Combing a beard is an art form that is often poorly understood. There are many different theories regarding “best practice”. A question often asked is this one. Should you comb a beard when wet or dry?
Combing your beard when soaking wet will almost always result in unnecessary hair loss. This is due to the softening and stretching of beard hair when soaking wet. Combing your beard when dry can lead to discomfort, breakages, and split-ends due to tugging and pulling on tangled hair. If you had to choose between the two, dry is usually safer. But combing towel-dried, damp hair often provides the best results with minimal discomfort.
That’s the answer in a nutshell. What I’ve done is listed five reasons why combing when damp (and not soaking wet) is most likely the best option for you.
Bear in mind that every beard is different, and what works for most people may well not work for you. The best advice would be to see for yourself.
Test it out, and follow what works best for you.
5 Reasons Why You Should Comb Your Beard When It’s Damp
Remember, this means hair that’s been towel-dried after washing. In other words, hair that’s not too wet, and not too dry.
1. Tangles are loosened
Beard hair will always tend to tangle if left alone. As with any testosterone-fulled hair type, it’s thick, coarse, and wiry.
This type of hair will always tangle, but particularly as the beard grows longer. This is partially because as a beard grows longer, it’s harder to know what’s going on further down below.
The deeper hairs are more difficult to see, and also more difficult for the bristles of a beard brush to reach.
Washing a beard with lukewarm water is a great way to separate tangled hairs. It softens and straightens the hair shafts temporarily. Gently running your fingers through the hairs as you wash them should help this happen.
But remember this, if nothing else. Although soaking wet hair is easier to detangle, it’s also when your beard is vulnerable.
It’s more prone to breakage and hair loss as it softens and stretches.
On the other hand, leaving the hair to dry too much before combing may cause the tangles to re-form. Dry beard hair tends to tangle, and combing when dry might cause snagging, tugging, and pulling.
This in itself will cause breakages, and you guessed it – hair loss.
So, as you’d expect, the middle path is usually the best solution. After washing your beard, towel-dry it until it’s damp. Not soaking wet, but damp. The beard hair should be easy enough to run your fingers through, but not so wet that the hairs have clumped together.
Most men notice that combing a beard when damp is perfect because the tangles are loose enough that they don’t cause snagging.
At the same time, they notice less hair loss then they do when combing when soaking wet.
2. Oils are easier to distribute
As always, I recommend applying some beard oil before combing or brushing your beard.
A boar bristle beard brush is better than a beard comb at distributing beard oil. This is a fact.
But having said this, fine-toothed beard combs are still fantastic for this purpose. The teeth are narrowly-spaced enough to distribute beard oil across the beard, as well as from the roots of the hair shafts to the tips.
This enhances that irresistibly nourished and moisturized look that beard oil can produce.
But to take it a step further, applying this oil when the beard hair is slightly damp makes it even easier to distribute with a beard comb.
There is a danger, however, that applying beard oil when too wet will lead to dilution of the oil itself. This is usually pointless unless you want to dilute your beard oil to make it less potent. For most men, this isn’t the case.
So, this is yet another reason to ensure that the beard hair is towel-dried damp before applying beard oil. It makes it easy enough to distribute using the teeth of a fine-toothed beard comb.
It also ensures that the beard isn’t so wet that the beard oil becomes too dilute.
But when I say “oils”, I also include natural sebum. Brushing and combing a beard is fantastic at distributing the natural oil we produce in the same way it does for beard oil.
It prevents the sebum from accumulating at the base of the hairs causing that greasy look we try to avoid. Plus, it also leads to the nice, mild shine of a well-moisturized beard.
Again, combing the beard when damp loosens this sebum and makes it easier to distribute.
3. It’s easier to style
The two main benefits of beard combing over beard brushing are its ability to detangle, and its ability to style.
It isn’t just great for taming the odd stray hair that sticks out. Combing allows you to sculpt your beard in the way you’ve always wanted.
Beard brushing is great for training beard hairs, as well as distributing oils. But when it comes to detangling and styling, beard combing has it beat.
A beard comb is usually also a more portable and subtle tool for on-the-go styling than a beard brush.
But attempting to style a beard when it’s completely dry poses some issues. The main one is that the hairs aren’t soft enough to shape to your desire. Again, the tangles make it harder.
It’s frustrating when you have a style in mind, but your beard feels too coarse or thick to actually do anything with.
Combing the beard when soaking wet is pretty useless as well when it comes to styling.
You may have noticed that when a beard is soaking wet, it doesn’t look the way it usually does. It looks shorter, thinner, and patchier as the hairs clump together.
But combing that beard when it’s towel-dried damp is once again a good solution.
The hairs are soft enough to style, but not so wet that the hair gets damaged as you do it.
It also means that before you comb your beard, it looks more like it usually does when dry.
