How growing a beard went from a rejection of grooming to a grooming bonanza

A couple decades ago, the beard category was practically non-existent. Now it’s…the balm.
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MLB via Giphy

· 10 min read

Much of what’s sold in drugstores today isn’t all that different from when they still had soda fountains, their aisles stocked with brands that have been around for generations, like Vaseline (1870), Gillette (1900), L’Oréal Paris (1909), Nivea (1911), and Old Spice (1937).

But there’s a new drugstore category that’s really growing and, fittingly, is about really growing: beard care.

It would have been a challenge to find a single beard-care product in CVS or Target a decade ago, but, in most stores today, the facially hirsute are greeted with an assortment of beard oils, balms, shampoos, and conditioners.

  • Sales for beard-care products in brick-and-mortar mass drugstores and supermarkets alone totaled $97.2 million in the 52-week period that ended March 20, a nearly 7x increase from the same period in 2016, when it totaled $14.5 million, according to IRI data collected by Edgewell Personal Care, the personal-care giant that owns brands including Schick, Edge, and Banana Boat. (The data reveals rapid market growth, but not its size: It doesn’t include Amazon or any online-only retailer, DTC, barbershops, or prestige-channel stores.)

Growth opportunity

During the worst of the pandemic, when almost everyone was stuck at home, many men stopped shaving, and products like razors and shaving cream took it, naturally, on the chin.

At Grooming Lounge, an e-comm retailer of men’s personal-care products that also has an upscale barbershop and spa in McLean, Virginia, online sales of men’s shaving products dropped “at least 10%” from 2019 to 2020, and didn’t recover in 2021, founder Mike Gilman told Retail Brew. Conversely, during that same two-year period, sales for beard products rose more than 15%, he said.

At Edgewell, which owns men’s brands such as Cremo and Bulldog, sales of shaving and beard products also shared a seesaw.

  • Sales of beard products for the two brands experienced “double-digit growth” while shaving products had “double-digit declines,” in 2020, said Matthew Biggins, SVP and GM of the grooming division at Edgewell.
  • Biggins added that shaving products have been recovering steadily since late last year, while sales of beard products are still above pre-pandemic levels.

But when it comes to beards—and the products for them—the pandemic surge is only the latest twist in a quickly evolving story. There is a cultural reassessment about what it means to grow a beard. Is a beard an act of rebellion, a hipster trend, or just a preference to not shave? Is it something an executive can pull off…or should shave off?

And from a retail perspective, does growing a beard mean men are swearing off grooming products—or targets for even more of them?

Stubble negative

On Halloween in 2014, Eric Bandholz, the founder of then-fledgling Beardbrand, appeared on Shark Tank, hoping to secure a $400,000 investment for a 15% stake in his business. One of the show’s investor-stars, Lori Greiner, stroked Bandholz’s full reddish-blonde beard, and while she was impressed at how soft Beardbrand products made his whiskers, neither she nor the show’s other investors were impressed enough with the prospects for a line of beard products to invest.

Eric Bandholz, founder of Beardbrand


It was no surprise that the Shark Tank cast didn’t quite know what to make of Bandholz and his products. With the exception of mustache wax, which men have been using for generations, when Bandholz was starting out, the beard-grooming industry was in its infancy.

Bluebeards Original, which claims to have invented beard shampoo and was first made in the founders’ kitchen in Pittsburgh, wasn’t founded until 2005. Honest Amish, whose beard products (as of this writing) are the top two sellers in Amazon’s Beard Conditioners & Oils category, and which is considered one of the earliest and most popular brands, first applied for a brand trademark in 2013.

It was also in 2013 when Beardbrand first started as an online retailer, initially selling beard oil and mustache wax from a brand called The Bearded Bastard, which had launched just two years before, until introducing its own Beardbrand line of products later in 2013.

Bandholz started posting videos to YouTube about beard care in 2012, even before he started selling products.

  • Today the Beardbrand channel has 1.87 million subscribers, with 1,000+ videos that collectively have more than 427 million views.
  • The brand gets about half of its new customers through its YouTube videos, Bandholz said.

Bandholz told us that Beardbrand coined the term “urban beardsman” early on, and that’s still how he defines his typical customer. While several beard brands have the word viking in their name or post videos to YouTube with viking cosplay, bawdy bro humor, and half-naked models, Beardbrand strikes a more urbane note. Many videos on Beardbrand’s channel feature Greg Berzinsky, an architect in Philadelphia who’s a dapper dresser and whose meticulously-groomed silver beard looks every bit as professional as a clean-shaven face.

Beardbrand began selling in Target in 2018, and today, total online and offline revenues are in the “high seven-figures,” said Bandholz, who declined to be more specific.

