What Is Beard Dye?
Compared to most standard hair dyes (the stuff youâ€™d use on your head), beard dyes have a few key differences. For one, the formula is often gentler in beard dyes, since the skin on our faces tends to be more sensitive than that on our scalp. Secondly, many beard dyes donâ€™t provide 100 percent block coverage, since this creates a â€œshoe polishâ€ effect across the face.
To borrow a term, man beard dye formulas use demi-permanent dyes that bring gray or stray blonde hairs more to a central color, and then it gradually fades over time to retain a natural appearance (and one that is so subtle it wonâ€™t turn heads for the wrong reasons).
Also, most hair dyes assume that the user will be utilizing the entire box (or most of it), while many beard dyes factor in that you'll want multiple uses out of the container. So they are often bottled for ongoing use (typically up to three months), though dyeing a larger, fuller beard will get fewer uses. Many demi-permanent menâ€™s dyeing brands also create an all-in-one product for the hair, beard, body hair, and so forth, but they devise these products first and foremost for the sensitive skin on the face, which almost always prevents reactions from the rest of the body.
Fortunately, most modern formulas will not stain the skin, and can be rinsed clean from the dermis if used as necessary. It is highly recommended, however, that you use gloves when dyeing (theyâ€™re typically included), and avoid getting the product on walls, clothes, carpets, and rugs. Many beard dye companies will also provide a small application brush to help distribute the product evenly through your whiskers.
The duration of each dye differs from one brand to the next, and it also depends on how long your hair is when you dye it. If youâ€™re dyeing a full beard, then a couple weeksâ€™ growth of gray roots may go unnoticed. But if youâ€™re dyeing weeksâ€™ old stubble (which is possible), then you may need to touch it up every time you trim, because the contrast will be noticeable much sooner.
As for ingredients, there are two key warnings. One is to avoid anything with ammonia. Luckily, this is largely out of play in modern dyes. You can smell ammonia when itâ€™s contained in a dye, and itâ€™s extremely unpleasant. Ammonia helps dyes penetrate the hair cuticle, but it also significantly damages the cuticle and makes it brittle and frail.
Secondly, many consumers choose to avoid an ingredient called PPD (which stands for Para-phenylenediamine). These are most common in permanent hair dyes (as opposed to demi-permanent ones), and are much likelier to trigger an allergic reaction. One allergen study found that over 6% of North American participants reacted negatively to PPD.
That same study compares PPD to a common alternative, HPPS (which stands for Hydroxyethyl-p-phenylenediamine sulfate). People were nearly nine times less likely to have a reaction to HPPS, which makes it a much more attractive ingredient in all hair dye formulas (not just beard dyes). A similar alternative is PTDS (Para-toluenediamine sulfate). Youâ€™ll see all three ingredients mentioned among our beard dye picks below, so keep them in mind. Again, PPD is the highest risk for negative reaction, while HPPS and PTDS are much safer.
Regardless, you should test a new formula on a small area of skin 48 hours before applying it uniformly. This will allow you to track your own reaction to whichever chemicals have been used.
How to Choose a Formula
There are really two simple ways to separate beard-dye formulas. Either they are permanent dyes (which dye uniformly and typically wonâ€™t fade with time), or demi-permanent dyes (which help create a more natural gradient by â€˜blendingâ€™ grays or blondes into the natural color; these will slowly fade over a few weeksâ€™ time).
One of the easiest ways to tell these two apart is whether or not they include the aforementioned chemical PPD. Itâ€™s a much harsher dyeing compound, and itâ€™s more common in permanent and mass-made dyes. Demi-permanent, small-batch formulas (not to sound too hipster with this) will typically use alternatives, like the aforementioned HPPS or PTDS, which are gentler dyeing agents.
If you want guaranteed quality, then definitely avoid PPD. Most brands that contain it will shield their ingredients list from you on their website and e- retailers. Even their FAQs will lack a question about ingredientsâ€¦ which is probably one of the most frequently asked questions in the first place.
Youâ€™ll see me contradict myself below, however, when I do suggest using Just for Men in specific occasions. It has PPD in it, and its ingredients are not listed on its site (hmmm). But, I do think it works; I just donâ€™t believe everyone should use it, and itâ€™s most important to know about its use of PPD before you buy itâ€”just to be aware, and of course to avoid it if thatâ€™s a complete turn off.