If you want to take it a step further, adding a product with a decent level of hold makes it even easier to style. I’m talking about a product like a beard balm or beard butter that makes styling a lot easier.
Because these products have a light to medium level of hold, the beard hair stays the way you want it to. This also means that you’ll need to touch-up with your beard comb less during the day.
Yes, this means that you’ll be less likely to comb it when dry causing the damage we’ve already discussed.
Applying these products to a towel-dried beard makes them easier to distribute. This means that they’re more effective to style with using a comb. Once that damp hair has dried after combing it through with a little beard balm, it’s much more likely to stay the way you want it to.
4. It minimizes breakages and split-ends
Although I’ve briefly mentioned this already, it’s worth going into this in a little more detail.
Combing damp hair isn’t perfect, unfortunately. You will notice hairs being rooted out or breaking as you comb it. These hairs may look healthy, and trust me, it’s tragic to see them go.
You may also notice split-ends. These occur as a result of damage to the integrity of the hair shaft.
This is particularly an issue with synthetic, plastic beard combs.
They’re much more likely to cause split-ends, for instance, than wooden beard combs. The teeth of good-quality sandalwood or pearwood combs are gentler as they work through beard hair.
Although it isn’t perfect, combing damp hair usually results in fewer split-ends and breakages than combing when wet or when completely dry. It’s once again a decent compromise that’s worth making.
5. It’s easier to weed out weak hairs
Many make the mistake of believing that every strand of hair within their beard is the same. This is far from the case.
At any point in time, there are beard hairs in multiple different phases of growth. Without getting too deep into the science, just know that some are in the growing phase, the grown phase, and the “past their prime” phase.
The “past their prime” phase refers to beard hairs that have had their moment to shine but have become weak, listless, and lifeless.
These hairs are bound to fall out at some point soon. This is a natural part of the life cycle of a hair shaft – old ones go, new ones grow.
It’s completely normal.
This is why seeing thin and weak hairs falling out now and again shouldn’t always be too concerning. Getting rid of them and leaving the healthy hairs behind actually leads to a pretty strong-looking beard.
Running a comb through a beard is a great way of “weeding” these weak hairs out. Going one step further, doing it when the beard is damp is even better.
You’re much more likely to find those weak hairs that are lurking within the depths of your beard, just waiting to fall out at some point.
You’re less likely to do it when combing a beard dry – those weak hairs just get caught up in the tangles and are hard to catch with the teeth of a comb.
Frequently Asked Questions
We’ve gone through some reasons why combing damp is better than combing a beard when soaking wet or dry. But here are the answers to a few related questions that you may find just as helpful.
Can I ever comb my beard dry?
Many men do and don’t suffer any serious consequences. It isn’t the end of the world. It’s just not as ideal as combing after gently dabbing a wet beard to light dampness.
One of the beauties of a beard comb is it’s lightweight, portable, on-the-go nature. Being able to pull it out and run it through your beard while you’re out on the town is a gift.
Chances are you won’t be making your beard damp every time you do this – it just wouldn’t be practical.
So the best practice would be to save dry combing for those on-the-go touch-ups where you don’t have much of a choice. If you’re at home, and about to embark on a longer and more thorough combing session, make it damp first.
Another good tip – if you are going to comb “dry”, do apply a couple of drops of beard oil first if possible. It’ll make a world of difference.
Should you comb your beard in the shower?
It’s best avoided. As I’ve said, there’s rarely any good that can come from this.
In the shower, your beard is likely to be soaking wet. The hair shafts are soft and stretched, and very vulnerable to prematurely being pulled out by the teeth of a beard comb.
Also, how anyone can style a beard in the shower, with or without a comb, is beyond me. But hey, some people might make it work.
Should you brush your beard in the shower?
This is a very common question. So common that I’ve written a whole article on it.
It’s so frequently asked because understandably, it’s a very convenient time for men to brush their beards. They aren’t usually looking to style their beard with a brush, so doing it the shower is perfectly practical.
But brushing your beard when soaking wet is harmful for the same reasons as combing it when soaking wet.
In other words, it leads to breakages, split-ends, and premature loss of beard hair.
It’s quite likely that you’ll see even more of these unwanted effects with a beard brush than you would with a beard comb. This is because more hairs come into contact with the densely packed bristles of a beard brush than they do with the relatively widely-spaced teeth of a comb.
The effects would, of course, be worse with a synthetic beard brush than with a boar bristle beard brush. But either way, avoid it.
I know it’s bold to answer the question of whether you should comb a beard wet or dry with “neither”. But hopefully, by now you can see why.
As with any practice within beard grooming, no single answer suits every beard. Test it out for yourself. For instance, you may be perfectly happy combing dry and not notice any of the unwanted effects.
This is just the answer for most men, tried and tested over time. Use it to go forward and test it out for yourself.