The Science Behind Beardbrand Utility Wash

We’ve been getting some questions from customers about Beardbrand Utility Wash and Beardbrand Utility Softener that are similar to the question below:

"Hey guys, I've used your products for about three years and LOVE everything I've purchased.

The only thing that I have not tried is y'all's shampoo and conditioner (I've been using beard wash and softener). I remember receiving articles you sent me about the differences between head hair/beard hair, your beard wash products and hair products, and why one is better for one. I was always taught the more uses one product can have, long term it may not be suitable for your skin.

Before I buy the utility wash and softener, can you explain to me how this is similar or better than keeping the products separate for different kinds of hair on our bodies?"

This is a great question!

Things have changed a lot since beards started surging in popularity in the early 2010s. So we figure we’re long overdue for an updated conversation about hair, beards, and washing them both. We’re going to go into a ton of detail here to answer this question, so buckle up.


For years, we took a straightforward approach to cleansing beard hair — an approach informed by the understanding that beard hair is fundamentally different from head hair. In the past, we beat the drum in favor of beard-specific products. We said things like using hair shampoo in your beard is a one-way ticket to having a dried-out, itchy beard!

And now, here we are, no longer selling single-use products — shampoo, conditioner, beard wash, and beard softener — and only selling multi-use products like Utility Wash and Utility Softener.

What the heck happened?!

An evolution happened — we learned, and we grew. We aim to clear it all up in greater detail below, but first, let’s sum up a few things:

  1. We’ve never strayed from the understanding that beard hair is different than head hair.
  2. In many instances, we still believe that using certain hair shampoos on your beard can result in overly dry facial hair (we’ll go into greater detail below).
  3. We’ve learned that specific multi-use product formulas, when used properly, can be just as effective as single-use products.

Let’s get into the science behind all of this, starting with the differences between facial hair and scalp hair.


Facial hair and head hair are different types of hair.

In simplest terms, your beard is a closer kin to your body hair than your flowing mane. This difference manifests in three ways: hair texture, the density of hair follicles, and sebum production.


When we talk about hair texture, we aren’t referring to how the hair feels but the actual circumference of each hair shaft. All hair — whether on your scalp, face, or body — can be classified as one of three hair textures: fine, medium, and coarse.

Where facial hair differs from scalp hair is in your hormones. Facial hair begins sprouting at puberty as your body starts producing dihydrotestosterone (DHT), an androgen sex hormone that contributes to hair growth, muscle gain, fertility, etc.

In response to these surging androgens, the hair follicles on your body and face expand in size. The following excerpt from the Journal of Investigative Dermatology sums it up pretty well:

The major influence on hair follicle size during adult life is androgen action. Small vellus follicles in many body sites, such as the beard and pubic skin, enlarge in response to androgens, and the duration of anagen increases, resulting in the growth of thicker and longer terminal hair. On the scalp the opposite may occur as terminal follicles become miniaturized during balding. The effect of androgens on hair growth is thought to be mediated via the dermal papilla.

In simpler terms, beard hair is thicker than scalp hair due to the role of androgens in its production. And in that regard, beard hair is uncomfortably similar to (drum roll) pubic hair. Don’t panic — any hair that grows where it didn’t grow before puberty is, technically, considered “pubic” hair.

Now, your scalp hair can also have a fine, medium, or coarse texture. So, if you have very coarse scalp hair, the difference in texture between your hair and beard may be negligible.


Another critical aspect in determining hair type is the density of hair follicles. The more hair follicles you have in a specific area, the thicker your hair is.

The density on the scalp tends to range from 80,000 to 120,000 hair follicles. Compare that to your face, which has around 30,000 hair follicles on average.

Why this matters has less to do with the density of the hair follicles and more with the volume of sebaceous glands within the hair follicles. This brings us to the most important difference between scalp hair and facial hair: sebum production.


Sebum is a waxy-like oil produced by sebaceous glands in your hair follicles. It’s your body’s natural moisturizer, and it helps keep both skin and hair moisturized, healthy, and protected from external damage.

More hair follicles generally mean more sebum, and as mentioned above, there’s a greater concentration of follicles on the scalp compared to your face. So, for most people, your scalp will produce more sebum than your face.

Generally speaking, sebum is a good thing, but there is a sweet spot.

Too much sebum leads to oily skin, greasy hair, and clogged pores that can turn into blackheads and pimples. On the flip side, insufficient sebum leads to dry, itchy, and flaky skin.

