Knowing how to groom stubble properly can transform a man. Stubble can be irresistibly attractive for many different reasons.
But left to its own accord, it can overwhelm the face and neck, making a mess of a man that could have been someone great.
“Grooming” stubble doesn’t just mean trimming and shaping it, as crucial as that may be. Knowing how to groom stubble means knowing how to clean it, nourish it, and for some men even color it.
The problem is that there just isn’t as much information out there for men who choose not to go for a full beard. They’ve chosen that stubble life and just want to know how to make it look as good as it possibly can.
Down below you’ll find 11 must-know tips on how to groom stubble like an absolute pro. Following this advice will make your facial hair more attractive than 95% of stubbled men out there who just have no idea.
Let’s get to it.
1. Start from a workable length
This is particularly important for your first proper trim. Before you trim down to your stubble length of choice, it’s important to let it grow out a little first. Don’t worry, not too much. But enough to let you see the bigger picture.
You want to see how your facial hair grows in a slightly longer form before cutting it down. Assess the direction the hairs grow, the contours it follows, and which areas are patchier than others.
Generally, it’s best to grow it to approximately 2mm longer than the stubble length you want to end up with. This is a good length to trim down from.
When it comes to stubble, it’s useful to differentiate it into light (1-2mm), medium (3mm) and heavy (4-5mm). The length you choose is down to personal preference, as well as factors such as suitability for your specific workplace.
If you aren’t sure what to go for, I’d advise that you grow it out for 12-14 days to start with. In most men, this should lead to around 6-7mm of growth.
This will allow some slower-growing, patchy areas to catch up and start sprouting hairs.
It also means you can choose to keep some patchier areas very slightly longer to give the illusion of density – but more on that later.
The main advantage, however, is that it gives you a great platform to start trimming, shaping, and grooming from.
2. Exfoliate before you shave
As explained further down below, areas outside your stubble beard need to be shaved properly. Stubble is fantastic but can look incredibly unkempt if the beard itself isn’t properly defined.
An important part of defining it is shaving outside the borders. Getting a close shave in these areas while simultaneously making the skin glow is a recipe for success.
Exfoliating is the key to this outcome. Many men shy away from it because it sounds like a “feminine thing”. This is outdated and needs to change.
The act of exfoliating refers to the removal of oil, dirt and dead skin cells from the top layer of the skin. This is great for clearing out the pores and making that skin glow.
But just as important, it unclogs the bases of the hairs and allows for a phenomenally close shave.
Although it’s an essential component of knowing exactly how to groom stubble, it’s actually just a great grooming practice in general.
It means the blade can glide very close to the skin with minimal effort and minimal friction. Say goodbye to irritated post-shaven skin and hello to impossibly smooth shaves.
You can either do it using an exfoliating face scrub or an exfoliating face wash. Both of them can cheaply be bought at the local drugstore. Importantly, both of them take less than 30 seconds to do. It’s so easy.
It’s almost like an industry secret among seasoned shaving pros and I’m handing it to you on a golden platter. Yes.
3. Trim down and shape it regularly
I wont go into the specifics of how to trim and shape stubble here, because I have plenty of other articles explaining how to do it.
But I do want to talk about how frequently you should do it because I get asked this question a lot. The answer is, it depends.
As unhelpful as that may sound at first, hear me out. It should come as no surprise that not trimming and shaping your stubble leads to it looking unkempt.
The problem with stubble is, you just can’t get away with having it poorly groomed. When longer beards look a little unkempt it’s almost accepted, or even expected. It adds to the charm, I guess.
But when stubble is left to roam it can make it look very accidental. Like you just woke up and forgot to shave. That’s the difficulty you face.
There are plenty of reasons to choose stubble as your facial hair length of choice. It’s easy to shape, it’s professional, it’s versatile.
But it does need attention. If you need to look sharp every day, you’ll need to tend to it every day, or at least every other day.
Having said that, as you’ll see from our tutorials, it isn’t very difficult to do. It doesn’t take as long as grooming of longer beards does.
So don’t let that put you off.
4. Vary the length
We’re getting into the nitty-gritty of how to groom stubble now. It’s exciting, I know.
As I mentioned earlier, certain areas of a beard (including stubble) just grow patchier than others. This is normal in the sense that it’s very frequently seen.
