I recall one time, in my early facial-hair-dyeing days, that a friend thought it laughable: Why would anyone want to alter the color of their whiskers? (I’m pretty sure he has bleached or dyed his scalp hairs dozens of times).
It was an easy response from me: The dye makes my beard look much fuller—dare I say twice as full, even. Half of my facial hairs sprout translucent and almost blonde, despite having dark brown hair throughout the rest of it (and atop my head). So, yeah, I dye mine all the time and that fullness is sincere; my beard is always that full, only now can it be noticed and appreciated.
Even when I cut my facial hair short and leave 5-o’clock stubble around the chin and cheeks, I like to keep a slightly-dyed mustache, a few days’ length is all. It creates a nice contrast that I can’t achieve with the translucent hairs.
My guess is that most people associate facial hair dyes with those shoe polish dye jobs that turn the whole thing some unnatural shade of dark brown or black. And those were the options some 15-20 years ago. But the tides have drastically shifted in our favor.
Now, there are dyes that create a much more natural looking result, whether they color everything uniformly or intentionally create a softer, texturized effect throughout.
So, whether the facial hair sprouts a different color than the hair on your head, or if you prefer to fend off those early grays until you’ve got a uniform silvery glow, then you’re probably considering facial hair dye—or even if, like me, you simply want your facial hair to look fuller. (No, the dye won’t miraculously fill in patchiness, so don’t get any wrong ideas.)
Of course, all of this is simply a matter of preference. Just as there’s no shame in dyeing it, there’s no shame in owning and embracing what you’ve got, so long as you extend the same field of choice to your friends. (CC: My ignorant friend who ran his mouth).
Terms to know
Below are the best beard and mustache dyes on the market lately. But first, it’s important to know a few terms:
Demi-permanent dyes: These are the products that bring everything to a more subtle “center,” in that they don’t block-color the hair. Instead, they add to the fullness or reduce light/dark contrasts, but they also fade over time. (If you maintain short or medium facial hair, this won’t feel like any extra work, reapplying them every few weeks or more, since the newly sprouted hairs will need to be colored anyhow.) Most dyes these days are demi-permanent, but not all.
Ammonia: Never use a dye with ammonia. This ingredient has been mostly filtered out of consideration, luckily, but “ammonia free” is still something brands will advertise, despite there being really no serious contenders who still deploy the cuticle-damaging ingredient.
PPD: Shorthand for para-phenylenediamine. This is a common ingredient in permanent beard dye formulas that is a known allergen—about 6% of people will have a skin reaction to it. That’s not to say it needs to be avoided altogether; rather, it’s just an ingredient to watch for and note. Many formulas are also specifically made without it, and sometimes it is as easy as choosing a demi-permanent formula over a permanent one.
HPPS and PTDS: Shorthand for hydroxyethyl-p-phenylenediamine sulfate and para-toluenediamine sulfate. These are alternatives to PPD in permanent dyes which are extremely less likely to cause irritation.
And now, before we share our favorite brands of beard and mustache dyes, just remember this: When picking a dye, you can always go darker, but never lighter. That is to say, if you aren’t sure which color to pick, then pick a shade slightly lighter than what you would otherwise anticipate using. If it’s too light, then just level up to the darker option. There’s a good chance that it’ll look perfectly nice and natural, though—and you’ll be glad you didn’t go too dark at the start.
The Best Beard and Mustache Dyes
With an EU-approved formulation, you know this one has been made with higher safety standards in terms of allergies and sensitivities. Madison Reed is a popular hair dye brand, and its facial hair dye is equally outstanding. The primary dye ingredient here is PTDS.
A demi-permanent pick for hair and beards alike, delivering a natural-looking finish. Made with HPPS, so it’s unlikely to cause irritation.
A demi-permanent foaming dye for head-to-toe, which gives hairs a “middle ground” coat for a natural finish. One of the easiest to use, too, since there is no mixing required. And, unlike many of the hand-mixed picks, it won’t oxidize and lose its dyeing powers (so it lasts a long time in the canister between dyes). Contains HPPS.
A permanent dye with natural results, and a bevy of nourishing ingredients to fortify hair as the dye works its magic. Uses PPD, so sensitive skin types should consider demi-permanent options.
The tried and true. They’re the easy target for the demi-permanent brands, since the permanent JFM has been synonymous with beard dyes forever. Truth is, their formulas are terrific these days, and the results are far less shoe-polished than decades past. If you’ve got sensitive skin, take note: JFM contains PPD.
These are just a few of our favorite beard dyes, but are you at a bit of a loss when it comes to actually growing your beard? We got you covered. And for those looking to maintain their facial hair, here’s a quick guide to the differences between beard oil and beard balm.