There are two ways that you can end up with too much or too little sebum.

How you end up with too much sebum:
1. Your body overproduces sebum naturally or in response to hormone fluctuations, medications, or lifestyle factors.
2. You allow sebum to build up by not cleansing the skin frequently enough.

How you end up with too little sebum:
1. Your body underproduces sebum due to pituitary gland disorders, malnutrition, or certain medications.
2. You cleanse the skin too frequently using harsh surfactants.

At the end of the day, properly managing your sebum is one of the most critical elements of any skincare, hair care, and beard care routine. And how you cleanse your skin, scalp, and beard plays a significant role in how your hair and beard will feel.


1. Generally speaking, beard hair is more coarse than scalp hair. But if you have coarse scalp hair, the difference in texture between the two is minimal.

2. Your scalp has more hair follicles than your face, making it highly likely that your scalp produces more sebum than your face.

3. Properly managing sebum is critical if you want healthy skin and hair. How you cleanse your scalp and face plays an essential role in managing your sebum.

Now let’s talk about beard washes and shampoos, particularly what makes a cleanser good for scalp hair versus beard hair.


In the above section, we highlighted the differences between scalp hair and beard hair: texture, density, and sebum production.

And these differences beg the question: do you need a separate cleanser for your beard from what you use for your scalp hair?

To answer this question, we need to take a closer look at what shampoos and beard washes are made of and how they work in the first place.


If we haven’t hammered this home by now, your scalp — like the rest of your skin — produces sebum.

Sebum coats the outer portion of each hair strand and helps give it a healthy shine. However, as sebum accumulates, it causes hair strands to stick together and leave your hair looking overly greasy with a dull appearance. It also attracts dirt, pollen, and other particles that adhere to the scalp and hair strands.

The dirt and oils on your scalp and hair are not water-soluble, meaning they can’t be washed away by water alone. This is where shampoo and beard wash come into play.

Shampoos and beard washes contain detergents, which work as surfactants (surface-active-ingredients) that carry sebum and dirt away from hair strands when you rinse your hair after washing.

But here’s the thing — and this is critical — shampoos and beard washes are not designed to be used directly on the hair shaft itself. They’re intended to be used on the skin beneath the hair — your scalp and face, respectively. Using these products directly on the hair would result in stripping away too many essential nutrients from the hair shafts. The highest concentration of dirt and grime is on the skin and near the roots of the hair, and that’s where you should focus. Anything further toward the end of the hair shafts will get taken care of while rinsing.

Now, shampoos and beard washes often include additional detergents that help produce a foaming effect — or lather.

Contrary to what many people think, a foamy lather doesn’t contribute to its cleaning or conditioning power. But somewhere along the way, it got ingrained in our heads that a lot of foam was the only way to ensure your hair was being cleaned (yeah, big advertising probably had something to do with this).

But what if we told you that lots of soapy suds don’t necessarily equate to cleaner, healthier hair?

Let’s break it down...

The surfactants in your shampoo or beard wash can’t simultaneously dislodge dirt and form foamy bubbles. So, the dirtier your hair is, the less foam your shampoo or beard wash will produce.

But people like their foamy suds, so some companies add a bunch of foam-boosting ingredients to their shampoos and beard washes. This is effectively just filler that doesn’t contribute much to your hair's overall cleanliness.

Let’s take a deeper look at everything that goes into shampoo and beard wash.


We’ve talked about detergents/surfactants and foam boosters already, but to round things out, here’s a look at how shampoos are made — which is also how beard washes are made.


Water is the primary ingredient in all shampoos and beard washes. It makes up anywhere from 70% – 80% of a formulation.


Detergents — also referred to as surfactants — make up approximately 10% – 15% of shampoo and beard wash formulas. These ingredients do the heavy lifting for removing dirt and oil. There are various detergents out there with varying strength levels, but they are all derived from natural fatty acids or petroleum. Some detergents are harsher and will perform a more heavy-duty cleanse but also remove more sebum. There are also gentler detergents — generally derived from coconut — that don’t cleanse as deeply and leave more sebum behind.

A quick note on sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate
Two of the most commonly used detergents in shampoos, beard washes, and soaps are sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). These sulfates are a type of salt formed by chemical reactions involving sulfuric acid.

