Is your facial hair getting a little gray and you want to look younger? Are you going stir crazy and want to turn your facial hair bright green? Be warned: It can be done, but dyeing your beard isn’t nearly as easy as growing it.
The challenge begins as soon as you hit the shampoo aisle at the grocery store. Although finding the few beard-specific dyes in the wall of hair dyes for men should only take a moment (plus, the ingredients are basically identical anyway), “The problem is people don’t really understand what color hair they have,” says professional stylist Todd Hanshaw. If you’re having trouble picking one, err on the side of the lighter color, partially because your hair absorbs dye more thoroughly than you’d think, but also because having a beard that’s darker than the hair on your head looks significantly more jarring than a beard that’s lighter than your hair.
Next, do not start dyeing your beard. You need to do some testing first because many, many factors affect the color of the dye. “You have to experiment a little to get the color you want,” says Hanshaw, “because it depends on how thick your beard hair is and what color it [currently] is. It’ll never end up being exactly the color on the box.” The amount of time you leave the dye in will also affect the color, so it’s worth doing multiple tests, on small patches of your beard, until you get the exact hue you’re looking for. This also will let you know if the dye will cause an allergic reaction before you douse the entire lower half of your face in it.
When you’re ready, clean your beard thoroughly and exfoliate the skin underneath, which will help the hair retain the dye longer. Dry it thoroughly, then rub a small layer of petroleum jelly on the skin around your beard, so it doesn’t get dyed as well. Also, put on a pair of latex gloves, unless you’re looking to add some color to your fingers, and a shirt you won’t mind throwing away when you’re done.
Although there are many different types of beard dye, generally they’ll come with two tubes: one for the dye itself, and one for color developer, which is what allows the hair to absorb the dye. The kit will also likely include an applicator brush because, unlike hair dye, you don’t lather it in like shampoo. “You need to comb it through, not pack it on,” says Hanshaw. “Use an applicator, a comb, or a wide-tooth comb so that it goes through evenly and covers the top and the bottom.” Don’t just put it on your gray spots; you have to dye your entire beard, or else it’s going to look spotted.
It should go without saying that you need to carefully read the instructions to know how long to leave the dye in, but chances are it’ll be for 10 to 20 less-than-comfortable minutes. When the time is up, gently rinse your beard with lukewarm water to remove any excess dye, then just as gently, pat it dry with a soft towel you never intend on using again, because it will also be permanently soaked with beard dye. Ta-da!
If you’re less interested in hiding gray hair and more interested in displaying a beard rainbow for all to see (or just going from black to blond, say) bleaching your beard is basically the same process as dyeing it. The biggest difference is that bleach is a very harsh chemical on your hair and your skin, so it might be best to let a professional stylist do the job. If you’re insistent on DIY, there is bleach specifically made to white out hair. Then it’s a matter of putting on gloves, applying the petroleum jelly, brushing in the bleach, and rinsing it off the exact second the instructions indicate.
When it’s done, wait until the next day to dye it your preferred color, to give your beard and face some time to recover. “But if your hair is really heavy or dark and you need to bleach it again, you can’t do it for about a week,” warns Hanshaw. “Don’t ever try it at home or you’re going to end up bald. Honestly, [you should] just leave the bleaching to pros.” After all, if your beard falls out, you won’t have anything worth dyeing for.