So, here goes the contradiction: In my experience (as someone who really only dyes out the smattering of blonde hairs in his otherwise medium-brown mustache and goatee), permanent options are perfectly fine so long as I am only dyeing short, weeks-old growth. This masks the dreaded â€œblock colorâ€ (or shoe polish effect) that makes it look dyed at all. Most people just think my mustache grew much fuller over the weekend, whereas all I did was make it one uniform color. I would never use this permanent dye for a full, bushy beard, though, because it would look unnatural. Again, permanent options often contain PPD and are also much likelier to cause irritation. Most men will be totally fine, but you should still proceed with caution and test a small patch of skin 48 hours in advance (as you should with any and all beard dye formulas).
How long each product lasts is really more a question of â€œHow often do you personally need to reapply?â€ Guys with shorter beards will reapply more often, since the contrast will shower sooner. This could be weekly, bi weekly, monthly. Guys with longer beards may notice the â€œdemi-permanentâ€ gradual fading effects more readily than the guys who have to dye more frequently. In this case, once a month is usually advised for touch ups, but youâ€™ll have to assess for yourself and reapply as needed.
How to Choose the Right Shade
The general rule of thumb for choosing your beard shade is to go one shade lighter than you might expect. This is true for two reasons: First, you can always go darker, but not lighter. And secondly, this allows the dye to bring stray grays/blondes to a more center color (blending them in, effectively), while it wonâ€™t have as much of an impact on your already dark whiskers. (Dark hairs donâ€™t take color very well unless they are first bleached.)
How to Apply Beard Dye
While you should follow the specific instructions of whichever beard dye you purchase, here are the general steps.
- Itâ€™s not necessary to wash your beard first. Ideally you washed your beard the night before, or the morning of. Regardless, itâ€™s good to space apart your dyeing and your cleansing, because some of the natural oils in your beard can help the color soak in. Some brands will advise you to have a fresh cleanse, though, in which case you should do so. Perhaps their ingredients absorb better without the natural oils present.
- If youâ€™re dyeing short beards and mustaches, then trim after dyeing. It can be helpful to have as much hair as possible when dyeing short beards. (Otherwise youâ€™re just lathering dye across the skin.) So, maintain your pre-trimmed length as you dyeâ€”or trim the hairs down to a 3 or 4 on your beard trimmer (at shortest), and apply the dye there. You can then trim down to stubble or near stubble from there. The extra volume of hair will help a lot when it comes to color retention, allowing it to â€œlatherâ€ just a bit more.
- Clear the area, strip down, and wear gloves. Dyes will stain your clothing, surfaces, and pretty much anything else. Theyâ€™re dyes, after all. So, proceed with caution. Wear whichever gloves the brand has provided you. Stir the formula carefully. Apply it carefully. Chances are, it wonâ€™t leave stains on your face, but it can easily stain the hands and anything else it touches.
- Mix the dye and the color developer/activator. Most dyes come in a kit, and thereâ€™s a color activating/developing agent that is separate from the dye. Again, this can vary from one brand to the next (as well as how much developer to use). Follow the productâ€™s specific instructions. But this activator effectively opens up the hairâ€™s cuticle and allows the dye to penetrate each strand. It makes the process much more effective and gentle.
- Leave on as directed. Typically 5-10 minutes will suffice (and more on the shorter end with facial hair). Regardless, follow the instructions of your specific product.
- Wash it away. The easiest way to remove the dye is to hop in the shower, but you can also use a standard cleanser to flush away the chemicals and reveal your new color. Just be cautious of any errant dye that splashes around your sink, tiles, shower curtain, floor, or walls. This is often why the shower is best: itâ€™s easiest to quickly flush everything away without letting it settle and stain any surfaces.
