Male Grooming

Labdanum- Beard grooming Babylonian Style

Labdanum-Beard Grooming Babylonian style


Labdanum and Babylonian Beards

Babylonian Beard


Labdanum. Also called LadanumCistus or Rockrose, is a fragrant mediterranean shrub, rich in history, oleo-resin, and tradition, both medicinally and aromatically.

Cistus ladanifer #1

Cistus ladanifer #1 (Photo credit: J.G. in S.F.)


The use of Labdanum, Cistus Ladanifera, Cistus Incanus or Cistus Creticus from Crete, has been traced back thousands of years to ancient Egypt, the civilizations of Akkad, Sumeria, Babylon. It is believed to be one of the ingredients in the ancient Hebrews sacred temple incense, “K’toret”. Thus keeping privileged company with such esteemed fragrant oleo-resins as Frankincense, Myrrh and Balm of Gilead

Labdanum is the starting material for most, if not all “Amber” type scents. Since there is no naturally occurring material with this name and fragrance. If you come across anything purported to be “True Amber”, be aware it is a composite material.

Cistis creticus (Cistus) source of traditional Cretan Labdanum


The fragrance of Labdanum is musky, warm, masculine, mysterious, balsamic, woody, slightly spicy and sweet. It is a heady odour, rich, complex and long-lasting. To me it speaks of mystery and masculinity. Not aggressive or self-serving masculinity, as Mars’ energy can be at times, but the powerful and gentle, nourishing strength of  the Sun. The kind of warm masculinity I associate with wisdom, compassion, love and healing. Labdanum speaks to me of the mystery and magic that we, the not so fair sex, are bestowed with. The receptive side that most men often do not discover till later in life.


English: Adam and Eve

English: Adam and Eve (Photo credit: Wikipedia


Yes, men have a mystery too, an intuitive and sensitive side, a perspective and insight that only men can have. One of equal weight, but less obvious as the better known womanly mysteries. For in this reality of duality, there could not be one without the other. Nor can we respect and honour one without accepting the other as its equal and counterpoint . It can work no other way. Yin and Yang. It is a gift that all men can draw upon.




One symbol of masculinity that cannot be refuted is A beard.  They say a man’s beard covers his throat area, the seat of his emotions and vulnerability, hiding and protecting them. I can’t disagree. It certainly feels necessary at times. Believe it or not, it’s not easy being a man in our society.  But we also embrace and  care for our masculine nature by growing and grooming our facial hair.




My personal favourite beard dressing ingredient is, you guessed it, Labdanum. It has a warm comforting and familiar scent to it, as if carried through lifetimes and centuries, adhered to our spirits.  It does have an ancient and timeless quality to it, and as mentioned, it is persistent!             Persistent enough to stick to our memory and genes 2000, 3000 or 5000 years later?  Apparently.

Assyrian composite man/horse/bird with beard

Assyrian composite man/horse/bird with beard

Labdanum, as other oleo-resins, has an affinity with facial hair. If anyone has read my earlier post about mustaches, Waxing warmly over mustaches, or a recipe for solid mustache wax, you will know I find oleo-resins a great aid in training facial hair. I have not researched the chemistry of this effect, but the resin part seems to have chemical compounds that affect hair behaviour. Labdanum works just as well as Pine, Spruce and Fir saps in this regard. It helps shape my beard, training it to hold a form long after the Labdanum has gone from my face. It helps with stray hairs, cowlicks and in general keeps things in place without the use of extra waxes and gels. And of course, the warm Amber like scent that Labdanum imparts to my facial hair is reason enough to slather it on regularly.


Mesoporamian relief

Mesopotamian relief

Traditionally Labdanum was collected from the beards and thighs of sheep and goats. The animals would accumulate sticky gobs of resin on their wool as they rubbed against the plants while grazing. If anyone is familiar with the musky fragrance of goats, or the gentler odor of raw Lanolin, (from sheep’s wool), they may have an idea what a good match these animal essences can be to Labdanum.There is a wonderful muskiness to these smells that compliments the sweet woody balsamic notes of Labdanum. For this reason I often use Lanolin as a conditioning agent in my Labdanum based beard grooming products. When fragrance and function of materials work together naturally, it is always a joy.

 cretan goats, collect Labdanum as they brush against against Cistus while grazing


Nowadays Labdanum is either collected by thrashing the plants with an ancient tool called a Ladanesterion, (There are records of its use in the first century A.D.), or by harvesting the shrub and boiling it in water, often a water and alkaloid mixture. The separated residue is then processed with solvents to create resinoids, an absolute and eventually an essential oil. There are different grades of quality depending on which type of Cistus is used, where, when and how it is harvested, the methods of separation and extraction used. Gentler solvents and lower temperatures are of course preferred when a high quality perfume ingredient is required.

When one comes upon photographs of sculptures of ancient Mesopotamian kings and gods, or Akkadian, Babylonian, Sumerian and Assyrian men, we gaze upon some very ornate and stylized beards carved in stone reliefs and sculptures, steles and rock walls thousands of years ago. Sadly, very few of these magnificent representations of Mesopotamic masculinity remain intact. If they haven’t been defaced by conquering armies, then  religious zealots finished the job in their attempts to eradicate idolatry and any competition with their own gods and dogma. Maybe they were pissed off that someone else’s god had a more magnificent beard than their god.

