Whether you’re growing out your beard for the first time or have had one for years, it’s common for the hair on your face to get itchy. Beard itching can be mild, and sometimes you may barely notice it. Other times, every inch seems to itch. It can wake you up in the middle of the night or distract you from important events in your life.
Beard hair isn’t like the hair on your head. It’s called androgenic hair, which means that it’s growth is driven mainly by your testosterone. More testosterone causes more growth and thickness of these hairs. Because of this, you need to take care of your beard differently than other hair on your body.
The cause of an itchy beard can range from a minor to a more serious infection:
Growing out your facial hair
When you shave, you leave a sharp edge on the end of each hair inside its follicle, the tiny tube that contains and shields each hair. When the hair grows out, this sharp edge can scratch the follicle, causing it to itch. When you’re growing out a beard after shaving for a long time, all of your follicles across your face can itch.
Dry skin, also called xerosis, can be caused by dry or cold weather or immersing your skin in hot water, especially during a bath or shower. Shampoos and soaps can wash off your skin’s natural oils, drying your skin and making your beard itch.
Dry skin where scaling and skin thickening occur might be due to ichthyosis. This family of skin conditions includes acquired and genetic types.
Skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema can also make your skin chronically dry, causing your beard to itch. Learn about other causes of dry skin, as well as treatment and prevention tips.
Ingrown hairs happen when a hair that’s been shaved or cut grows back into its follicle, instead of out. This causes the follicle to get inflamed and make your beard itch. This is more likely to happen to you if you have tight, curly hair.
You’ll notice ingrown hairs when the follicles get red, bumpy, itchy, and sometimes painful around the areas that you’ve shaved. Learn how to handle ingrown hair on the face.
Folliculitis happens when the hair follicles that contain your beard hairs get inflamed. This inflammation can be caused by an infection from bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites. Alternatively, it may be related to hair follicle clogging, such as an ingrown hair.
When you get folliculitis in your beard area, the inflamed follicles usually look red, feel tender or painful to the touch, and can become blisters that leak pus. Learn more about folliculitis.
Pseudofolliculitis barbae is the inflammation that happens when facial hairs growing from their follicles cut your skin inside the follicle or curve back around into your skin as they try to grow out. This condition often happens in association with shaving facial hairs and can cause razor bumps.
The symptoms of razor bumps are like those of folliculitis. Your face may look red, bumpy, and develop pus-filled blisters. Unlike most cases of folliculitis, razor bumps in pseudofolliculitis barbae are caused by noninfectious irritation, and not any kind of infection. Razor burn and razor bumps are different conditions, though they can have similar symptoms.
Seborrheic eczema (seborrheic dermatitis) is a skin condition that can make your skin scaly, red, and flaky. It’s also known as dandruff when on the scalp.
This condition most commonly affects your scalp, but it can also happen on your face in and around your beard, especially if you have naturally oily skin. Symptoms include yellow, greasy scales and red skin. The flakes may fall off when you rub your beard hair or facial skin. Learn more about seborrheic eczema.
Tinea barbae is a fungal infection in the facial hair region. It’s caused by a type of fungus called dermatophyte fungus. This fungal infection usually appears as red, inflamed, and crusty skin around your mouth, cheeks, and under your chin. It’s similar to ringworm of the scalp, which is known as tinea capitis.
The two most common types of tinea that cause your beard to itch are:
- Tinea mentagrophytes var. equinum, which can be spread by contact with affected horses
- Tinea verrucosum, which can be spread by contact with cows or other affected livestock
Some causes of an itchy beard are minor and can be treated by bathing regularly and paying close attention to your facial hygiene. Other causes may require medication or special antibiotics to treat the source of the itch.
Keep your face and beard clean to prevent oil, dirt, and bacteria buildup. Try the following to keep your beard from itching:
- Bathe or shower regularly, at least once a day or every other day.
- Even if you don’t bathe, wash your beard with warm water every day.
- Use a face or beard wash that’s specifically meant for beard care.
- Use beard conditioner with jojoba or argan oil to keep your beard hair naturally oily.
- Limit the length of your showers or baths, and don’t use extremely hot water.
- Each time you shave or trim your beard, use a natural aftershave wash or lotion, such as one containing tea tree oil or aloe vera. Avoid products that contain too many harsh, synthetic chemicals.
When you first grow a beard out, if possible, try to avoid shaving or trimming to give your hair time to grow out beyond the follicles, which can prevent irritation and skin or follicle damage.
If you have an infection or other underlying skin condition, your doctor may suggest medicated ointments, creams, or lotions. Common medications include:
- To treat dry skin: ointment or cream with lactic acid and urea
- To treat folliculitis: mupirocin (Bactroban) for bacterial infections; antifungal cream for fungal infections; possibly a corticosteroid cream if noninfectious
- To treat seborrheic dermatitis: hydrocortisone, clobetasol (Cormax), or desonide (Desonate) for noninfectious inflammation; ketoconazole (Nizoral) for fungal infections
- To treat pseudofolliculitis barbae: glycolic acid (Neo-Strata)
- To treat tinea barbae: topical antifungal therapy might work for mild infection; usually oral antifungal therapy such as itraconazole or terbinafine for effective treatment
You can also take certain types of medications orally. Treatment options will depend on what your doctor feels is the best therapy for your specific condition.
Surgeries and procedures
Your doctor may recommend laser hair removal if you have a chronic condition that causes your beard to itch because of constant infections or other causes of inflammation.
Your doctor may need to make incisions for draining out any boils or carbuncles. Both of these are also known as skin abscesses. Carbuncles are made up of multiple interconnected boils, which may be causing infections or making your infections worse.
Photodynamic (light) therapy can also be used to treat certain types of folliculitis.
Beards can get extremely itchy, especially if you’re growing one out for the first time. Practicing good hygiene and treating any infections early can help prevent any damage to your skin or hair follicles.