It can be a source of some heavy frustration for men who take their facial hair seriously. There are several ways to fix patchy stubble, but one way is to vary the length of it.
This needs to be done subtly because you want the stubble looking evenly trimmed overall. But doing this can actually help make it look more even.
The cheek hairs are notorious for growing thinner and patchier than the chin hair and the mustache.
Using your beard trimmer’s length settings, try keeping the stubble in the cheeks 0.5 – 1mm longer than that of the chin and the mustache.
It often makes the cheek stubble appear thicker and more even with the rest of the beard.
It’s a ninja trick I use all the time for my patchy cheeks.
5. Define the borders
When it comes to a classic stubble style, there are three borders you need to know. The neckline, the cheek line, and the backline.
The neckline is the border between your neck hair and your neck skin. A sharply-defined neckline can add incredible definition to your jawline and nicely contour the lower portion of your face.
A scraggly, poorly-defined neckline can look very unkempt and ruin a stubble style with ruthless efficiency.
We’ve actually got a full tutorial on how to trim a stubble beard neckline. But to summarize it here, you want the neckline to roughly follow the angle of the jaw without allowing it to get too high.
Visualize a U-shaped curve running from earlobe to earlobe, running through a point in the neck approximately two finger-widths above the Adam’s apple.
The curve should slant upwards on either side, roughly following the angle of the jaw without letting it become too “V-shaped”.
This should prevent the neckline from getting too high. A high neckline can produce an awful double-chin appearance, particularly when the mouth is open.
The cheek line is the border between the cheek hair and the cheek skin.
Again, a well-defined cheek line can look very sleek, although some men do prefer to leave it natural. This is a personal decision you’ll have to make.
It’s generally best to just accentuate your natural cheek line, without trying to turn it into something it’s not.
Some men have straighter cheek lines, and some men have more curved cheek lines. Simply sharpen up your natural line but trimming and shaving the hairs outside it and overlying it.
If you’re looking to experiment, straight cheek lines generally suit rounder faces, and curved cheek lines suit angular faces. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but it does make sense.
The backline runs down the back of your sideburn to the neckline.
A general rule of stubble grooming is that you want a well-established, clean, and hairless gap between your earlobe and the sides of your stubble beard.
Trim or shave any stray hairs and sharpen up this border.
For a more in-depth tutorial on how to define your borders, check out our article on how to shape stubble like an artist.
6. Shave your neck stubble properly
This ties in nicely with the point above. The neckline should be nicely defined, but removing all the hair beneath it is just as important.
Shaving neck stubble properly is essential to creating the intentional stubble look we’re trying to create. Sporadic strands of hair here and there won’t cut it. It all has to go.
Being completely hairless here produces such a nice contrast with the face stubble. It just screams “well-groomed”.
This can be done using an electric shaver (foil or rotary), or a manual razor (cartridge or safety). The technique is more important than the device itself.
Remember to use a moisturizing shaving gel if you’re using a razor. Keep the skin gently taut to catch the more elusive hairs, and avoid re-strokes.
Going over the same areas over and over again inevitably leads to irritation.
Shave with the grain (in the direction of hair growth) to minimize skin irritation and razor burn.
Neck stubble notoriously grows in all sorts of directions. Run your fingers against an area and determine which direction feels smooth and which direction feels coarse. The smooth direction is with the grain. Shave in that direction.
Don’t forget to tend to those little hairs that can sprout at the very base of the neck. Almost like an extension of the chest hair. It isn’t the most enticing look and needs to be fixed. What better time to do it than when shaving your neck stubble?
7. Moisturize well after shaving
Shaving leaves the skin feeling dry, irritated and angry. This shows, and can make clean-shaven skin look less desirable.
Exfoliating before, and moisturizing after a shave can make a huge difference here. When sculpting short facial hair lengths, it’s inevitable that the skin gets affected at times.
This is simply because you’re working so close to the skin.
But taking these extra precautions which really don’t take very long can keep it looking, and feeling healthy.
It’s an essential part of knowing how to groom stubble, even though it’s not directly related to the stubble itself.
8. Wash it properly
Hygiene is a key part of grooming. Simply splashing water over it isn’t going to cut it if it lies within the heavy stubble range.
