Why is my beard itchy?
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 its growth is driven mainly by your testosterone. Its growth is also related to a testosterone by-product called dihydrotestosterone. 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 natural processes to a 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 develop when the weather is dry or cold or due to genetic factors, the use of certain medications, and some diseases.
Shampoos, soaps, and other facial products can also affect the skin’s natural oils, drying your skin and making your beard itch.
Dry skin with scaling and skin thickening might be due to ichthyosis. This family of skin conditions includes acquired and genetic types.
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.
Folliculitis happens when the hair follicles that contain your beard hairs get inflamed.
This inflammation can result from a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection or because of parasites. It can also happen when the hair follicle clogs, for example, when there’s an ingrown hair.
When you get folliculitis in your beard area, the inflamed follicles usually look red and feel tender or painful to the touch. They can become blisters that leak pus.
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.
It often happens in association with shaving facial hairs and can cause razor bumps. It’s most likely to occur in those with curly hair, and it often affects Black males.
The symptoms of razor bumps are like those of folliculitis. Your face may look red, bumpy, and develop pus-filled blisters. It can lead to a secondary infection.
Unlike most cases of folliculitis, razor bumps in pseudofolliculitis barbae are caused by noninfectious irritation, not any kind of infection.
Razor burn and razor bumps are different conditions, though they can have similar symptoms.
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.
Tinea barbae is a fungal infection in the facial hair region. It’s caused by a type of fungus called dermatophyte.
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.
Proper hygiene and beard care
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.
- Do a patch test when using a new beard oil or conditioner, as some products are comedogenic and may lead to acne breakouts.
- Limit the length of your showers or baths, and avoid 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 out a beard, 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.
To avoid ingrown hairs, the best option may be to let the beard grow.
Here are some tips from the American Academy of Dermatology on how to shave properly. They can help minimize the issues of itch:
- Wet the skin and hair before shaving to soften it.
- Apply shaving cream or gel. A product for sensitive skin is good for dry skin.
- Follow the direction the hair grows when shaving.
- Rinse after each swipe with the razor.
In addition, change your razor or blades after every five to seven shaves, and store in a dry area.
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: Start by using a good facial moisturizer. Ointments are available, but they may increase breakouts. Creams with lactic acid and urea can help with flaking, but they can also be irritating.
- To treat folliculitis: Use mupirocin (Bactroban) for bacterial infections, antifungal cream for fungal infections, and possibly a corticosteroid cream if noninfectious. Keratolytics, such as topical benzoyl peroxide, may help those prone to folliculitis or pseudofolliculitis. Topical keratolytics include retinoids, salicylic acid, and alpha hydroxy acids.
- To treat seborrheic dermatitis: An antifungal product can help prevent outbreaks and a low-dose topical steroid, such as hydrocortisone, may help for a few days with acute inflammation. Clobetasol may be suitable for very severe cases.
- To treat pseudofolliculitis barbae: Allow the hair to grow for 3 to 4 weeks, without shaving at all, until the lesions have gone. Then, shave every second day instead of every day. Another option is to apply glycolic acid (NeoStrata).
- To treat tinea barbae: A topical antifungal therapy might work for mild infection — usually oral antifungal therapy such as itraconazole (Sporanox) or terbinafine (Lamisil) 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.
A board certified dermatologist can help you figure out the specific cause of beard itch and advise on the best treatment course.
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.
Hair removal is another option. Laser treatment is one way to do this.
Beards can get extremely itchy, especially if you’re growing one out for the first time. Practicing proper hygiene and treating any infections early can help prevent any damage to your skin or hair follicles.