Barber’s itch — also called tinea barbae and ringworm of the beard — is a fungal infection that often develops on the skin underneath the beard. It can also occur on the neck, chin, and upper lip.
It’s caused by two types of animal fungi: T. verrucosum (from cattle) and T. mentagrophytes var. equinum (from horses). Barber’s itch can spread after direct contact with an animal or person who carries the fungus.
Read on to learn more about barber’s itch, including its common symptoms, causes, and treatment.
The most common symptom of barber’s itch is a ringworm-like rash on the skin underneath the beard. This rash is circular in shape with red, scaly lesions. Barber’s itch can also cause itching and mild pain.
Skin patches range in size from 1 to 5 centimeters (cm), but some people have large, pus-filled acne lesions around their hair follicles. Hair loss is another symptom.
Barber’s itch affects people differently, though. Less common symptoms include a fever and swollen glands.
Here are some pictures of barber’s itch or tinea barbae — from mild to inflamed cases.
A fungus is the root cause of barber’s itch, but different factors increase the risk of an infection. It’s contagious, so it can pass from person to person through:
- direct contact, such as by touching a person’s infected lesions and then touching your own face
- indirect contact, such as by touching the razor or beard brush of a person with the fungal infection
Keep in mind that hair type is a risk factor. It’s more common in people with coarse beard hair.
Poor hygiene is another major factor. Fungus thrives in damp conditions, so it’s important to wash daily, especially after heavy sweating or workouts. You should also dry your body after a bath or shower to prevent fungal infection.
Additionally, wear protective clothes while landscaping or gardening. Fungi found in soil can cause skin infections.
A weakened immune system also makes you susceptible to fungal infections. Preexisting conditions, such as autoimmune disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses, as well as chronic stress and poor nutrition are also risk factors.
Getting rid of barber’s itch involves killing the fungus.
Topical antifungal creams are effective for mild cases. You can purchase these over-the-counter:
Apply the cream to affected areas as directed. Allow 1 to 2 weeks for an infection to clear.
Practicing good hygiene also helps treat a fungal infection. If you shave during treatment, use a disposable razor and don’t share personal care items. Wash your hands with warm water and soap after touching your beard.
For itchiness or inflammation, apply a cold compress to your beard several times a day for 10 to 15 minutes.
A number of common skin conditions can mimic barber’s itch.
An infection of the hair follicles caused by the Staphylococcus aureus (staph) bacteria or fungus. An ingrown hair triggers these infections, resulting in red pimples, small blisters, and itchiness on the beard.
Folliculitis can also affect the hair on the legs and groin area.
This condition can cause red, scaly patches on the skin underneath the beard.
Psoriasis isn’t a fungus — it’s a noncontagious autoimmune disease. The rash can come and go as well as develop on other parts of the body like the elbows, knees, and lower back.
Barber’s itch is sometimes confused with razor bumps. These are ingrown hairs that form after shaving, causing inflammation and bumps on the skin.
They can occur on any part of the body, including the underarms, legs, and groin. Razor bumps aren’t caused by a fungal infection, although these ingrown hairs can become infected.
See a doctor if barber’s itch doesn’t improve or symptoms worsen after 2 to 3 weeks. Over-the-counter antifungal lotions and creams can treat mild cases of barber’s itch. But some infections require an oral antifungal medication.
Prescription oral antifungal medications can help treat the conditions in about 4 to 6 weeks. Prescription medications include:
Barber’s itch is treatable and doesn’t usually cause serious complications, but it can advance into more severe symptoms if left untreated.
The infection can spread to other parts of the body. Also, the longer you have barber’s itch, the higher the chance of passing it to others. Severe infections can cause hair loss, too.
Fungal infections can also cause injury to skin (cracking or breaking), increasing your risk for a bacterial infection. If left untreated, a bacterial infection can spread and cause cellulitis (a serious skin infection). Bacteria can also get into your bloodstream, causing a potentially fatal infection.
Barber’s itch is a common condition that affects the skin underneath the beard. The good news is that it’s treatable with over-the-counter and prescription antifungals.
While some people don’t develop problems, it’s important to treat the condition. This reduces the risk of passing the infection to others, and it lowers your risk for complications.