“I would like to think that the brand had a pretty instrumental part in bringing legitimacy to beard grooming,” Bandholz said. “When we started, a lot of the flack was like, ‘You’re gonna put products in your beard?’ and ‘Why would you do that?’” Bandholz told us. “It’s really shifted now to, ‘What makes Beardbrand different than everybody else?’ And that’s a completely different conversation.”


Biggins, who oversees several Edgewell grooming brands, previously served as the CEO and president of Cremo before it was acquired by the personal-care giant in 2020. Cremo had started as a shaving cream-only brand in 2005, and it was under Biggins’s watch in 2016 when it added beard products including beard oil and beard balm.

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“The old-school thinking was that if you were polished and you were on top of your grooming game, that meant that you were clean shaven,” Biggins told us. “But really our insight was, ‘No, you can have facial hair and still be polished and still have kind of that elevated grooming game.’ That’s where society has gone.”

But expanding into beard care put some fans of Cremo shaving cream, as was their wont, in a lather.

“There were some hardcore shave consumers who really looked at Cremo as very much a shave brand,” Biggins said. “So when we moved into beard care, it was kind of like, ‘What’s this brand doing?’”

So, Biggins said, “We sort of reposition the brand to say that no matter what your facial hair—whether you’re clean shaven, you have a beard, you have a mustache, [you have] stubble, Cremo is all about elevating that and making sure that you’re looking your best.”

  • One of Cremo’s product lines, in fact, is for the liminal stubble state that is between being clean shaven and bearded, helping to control itchiness during the early weeks of growing a beard that can feel as unsettling as turning into a werewolf.

The art of not shaving: Long before it was purchased by Procter & Gamble in 2009, The Art of Shaving was, as its name subtly hints at, dedicated to shaving products, and its founders claim they essentially invented pre-shave oil in the 1990s. Like many shaving brands, it branched out into a range of men’s personal-care products and fragrance, including—as incongruous as it may seem—beard care, in 2015.

“We play across the various gamut of grooming, despite the name being The Art of Shaving,” Falguni Desai, CEO and managing director at The Art of Shaving told us. A longtime mantra of the brand, she added, is, “If you can grow it, we can groom it.”

Since most people have been swathed in athleisure for the last couple years, as employees are finally returning to offices, dress codes seem to be getting more relaxed than before the pandemic, and Desai said that workplaces also are likely to get more relaxed about beards.

“What we’re finding is that your facial-hair style is a really big reflection of your style, and it’s a tool within your overall way of how you reflect your style,” Desai said. “So whether it be [at] work, whether it be at home, even like weddings…People are really experimenting more with their different facial hairstyles.”

Facing the future

But even if many pandemic beardsmen shave before they return to offices, the brands could still grow.

Beardbrand, for example, offers non-beard products, including deodorant, hair products, and fragrance. Bandholz, the founder of the brand, said that when customers grow fond of the fragrance of a beard product, they’re encouraged to also add non-beard products with the same scent to their orders.

“We leaned into this concept called ‘scent confusion,’ where you’re using different products from different brands and you end up having a lot of conflicting fragrances,” Bandholz said. “We wanted to unify that experience for our customers.” (Beardbrand stopped selling on Amazon several years ago, Bandholz explained, because on the brand’s DTC site, customers are much more likely to buy more of these products.)

Other brands are offering new products for dedicated beard primpers, like heated beard-straightening brushes, which boomed during the pandemic.

Beards, of course, are just hair that’s below the ears, and Biggins said that when it comes to the future of the beard category, he looks scalp-ward.

“The way the category’s evolving is kind of following that path of hair, which is getting into more solution-based platforms,” Biggins said. In other words, beard brands might have launched with a single beard and conditioner, whereas in the future they could have a broad range, like Pantene does for hair.

Beard dandruff, or beardruff, for example, is no fun to have or to discover on your Tinder date or coworker. “We could get into something like a Head & Shoulders for beards,” Biggins said. “You know, a more targeted solution. That’s definitely something that we’re always always trying to think of.”

Just for Men already makes gray-reducing dyes and shampoos for beards, and while Biggins said dye is a “tricky category,” it’s something Edgewell is “trying to figure out” when it comes to potential new beard products.

At his upscale barbershop and men’s spa, Grooming Lounge owner Mike Gilman told us they book at least three beard-dying appointments a week. When the shop first started offering services like hair-dying and nose-hair waxing when it opened in 2002, he planned to install curtains going around stylists’ stations for privacy, because he thought some men could be mortified to be seen undergoing such services.

But Gilman never bothered with the curtains because men didn’t seem self-conscious, and over the years, he said, they’ve grown even more comfortable with services that once may have seemed embarrassing—including having their beards dyed.

“I mean, guys, you see it all the time,” Gilman said of walking through his barbershop. “This guy sitting there reading his phone with…hair dye on his face. They don’t care at all.”—AAN

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.