A mild, moisturizing beard wash should be used to hydrate the hair shafts, and also the underlying skin.
Following this up with a beard conditioner re-inforces this process and also directly strengthens the hair shafts, preventing breakages.
Not only is this crucial for keeping the stubble looking and smelling hygienic, but it also has a couple of added benefits you may not initially think of.
It can make the stubble feel softer, much to your partner’s relief. Stubble rash is a very real and common complaint among dates, wives and girlfriends. Keeping those bristle edges soft is a great way to keep them happy.
Also, washing a beard properly can un-clump the hairs.
Clumped up, sticky stubble looks thinner, more lifeless, and patchier. Washed stubble looks more evenly distributed and thicker because the shafts are better separated and more uniform.
Again, if you have light stubble, don’t bother with this step. But if you’ve got medium to heavy stubble, definitely give it a go. If you fall within short beard territory (>5mm), there’s no excuse. You have to do it.
Be sure to use products designed for beards, however. Facial hair is different to scalp hair in thickness and texture. The products you use should be mindful of that fact.
9. Try beard oil
Yes, even for stubble.
Beard oil is different to beard wash and beard conditioner. It’s designed to stay on your facial hair and not be washed off. The best time to put it on is after you’ve trimmed, shaved and moisturized.
These commercially available oils often contain essential oils including argan oil and jojoba oil. They’re very nourishing for the hair shafts and can give the stubble a very slick shine.
It can also round off those sharp edges, making them less prickly to touch. Yes, another one your partner may buy for you to protect themselves from stubble attacks.
Use it on dry stubble to ensure the oil can reach as many hairs as possible. Wet, clumped together stubble hairs don’t allow for much infiltration.
Massage the oil up, down, and in circular motions into all of your stubble. Don’t forget the neckline area.
The great thing is these oils also moisturize your skin even further, so it’s a twofer.
10. Brush heavier stubble
Heavy stubble (4-5mm) can behave very similar to a short beard. Beard hairs often lie in different directions, and of course, naturally clump together.
This can lead to it looking messy and patchy. Brushing it regularly can separate clumped-together hairs, and also help them to lie in the same direction.
Many men learn how to groom stubble by trimming and shaving but forget these extras that can really make a difference to the look.
It may also allow the longer stubble to cover up any patchier areas. All of this adds up to neater, more uniform, and more evenly distributed stubble.
There are those that also strongly believe that brushing a beard in a certain direction can eventually train it to follow that direction naturally.
11. Try dyeing it
This may not play a role in your quest to find out how to groom stubble – yet. At present, your luscious stubble may be a beautifully uniform and homogenous color.
But as a man gets older, his hair – including his stubble – starts to wildly rebel.
Although gray stubble can have a very distinguished look, some long for the days when their facial hair exuded a more youthful vibe.
Dyeing stubble is a pretty painless way to achieve this. I have a full tutorial on how to dye stubble, so I won’t go into the details here.
But in short, it can make stubble look a lot more youthful very quickly.
Dyeing stubble isn’t just great for making you look younger, though. It’s also fantastic for counteracting patchy areas. It’s important to remember that facial hair can often grow in a variety of different colors, even within the same beard.
Stubble sometimes looks patchy because some hairs are just much lighter in color than the others surrounding it.
Dyeing these hairs a color that’s closer to your natural, more desirable color can make it look much less patchy.
A couple of points to remember. People often overestimate how dark they need their stubble dye to be. Choose a color one or two shades lighter than you think you need, and you’ll most likely be pleasantly surprised.
Stubble that’s too dark, or completely at odds with your scalp hair will look very obvious and very unnatural.
Also, remember to use an actual beard dye and not just a generic hair or scalp hair dye. Beard hair is different to scalp hair, and the product you use should be specifically designed to work with it.
Knowing how to groom stubble should be an essential skill taught at schools globally. Perhaps one day it will. It’s a world I’d like to see, in any case.
Stubble is a phenomenal way to go for any man who wants to balance ruggedness with versatility. But it does require some upkeep, just like anything else.
This guide is a mini-compilation of some tips and tricks I’ve gathered over the years in an attempt to tame the stubble beard.
It’s been an incredibly fulfilling journey, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to share it with you.
Do you have any tips or tricks on how to groom stubble you could share? If so, be sure to leave a comment down below!