The Best Beard Dyes
Best Foam: True Sons Hair Dye Foam
True Sonsâ€™ demi-permanent dye comes in an aerosol foam canister, which gives it one of the longest shelf lives among other options, along with Simpler Hair Color below. (Many other dyes will oxidize and be rendered ineffective after a month or two.) The formula is also pre-mixed, so there is no step of adding developer with the dye formula (as outlined below in our â€œHow to Applyâ€ section). It can be used on the scalp, face, and body, and delivers a â€œblendedâ€ result, which gives grays a soft, natural coloring without dyeing everything one solid flat block color.
It combines both HPPS and PTDS dyeing agents, and one bottle can get roughly up to a dozen applications on a short beard. True Sons carries seven shades, from ginger and blonde to brown black and true black, itâ€™s got something that will carefully match your natural shade.
Best Kit: Simpler Multi-Use Dye For Hair and Beard
Simpler is another terrific foam dye, which maintains a longer shelf life, past the typical 1-2 month window of competitorsâ€™ dyes. Simpler comes with a brush that makes for easy, uniform application, too, if you would rather not massage it in with your hands. (Still, wear the gloves.) Simpler has seven shades, from ginger to black, so thereâ€™s guaranteed to be something for you. Each can promises roughly 3-4 applications on a full head of head, or 12 applications on your short beard alone. Its primary dyeing agent is PTDS, and the brand prides itself for being an aerosol dye with no flammable ingredients. (â€œNo flammable ingredientsâ€ on your face is a good thing, regardless of the odds of you hovering near an open flame while dyeing.) It also nourishes skin and hair with oils of aloe vera, coconut, avocado, jojoba, and meadowfoam seeds, delivering antioxidants and soothing, fortifying nutrients.
Best For Hair Health: Madison Reed Hair Color for Men
Already one of the most trusted names in salon-caliber hair dyes, Madison Reed is venturing into the menâ€™s / facial hair territory now. One great temperature check for Madison Reed is that its hair dye is formulated in the EU (in Italy, specifically). The product standards in the EU are far stricter than in the US, so there are far fewer chemicals that theyâ€™re allowed to use in their ingredients. This is promising for the health of your hair, especially considering that Madison Reedâ€™s formula also contains eucalyptus leaf oil, hops extract, and antioxidant black pepper seed, which together plump hair full of antioxidants, moisture, and natural shine. This one does practice the typical 2-step process of applying dye and then adding the activator/developer (and is suggested that you apply them one after the next rather than mixing them together for a single application). You should get 4-6 applications for a short beard out of this one, at minimum, but expect a shorter shelf life than aerosol cans since some oxygen will enter the tubes during use. (Youâ€™ll be fine if you use it all in a month or two.) Its primary dyeing agent is PTDS.
Best Permanent Dye: Just for Men Mustache & Beard Dye
Truth be told, Just for Men gets the job done when you need a quick, light touch up. So, for guys with just a few grays/blondes and who wonâ€™t be using it across their entire beard, Just for Men is a terrific pick. You only have to be cognisant of its use of PPD, the ingredient that all the other brands above proudly avoid. (Itâ€™s on par with the debate over using aluminum antiperspirants, or avoiding the ingredient altogether. Some people have severe reactions, but by and large, most people are totally fine.) For a short beard, youâ€™ll get 2-3 uses out of the two-step formula, wherein you blend the developer and dye together before brushing them into your whiskers. After a month or 2 of opening the tiny tubes, youâ€™ll notice that theyâ€™ve oxidized and wonâ€™t dye anymore. Itâ€™s the cheapest option of the lot, too, but the value of the other products (far more applications for your money, and longer shelf life, not to mention better ingredients) paints a good argument for them.
So, all things considered, it is recommended with caution. I use it most often myself (and love the other picks here), but Iâ€™m also only dyeing sparse blondes and grays. As soon as they grow more prominently, Iâ€™ll without question upgrade to any of the picks above.
For shorter beards or standalone mustaches with a few stray blondes or grays, the less expensive â€œpermanentâ€ dyes (like Just For Men) are a perfectly fine optionâ€”so long as you test your skinâ€™s sensitivity to it first. Guys looking to cover up lots of grays or dye fuller beards should always opt for a â€œdemi- permanentâ€ pick for a more natural (and less shoe-polishy) finish, even though they wonâ€™t fully dye all of the light hairs. Again, test any new formula on your skin 48 hours prior to use.
Lead image product provided by Just For Men.
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