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Known as “stache rash,” beard burn is a skin irritation caused by hair rubbing against the skin. This can happen anywhere a person’s face and beard touch your skin, often during kissing or oral sex.
With beards, mustaches, and other facial hair so popular among men today, it’s quite likely your partner has at least a little scruff on his face. And although facial hair can be sexy, it can also ruin intimate moments by wreaking havoc on your skin.
This rubbing can cause significant irritation and even pain in more sensitive parts of your body, like your face and genitals.
While it’s no fun to get beard burn, there are many ways to soothe your skin so it feels better — fast.
Most men grow facial hair because males contain high levels of male sex hormones called androgens. Androgens signal growth of short and coarse hair on many parts of men’s bodies, including the face.
Owen Kramer, dermatology resident at the University of Illinois, says that when facial hair rubs against the skin, it creates friction, and this friction can cause irritation.
“Imagine rubbing a short bristled sponge on the skin,” says Kramer. Beard burn is explained by a somewhat similar idea. “Rubbing a beard on the skin enough times would cause redness and irritation.”
Beard burn is a type of irritant contact dermatitis, which can happen when something rubs against the skin. It’s different from razor burn or razor bumps, which cause ingrown hairs that make skin itchy after shaving.
In the case of beard burn, a person’s facial hair causes friction, which removes oils and moisture from your skin’s outer layer and causes inflammation and irritation.
In some cases, the damaged skin is open enough to allow other irritants and bacteria into the skin. This can cause worsened beard burn symptoms or complications, like a skin infection or even an STD.
Kramer says that stubble will likely cause much more irritation than a longer beard. That’s because shorter hairs are coarser and create more friction. What’s more, he adds, people with sensitive skin are more likely to experience irritation from their partner’s facial hair.
Most cases of beard burn appear as red, dry, itchy patches. This rash can develop on the lips and face from being kissed, or on the outer parts of the genital area from receiving oral sex.
Severe cases of beard burn may cause a red rash that’s swollen, painful, and bumpy.
On the face
You can treat most cases of mild beard burn on the face at home.
Kramer recommends using a moisturizing cream such as CeraVe or Vanicream, making sure to use a cream that’s oil-free and is designed not to clog pores. A more pricey one of his recommendations is EltaMD Barrier Renewal Complex.
Kramer says that an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream may be helpful for some people with less serious cases of beard burn.
Hydrocortisone works by cutting down on redness, itching, and inflammation, reducing irritation. Vanicream sells a combination 1 percent hydrocortisone and moisturizing cream that both soothes and reduces irritation.
See a doctor for any case of beard burn that doesn’t go away after one to two weeks with home treatment. They may recommend a prescription-strength hydrocortisone product, or opt for topical steroid creams.
According to Kramer, liberal use of vaseline can cut down on genital irritation from beard burn. However, he points out that vaseline use on the face may cause acne. Buy vaseline now.
He also recommends having safe sex if you’ve experienced beard burn. That involves using a condom or some other form of physical barrier protection.
“The biggest thing to be concerned about is if you get breaks in the skin [from beard burn], then I would be worried about the transmission of sexually transmitted infections such as HIV, herpes, or syphilis,” he says.
“You should also be aware of breaks in your skin on your face,” Kramer adds, which could also make you more susceptible to STIs and other infections.
But how do you tell STI symptoms from beard burn? Kramer says, “Any skin manifestation of STDs do not develop immediately after sexual contact, while I think one would notice beard burn immediately after contact.”
Generally, STIs take days or weeks to appear — if symptoms occur at all. Herpes appears as reddened bumps on the face and genitals, and other STDs may also cause changes in the skin, but they will look distinct from beard burn.
What not to do
Kramer says there are some treatments he just does not recommend.
These include using topical antibiotics like Triple Antibiotic, Neosporin and Bacitracin. “A small percentage of the population will display allergic contact dermatitis to these products,” he says, which could lead to severe irritation.
He’s also heard that some people think a mix of rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide will clear up their beard burn, but he doesn’t recommend that, as it will only cause further irritation.
For beard burn causing mild irritation with some redness, Kramer says you should see a reduction in symptoms in one to two weeks.
But it depends on your skin type and the severity of your beard burn.
It may take three weeks or longer with medical treatment for more severe cases of contact dermatitis to heal.
Recovering from beard burn takes patience. But it’s also important to see your doctor for more severe cases.
Medical treatment with prescription medications may speed the recovery process, but mild cases usually respond well to home treatments with moisturizers.
Asking your partner to grow out his scruff may cut down on the beard burn. That’s because longer facial hair creates less friction when it rubs than shorter facial hair.
So, it should be possible for him to keep his beard and for you to beat the burn.