SLS and SLES have been used in soaps and shampoos for years because they’re inexpensive and help create that big lather people love. Sounds great, right?

The downside is that SLS and SLES are known to irritate the eyes, skin, and lungs — especially with long-term use. Some experts even recommend rinsing off these sulfates as soon as they're on your skin to reduce the risk of irritation — so you can’t even really enjoy that extra lather. And even if you’ve got skin that tolerates sulfates, sodium lauryl sulfate is known to strip an excess amount of the natural oil from hair and skin, leading to hair that is drier, weaker, and more susceptible to damage.

It is worth noting that SLS and SLES are both considered safe to use, and many people have no issue using products with either. We avoid SLS and SLES when formulating Beardbrand products because we’ve found much better, gentler alternatives.


Additional surfactants are added to formulations for the sole purpose of increasing the lather. As we discussed above, the foam doesn’t impact the product’s performance, but people like it. Foam boosters typically make up 5% – 10% of a formula.


A liquid formulation would slide right off your scalp or off your face and wouldn’t be very effective. Ingredients are added — usually in the form of additional detergents, salts, and polymers — to create a more viscous product.


To offset the drying effects of the surfactants, conditioning agents are added to help restore moisture and reduce static cling. Shampoos labeled as moisturizing, hydrating, or for curly hair often have a higher concentration of conditioning agents, but not always.

A quick note on silicones
Silicones are commonly used as conditioning in shampoos, conditioners, beard washes, etc. Typically these appear on ingredient lists as dimethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, and amodimethicone.

There’s no evidence that silicone is harmful, but here’s the thing — silicones don’t offer many long-term benefits either. Still, silicone is used in many shampoos and beard washes because it coats the hair shaft, trapping moisture inside and instantly giving hair a shiny, healthy appearance. The instant gratification offered by silicone can be very appealing.

The catch is that silicones are notorious for preventing moisture from entering the hair shaft and attracting dirt and oil like a magnet. Additionally, many silicones are not water-soluble, making them difficult to rinse. All of this causes your hair to feel dirty and oily faster, causing you to wash it more frequently and use more products. Over time, this can lead to a negative cycle of overwashing, which can leave hair dry and frizzy.


These are added to prevent the growth of bacteria and allow the product to have a longer shelf-life. These tend to be less than 5% of a formulation.


Ingredients that change the color, add opacity, adjust the pH, or offset the effects of hard water fall into the modifier category. These tend to be less than 5% of a formulation and can even be less than 1%.


Anything else false into the other or special additive category. This can include botanical extracts, natural oils, proteins, vitamins, or ingredients for medical conditions such as dandruff.


The key takeaway is that all shampoo and beard wash formulas comprise water, detergents, and foam boosters. In some instances, these three components can account for 95% of a formulation.

The primary variance across brands and types of shampoos and beard washes is in the specific detergents and foam boosters used. And there are only so many different detergents, surfactants, and conditioning agents for brands to choose from. Conditioning agents, modifiers, and special additives can add variety to formulations. But remember, those additives are often a tiny part of the overall product formula.

Which brings us to the following question: how much difference is there between shampoos and beard washes?

In the section below, we’ll show some formulas from popular brands and let you try and decide which is shampoo and which is beard wash.


Below are two examples with formulas for shampoos and beard washes from popular brands. We pulled the formulas directly from each brand’s website. see if you can guess which formulas are for beards and which are for hair.

Note: these examples are in no way intended to disparage or throw shade at these brands but to illustrate the existing grey area between shampoos and beard washes.


Which formula is beard wash and which formula is shampoo?

Formula A
Water (Aqua), Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, Glycerin, Acrylates Copolymer, Argania Spinosa Kernel Oil, Cetrimonium Chloride, Chlorphenesin, Citric Acid, Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine, Coco-Glucoside, Disodium EDTA, Glycereth-26, Glyceryl Oleate, Glycol Distearate, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Menthoxypropanediol, Menthol, Panthenol, PEG-150 Distearate, Polyquaternium-7, Polysorbate 20, Sodium Hydroxide, Tocopheryl Acetate, Ethylhexylglycerin, Phenoxyethanol, Sodium Benzoate, Fragrance (Parfum)

