" when applying beard oil.
Whatever your weapon of choice, don't rush — Wilson recommends slow going with a wide-toothed comb, to minimize tangles that can be both unkempt and, when you're trying to remove them, painful.
"The more often you style your facial hair," Acosta noted, "the more hair you tend to lose from pulling or combing it out."
Marine veteran Michael Acosta says it's important to avoid a one-size-fits-all approach to facial-hair care.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Michael Acosta
7. Beards on the job. As you might expect, beard experts are very pro-facial hair when it comes to seeking employment, though job-hunters will need to up their grooming game, and do some homework.
"My beard has never given me negative attention," said Acosta, whose behind-the-scenes Hollywood experience includes crew duty for Netflix's "Pee-wee's Big Holiday." "In fact, quite the opposite. Usually, people are very curious to know what it takes to grow and maintain a beard."
Social media and company websites can give interviewees a hint on a company's beard stance, Moyer said. If your potential employer is beard-friendly, or even beard-neutral, the clean shave may not be the way to go.
"Most employers don't mind facial hair as long as it's well-kept," Moyer said, "and it can even be a defining factor that helps the hiring manager remember you."
8. Don't overdo it. While some beard-care products are designed to replenish, mimic or supplement natural oils, most shampoos and conditioners aren't. Our experts recommended creating a regular beard maintenance schedule, but go light.
"I only shampoo my beard/hair about once a month and condition it twice a month," said Meixner, who along with Acosta is part of the Los Angeles chapter of Veterans in Film and Television. "Otherwise, just plain cold water does the trick. …
"The main reason I have a beard is because I hate the time and process involved in shaving, so if beard prep time takes the same amount, I'm doing something wrong."
Wilson recommends a daily rinse, but to limit the shampoo and conditioner to an as-needed basis.
9. Air power. Balms, oils, conditioners and various tools of the trade all do their part, but our experts said a nice blast of air shouldn't be overlooked.
Moyer recommended using a hair dryer while combing out your beard after a shower, a move that "helps keep your beard tamed, and appear longer."
Acosta said a "blow-dry blowout" is part of his routine — after the shower but before the oil. He prefers argan oil for its restorative and cosmetic qualities.
Meixner, an actor-writer-producer in Los Angeles, says diet can make a big difference in beard growth and fullness.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Paul Meixner
10. Eat right. Meixner swears that his beard looks better if he's staying on his "Primal" diet, which favors proteins and fats over carb-laden grains. He's not alone: Multiple beard-advice articles reference eggs as a facial hair booster, along with nuts and other heavy protein sources.
Don't expect any beard-related "superfoods" to solve your patchy growth, but do pay attention to skin-strengthening nutrients like vitamin A, which can give your beard a better base.
11. Do your thing. Even when auditioning for roles, Meixner said he doesn't go clean-shaven — preferring his "unique look." It's a decision he said has been endorsed by agents and others, and one that can apply outside of Hollywood: Don't be afraid to be yourself.
"There are plenty of cookie-cutter, good looking people in Hollywood and they all compete against each other," he said, but those who stand out "end up working more."
That said, there are limits: When he was offered a small part as a Marine in "American Sniper," the beard was gone.
Moyer, of Badass Beard Care, said that while some grooming advice can improve your look, try to avoid those who oversimplify or want you to make radical changes.
"People will say, 'Just use regular shampoo. Just use hair gel. Just cut it off,' " he said. "Don't listen to these people."
- Marine veteran Michael Acosta is a director and camera operator in Los Angeles. A recent graduate from the Los Angeles Film School in Hollywood, he’s beginning his own production company.
- Paul Meixner is an actor/filmmaker in Los Angeles after eight years in the Wisconsin Army National Guard, including two combat tours in Iraq. He’s online at www.facebook.com/Paul.Meixner.Films and at www.instagram.com/mav11b/, and you might catch him on GunnyTime with R. Lee Ermey on Outdoor Channel.
- Coast Guard retiree Charlie Moyer runs Badass Beard Care, which offers a 15 percent military discount. Get started at www.badassbeardcare.com/free-sample. Email email@example.com for discount details.
- Steven Wilson is online at Beards.org, offering regular beard news, updates, grooming tips and photos.
Kevin Lilley is the features editor of Military Times.