..Stylized Babylonian beard

When I come across references that ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian figures may have pasted Labdanum soaked, sheep’s, (or goat’s), wool on their faces as part of their facial hair grooming methods, I always feel it is too tempting to underestimate  the sophistication of our ancestors and misinterpret the visual references carved in the ancient stone. These people were not as primitive as we like to assume. Labdanum, in my experience, is an ideal facial hair styling and grooming gift from nature, on its own or when combined with oils, waxes or resins.  When one learns of the elaborate beard grooming and shaping techniques employed in ancient Mesopotamian cultures, such as tying strings or ribbons, using hot  irons, curling and braiding a beard, weaving in beads and precious metals, dyeing the hair with henna or other coloring agents, and of course applying sweet smelling unguents to it,  it makes me question whether sticking patches of sheep’s wool on ones face would complement any of these techniques or grooming methods, or if it would be completely at odds with it.

Presumed to be a stone relief of a "Genie" performing blessings and sprinkling "Holy", fragrant water, (Labdanum and other odiferous materials??).

Presumed to be a stone relief of a “Genie” performing blessings and sprinkling “Holy”, or fragrant water, (Labdanum and other odiferous materials??).




On the other hand, incorporating fragrant resins and oils, especially those that would help with shaping and setting a beard, does seem a more likely complement to the established grooming practices of the times. In my mind, Labdanum would be a perfect aromatic accompaniment to all that beard training, styling, preening and fussing. Just as effective then as it is today.


That’s my take on it.   Whatever methods you use to groom and shape your facial hair, they are part of your own unique path of self-expression. If you want to explore making your own beard or mustache grooming products, have fun, and remember to always take notes! Your future self will thank you.

If you have any questions, comments, insights or suggestions, I would love to hear from you..







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Waxing Warmly over Mustaches

The mustache, the manly mustache. That flourish that only a man can embellish. That embellishment that only a man can flourish. Suave or swashbuckling. Terse or trim. debonair, devilish, dictatorial or delightful. There really are too many types,the list is infinite. Each of us is given a completely different set of variables. Each of us can and likely should create our own unique style. Every face,every feature, every skin type and every genetic background creates different limitations and different possibilities. Each of us with our unique vision and creativity. A place for true self-expression. Color, texture and thickness of hair, Curly or straight, the size of the area between nose and lip, width and height of face, which areas are fur-bearing, which are spotty or naked. These are only some of the unique variables given man.

Even the lightest dab of down floating under an inexperienced nose, if only cut, trimmed and groomed minimally displays creative self-expression. It says to the world unequivocally, I am a mustache, bearing a man unique in who i am, we like who we areand celebrate our masculine nature.

Besides the obvious attentions of shaving cutting snipping brushing or combing a mustache, There is the time-honored tradition of waxing one’s mustache.
Having just finished my latest batch of said Mustache Wax, I do wax warmly on the subject and would be very happy to share insights and experience.

There are a few commercial mustache waxes available on the market. Not many and they don’t suit all types of mustache. One alternative is to make ones own mustache wax tailored to our own needs. Another is to have someone custom make a mustache wax for us. If you know someone who can do this for you are very lucky.
If, like me, you would like to make your own it is not too hard to make at home.

The basic ingredients in making a good mustache wax are a good base wax like beeswax, Sap,(fir Pine or spruce sap) and odoriferous oils,especially essential oils
Beeswax I find works best for me. It is natural, barely processed, smells great and it has good body and texture. Paraffin wax always smells like petroleum but can be worked with.
The wax will give body to your mustache wax.
Saps will help train your mustache to hold to a new form and shape. Almost like a “perm” effect. Saps also add a certain stickiness that helps keep everything together and of course a lovely, lovely fragrance.
While we now have stickiness and body I find that adding a little cocoa butter or Shea butter gives smoothness to the mix. Lubrication. This means it goes on much smoother and you aren’t as apt to yank out hairs every time you apply wax. No sense torturing oneself unnecessarily. Cocoa butter also smells heavenly and adds a balsamic note to the overall fragrance.
The last touch is fragrance. Pure essential oils are the best.
Some classic masculine essential oils are Sandalwood, Vetiver, Spikenard, patchouli, Cyprus, various Cedars and Frankincense.
Some spicy masculine notes are, Cardamom, Ginger, Black Pepper, Mace and Nutmeg
Given the base scents of beeswax, coniferous Saps and Cocoa Butter one has a good base for building a unique personal masculine fragrance. It is an accord that is woody and warm and lends itself to many variations and expressions of masculinity, soft or edgy, sweet, floral or spicy.
I usually have a summer wax and a winter wax. The summer wax is harder, it holds its form better during the warm summer months and the winter wax is softer so it goes on more easily in the winter.
I also have a winter decongestant mustache wax. In addition to the spruce and pine essential oils that come with the saps, (which are natural decongestants), I add essential oils of eucalyptus, peppermint, and Rosemary. The wax warming under my nose releases these therapeutic essential oils directly into my in-drawn breath and acts as an “inhaler” to help keep my breathing passages open when I’m feeling stuffed up.

One could probably add a mix of essential oils in the wax to act as a barrier to airborne bacteria and viruses when in crowded public places. Most essential oils have well researched anti bacterial and anti viral properties, even in very small doses.
Some potent anti-virals and anti-bacterials are essential oils of Oregano, Eucalyptus, Thyme and Tea Tree ( yuck! ).

Another type of mustache wax is the form of a liquid or creme. This type is applied from a tube with the fingers or distributed with a small comb. once applied, the liquid in it evaporates and the waxes set and hold everything in place. It is more of a “one shot” deal and often needs to be reapplied wet to touch it up. Whereas a solid wax can be adjusted for an extended period of time. This type of mustache wax differs in that it incorporates an emulsifying wax, alcohol and distilled water in its basic recipe. Quite often it includes waxes that are harder and more brittle than Beeswax such as Carnauba wax. I can go over a recipe for a liquid mustache wax or cream mustache wax in a future blog if anyone is interested in making one.

To find a recipe and instructions for making your own “solid” Mustache Wax , please see this blog’s recipe page.