Formula B
Water, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Chloride, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Citrate, Sodium Xylenesulfonate, Fragrance, Citric Acid, Glycol Distearate, Dimethiconol, Sodium Benzoate, Dimethicone, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Tetrasodium EDTA, Menthol, TEA-Dodecylbenzenesulfonate, Polyquaternium-6, Trihydroxystearin, Trideceth-10, Histidine, Argania Spinosa Kernel Oil, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Benzyl Alcohol, Methylisothiazolinone, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Fruit Extract, Zea Mays (Corn) Silk Extract

Formula A is sold as shampoo. Formula B is sold as a beard wash. Formula A uses a gentler detergent (sodium cocoyl isethionate) compared to the harsher sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) in formula B. Formula B adds in quite a few fruit extracts and oils to offset the harsher surfactant. However, the fact that they are listed at the end of the formulation tells us that those fruit extracts and oils make up a very tiny part of the formula.

Note: ingredient lists on the back of grooming products are always listed from highest concentration to lowest.


Okay, here is a challenging one. The two formulas below are both sold by one of the most popular men’s grooming brands. One of the formulas is for hair and the other is for beard. Which is which?

Formula A
Water ((Aqua) Eau, Disodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Glycerin, Polyquaternium-7, Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Glycolate, Pentylene Glycol, PPG-2 Hydroxyethyl Cocamide, Xanthan Gum, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Coconut Fatty Acids, Sodium Diglycolate, Fragrance (Parfum), Tropolone, 1,2-Hexanediol, Caprylyl Glycol, Sodium Benzoate, Panthenol, Sodium PCA, Sodium Phytate, Arctium Lappa Root Extract, Equisotum Arvense Extract, Urtica Dioica (Nettle) Extract, Citric Acid, Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice

Formula B
Water ((Aqua) Eau, Disodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Glycerin, Polyquaternium-7, Disodium Cocoamphodiacetate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Glycolate, Pentylene Glycol, PPG-2 Hydroxyethyl Cocamide, Xanthan Gum, Salix Alba (Willow) Bark Extract, Coconut Fatty Acids, Sodium Diglycolate, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Fragrance (Parfum), Tropolone, 1,2-Hexanediol, Caprylyl Glycol, Sodium Benzoate, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Panthenol, Sodium PCA, Sodium Phytate, Hydrolyzed Kale Protein, Hydrolyzed Carrot Protein, Hydrolyzed Lemon Protein, Arctium Lappa Root Extract, Equisotum Arvense Extract, Urtica Dioica (Nettle) Extract, Citric Acid, Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate.

Formula A is marketed for beards. Formula B is marketed for hair. Did you notice that these two formulas are almost identical? We counted 26 common ingredients, almost all in the same order.

There is a lot of grey area between shampoos and beard washes. So, do you actually need a different product for each? We’ll share our thoughts on this in the next section.


Back to the primary question: do you need a separate cleanser for your beard from what you use for your scalp hair?

For years, we have told you that, yes, you should avoid using a hair shampoo on your beard because the more potent surfactants designed for the scalp could, over time, strip your beard of too much sebum, leaving your beard dry and susceptible to damage.

We felt then — as we do now — that beards need a gentler cleanser. And we built our product offering around that philosophy. It’s why our original Beardbrand Beard Wash and Beardbrand Shampoo had drastically different formulations.

And then something happened…

We started seeing customer reviews that mentioned using Beardbrand Beard Wash to wash their hair and Beardbrand Shampoo to wash their beards. Some of these customers did it accidentally, and some didn’t know better. Regardless, they were happy with the results.

How could this be?

For starters, even in our shampoo formulation, we stayed away from many commonly used surfactants that have a reputation for being harsh — sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), among many others. So, relative to many lower-priced, big-brand shampoos that use those detergents, Beardbrand Shampoo was gentler and less drying.

Essentially, Beardbrand Shampoo might not have been the absolute best thing to wash your beard with, but it was far from the worst thing you could wash your beard with. And if you were accustomed to using a harsher shampoo in your beard, you would have noticed a positive difference by switching to the gentler shampoo.

But what about the people using Beardbrand Beard Wash in place of shampoo? How could that yield positive results?

This likely boils down to the frequency of washing/shampooing. For men, it hasn’t always been common knowledge that you don’t need to wash your hair more than a few times a week, maybe even less. Washing your hair too frequently leads to a dry scalp, especially if using a shampoo with harsher surfactants. Suppose you were someone that washed their hair daily with a harsh shampoo; you would notice a positive improvement just by switching to a gentler cleanser, such as Beardbrand Beard Wash.

