It’s one of the things that no one ever teaches guys to do: how to wash your beard. But today, many of us are letting our beards grower longer than ever before, and washing your beard correctly can make a real difference in softness, control, fullness and even length since damaged hairs are more likely to break off.

I’ve found that washing a short beard is very different from washing a long one, so I’m providing two different sets of advice.

Washing A Short Beard

To wash a short beard, all you need to do is use shampoo and conditioner in the shower as you do on your head hair. Since you hairs are frequently trimmed, any damage gets cut away before the hair get long enough for it to be obvious, leaving only fresh, new hair. That means a more complicated cleaning regimen isn’t necessary.

If you experience any itching, try using a comb to go through your beard before you take a shower. This will loosen any dead skin cells and make them easier to wash away. If the itching persists, consider using a dandruff shampoo on your beard. Each brand has different active ingredients, so you may need to try more than one. Selsun Blue and its store-brand equivalents have an ingredient designed to treat skin conditions.

Once you’ve washed and towel-dried your short beard, you may want to apply a small amount of beard conditioner to deal with flyaway hairs that stick out from your beard. You can even rub body lotion right through your beard and into you face, reducing the number of hairs that stick out and conditioning the skin beneath.

Washing a Long Beard

Once a beard gets a bit of length, shampoo and conditioner — especially if used every day — are too drying. I’ve found that conditioner often does more harm than good on a long beard. Instead, I’ve had to learn a new way of thinking about cleanliness and a new method of treating my beard that doesn’t strip it of its natural oils.

Here’s my current routine: Before getting into the shower, I comb though my beard to release tangles and loosen dead skin cells underneath it. When I get in the shower, I wash the hair on my head with shampoo and conditioner, but I don’t wash my beard. Then, I wash the rest of my body as usual, trying not to get any soap, shampoo or other products in my beard. Of course, some gets in there as I wash my face, neck and chest.

When I’ve completely washed the rest of my body and washed away the conditioner in my head hair, then I quickly rinse my beard under the running water, rinsing away those dead skin cells and any soaps that got in it during my shower. But I don’t actually wash or condition my beard with any products.

This may feel weird to you at first, but after a day or two, you’ll notice that your beard is more easily controlled and feels softer. As it turns out, your natural oils are better for your beard that harsh soaps and conditioners.

And don’t worry that you won’t feel clean. The comb-through before you get in the shower eliminates any itching and causes your beard areas to feel clean. It actually feels better than it does when you wash with soap and over-dry this area.

If the humidity is low or you’ve been out in the wind, you may need to apply a small amount of a beard oil or beard conditioner to your facial hair to restore what the weather has removed. You can also try jojoba oil, sweet almond oil or even simply olive oil to condition your beard — but only use a little.

It’s A New Approach

For those with shorter beards, shampoo and conditioner work great because short hairs don’t need anything more. You simply cut away the hairs before they age and dry out.

For longer beards, however, you have to rethink how you clean yourself. I like to take a shower every day, but washing a beard with shampoo and conditioner daily is much too harsh. Instead, I use the routine above and feel fresh and clean at all times.

If you don’t shower every day, you’re a step ahead of the game. You skin and hair will thank you for allowing their natural oils to build up. But I just don’t feel right if I don’t shower.

Natural oils are better than any soaps, conditioners, essential oils or other products, so do what you can to allow them to do their job, then simply rinse away dirt when necessary. Finally, add some additional beard conditioner or other oils when what you have naturally just isn’t enough.

Following this method, and you can have your perfect beard — and the better quality of life that comes with having a great beard you can be proud of.