- September 12, 2021
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Learn these pro-moves for flattering facial hair.
Have you ever wondered why your beard looks so much better when you leave a barber shop than when you trim it at home? One of the biggest reasons is that a professional beard trim almost always includes a beard fade, whether you ask for one or not. “You can’t walk out of a barber shop without your sideburns faded; a hard line looks like an incomplete haircut, so everybody blends the top of the beard or the sideburns,” says barber Mark Marrero, owner of Blurry Fades Barbershop in Lake Worth, FL.
But fading your beard probably isn’t something even the most experienced home beard trimmer thinks about that much. It’s a pro-move that’s more complicated than just taking the trimmer to your beard and calling it a day. Perfecting this subtle art, however, can make any beard instantly more flattering and pulled-together, no matter what the length. And yes, you can do it yourself with a little practice.
A beard fade is the same idea as the fade on your head, just, you know, on your face. It’s a gentle blending of longer to shorter hair to create a smooth graduation of length. “There are a few ways a person could have their beard faded,” says barber Josh Periera, owner of Title City Barbers in Boston, MA. “You can do the sideburns and you can also fade under the neck” as well as the cheeks. Basically, a fade can happen anywhere there is a hard line and you want to soften it to create a more natural look rather than a distinct line.
Okay, but why spend the extra effort to fade your own beard? Because a fade can give your beard a little something extra. “Anybody can look good with a faded beard,” says Periera. “Just like a fade on a haircut, it looks beautiful on the beard for any texture of hair.” Another reason barbers always fade beards, and why you should consider it too, is that when done right, it can make a beard instantly more flattering to your face – which is why you have a beard in the first place, right? “It can make your face look slimmer,” says Marrero. “If a guy is more heavyset, for example, sculpting their beard to give it more of a box look will make their face look longer.”
Fading your own beard is trickier than just asking your barber to do it for you, but if you’re unable to get a professional beard trim, you can learn the ways of the fade. And like anything, practice makes perfect. “If you keep it up, you’re just going to get better and better,” says Periera. Follow these steps and you’ll have it down in no time.
Before even attempting a beard fade, you need the right tools: namely a beard trimmer with adjustable length combs. You might have seen your barber use a clipper without guards, but remember he’s a professional—do not attempt a DIY fade without them. Length guards are your best friend in this scenario and before you start cutting, lay them on your sink or counter in number order so you can easily find the right length as you go. Aside from the clipper, you may also want a beard comb at the ready to keep things smooth.
Before attempting to fade a beard, you have to establish a baseline. That means going through your usual beard-trimming routine (if you have one). If you don’t, start with a good wash and then detangle it with a beard comb, says Marrero. “Comb it in a downward direction, following your hair growth pattern,” he says. “If you go up with the comb, then you’re bringing the hair out instead of laying it down, which is a problem when you try to run the clipper through.” Which brings us to the next step: creating one uniform length. Using your clipper, trim the entire beard to whatever overall length you want. If you don’t already know what length you want, start with the longest comb and work your way down until you get to your desired length. “Cut against the grain and work in an upward motion” to get the most uniform length, says Marrero. Then comb it down again once trimming is done.
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Once you’ve trimmed the entire beard to a uniform length, you need to define your lines—namely the neck and the cheek lines. If you’ve already been doing this as you grow out your beard, congratulations—all you need to do is to make them crisp. If you’re starting from square one, Marrero recommends starting with the neckline using the bare blade of your trimmer (without a comb) or a specific outliner, which will give you a crisper line. “Pull your head up, hold the trimmer inverted (pointing down), and begin at the middle of the neck right above the Adam’s apple,” he says. Use the clipper to create a line connecting the middle of your neck to your ears on either side and shave away everything below it. Then move on to the cheeks. “Use the corners of your mouth as your guideline and follow your natural cheek line all the way up to your sideburns,” Marrero advises. Shave everything above that line. For extra-crisp lines on both the neck and cheeks, follow with a transparent shave gel and a razor to make sure there’s no errant hairs or stubble.
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Now that your beard is trimmed and your lines are tight, you’re ready to fade. This is where all those other guards come in. The golden rule when fading your beard is to always start high and go low (as in guard numbers). “The biggest thing I see guys do wrong when fading their beards is they start with the lowest guard first,” says Periera. “Then when they start trying to blend, they just keep going lower and lower.” This is how to do it properly.
Fading your neckline creates a more natural look than a hard line and visually smoothes the beard into the skin. Start with one guard down from your overall beard length; if your beard is a three, you’ll need a two, for instance. Lift your chin up so you can see the line on your neck. “Use your finger as a measurement,” advises Periera. Put your finger on top of the line and use the two guard to shave just that inch or so of hair. Position the clipper blades up toward your chin and use a scooping motion to gently cut the length of the entire neck line. “Scooping doesn’t create a harsh line and will blend it out easily,” he says. Once you’ve cut the full length of the line, switch your guard down to a one. Gently flick the clipper along the line between hair and skin—but don’t go as high as you did with the two. “You just kiss the bottom of the line” with the clipper, says Periera. Use this same technique along the entire neck line and you’ll get a subtle, natural-looking fade.
Fading the sides of your beard, namely the sideburns, takes the same philosophy—work your way down from highest to lowest guard. If your beard is a three, grab your two. “Start from the middle of the ear and flick it upward” to cut everything above that middle line, says Periera. Cut in an upward motion, against the grain, with that same scooping motion you used on your neck. Once you’ve done that, go back over the same area, but with the trimmer pointing down (with the grain). “You don’t want to create a harsh line, so going downwards gives a soft blend to the beard,” he says. Then switch the guard to the next lowest, a number one in this case, and flick it upward slightly above where you started with the previous guard. Use the same upward/downward idea to further smooth the line.
Once you’ve mastered the sideburn fade, you can take the starting point of your fade lower if you want. Taking the fade lower, like to the bottom of your ears, will help make your face look longer and leaner by keeping the sides of your beard tight and most of the volume toward your jawline. And, Periera is quick to note, if your beard is too long to use guards, you can freehand a side fade. Pick or comb the hair outward on the sides and use scissors or your trimmer to gently cut in a diagonal line from the fullest part of your beard to the ears.
Like fading your neck line, creating a subtle fade on your cheeks will give your beard a natural appearance, instead of a crisp line across your face. The same high guard to low guard idea applies, but on the cheeks you should always cut with the grain (in the direction the hair is growing). Cutting against the grain creates a more drastic fade, which is too harsh for the cheeks, says Periera. “It’s the best way to achieve a smooth, natural-looking fade,” he says.
The final piece of beard fading is keeping it fresh. Remember that facial hair grows faster than the hair on your head, so while your haircut may not need to be trimmed more than every month or so, your beard is going to require more upkeep. Trim your beard (and your beard fade) “every two days,” says Periera to keep it fresh but also because it will make the fading process easier. “If you go longer, you’ll lose track of where you started.” That way you won’t have to start from ground zero each time. And remember, practice makes perfect.