So, do I need a dedicated beard wash or not?

We’ve come to learn that the answer of shampoo vs. beard wash is a little more nuanced than we had given credence — and a little more nuanced than many beard companies want to admit.

It all comes down to ingredients and knowing how to use the product.

We’ve established that, relative to scalp hair, facial hair is typically thicker and more coarse. We’ve also established that your face generally produces less sebum than your scalp. This means that, generally, facial hair drys out quicker than head hair, meaning that it’s critical to not lose too much of that essential sebum when washing your beard.

This means that for most men, the best approach for washing your beard is quite simple:

  1. Use a gentle cleanser that also has some conditioning ingredients.
  2. Don’t wash your beard too frequently (frequency will vary depending on your hair and skin type).

The cool part is that you can apply the same principles to your scalp hair.

Once we understood this, we realized that it wasn’t that all-in-one products sucked, but the ingredients used in many all-in-one products sucked. So we started to explore the idea of a hybrid formulation that could be used for beard, hair, and body.

What we created was Beardbrand Utility Wash. A cleanser that, at its core, was gentle enough for your beard and face that could still tackle your scalp, armpits, and netherregions.


When we formulated Beardbrand Utility Wash, we focused on quality, gentle ingredients that don’t alter your body’s natural chemistry — good ingredients that perform wherever you use them. That formula looks like this:

Beardbrand Utility Wash Ingredients
Water (Aqua, Eau), Sodium Lauroyl Methyl Isethionate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Glycerin, Acrylates/Steareth-20 Methacrylate Copolymer, Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate, Polyquaternium-7, Glycol Distearate, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Hydrolyzed Jojoba Esters, Decyl Glucoside, Aminomethyl Propanol, Phenoxyethanol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Fragrance (Parfum), Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate, Panthenol, Laureth-4, Citric Acid

We use sodium lauroyl methyl isethionate and cocamidopropyl betaine for detergents because they’re coconut-derived, mild, and boast hydrating capabilities. All good things for your beard and face (but also pretty darn good for your scalp and skin, too).

Once we finalized the formulation, we sent prototypes to Beardbrand customers, got feedback, made tweaks, and repeated the process until we knew we had nailed it.

The result is an ultra-versatile cleanser that is a far cry from the mass-produced sulfate and silicone-filled goop that most people associate with multi-use products. And they make your grooming routine way simpler. And let's be honest, who doesn't want a simpler routine?


You may be wondering why we changed our product offering to only have Utility Wash and Utility Softener, especially if there was nothing wrong with our original beard wash, beard softener, shampoo, and conditioner lineup.

It all came down to what we believed gave men the least resistance to creating a game-changing grooming routine.

The best grooming routine for you is one you can stick with over the long run. To us, that looks like a simple routine that is easy to follow.

Now, you could build out a fully customized routine consisting of 12 to 15 products specifically designed for your hair type, skin type, and many other factors. That grooming routine would cost a pretty penny. And at the end of the day, would you stick with it?

The true quality of any grooming product goes beyond performance. Yes, performance matters, but we look at performance weighted against price, functionality, and how it integrates into your life. Or the formula below.

Product Quality = Performance + Price + Functionality

We understand if you’re skeptical about using a hybrid product. We believe that compared to our original beard wash, beard softener, shampoo, and conditioner, there’s no drop-off in performance with Beardbrand Utility Wash and Beardbrand Utility Softener. Give them a try, and if you disagree, send them back for a full refund.


1. Generally speaking, beard hair is more coarse than scalp hair. But if you have coarse scalp hair, the difference in texture between the two is minimal.

2. Your scalp has more hair follicles than your face, making it highly likely that your scalp produces more sebum than your face.

3. Properly managing sebum is critical if you want healthy skin and hair. How you cleanse your scalp and face plays an essential role in managing your sebum.

4. A gentle cleanser with water-soluble conditioning agents can be as effective for washing beard and head hair as a separate beard wash and shampoo. The critical thing is avoiding harsh detergents and tailoring the usage to suit your hair and skin type.


Have questions about washing your beard and hair? Text "STYLE" to 512-879-3297. Our resident beard and style expert will text you back with personalized advice—for free.

Keep on Growing.


Do you know what type of beardsman you are? Take the quiz to find out if you're the rarest type.


We did a similar same deep dive for Beardbrand Utility Softener and what makes it a versatile conditioner for beard and scalp hair.

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