It may be a few months until Movember, but many people are still sporting beards grown over the winter months, and many of those people are struggling with acne under beard hair. Why does this itchy, irritating, painful skin condition occur? Read on to find out!There’s no precise medical term for acne under a beard, unlike acne that occurs after shaving (pseudofolliculitis barbae). This kind of acne can be caused by any of the myriad factors involved in acne development, but for some people beard acne is directly related to their facial hair. It can be tricky to tease out cause and effect here, however, with some people growing their beard to cover up acne, only to have their acne worsen because of their beard.
Acne Under Beard Hair – Is it Time to Shave?
If there is a suspicion that a beard is contributing to the acne getting worse, it can be a good idea to try shaving to see if the acne clears up at all. The best way to do this is to apply a hot, wet facecloth to the beard in order to soften the hair for five minutes before shaving, and to try using prophylactic anti-inflammatory medications.
These treatments may include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), curcumin, bromelain, or even topical gels or creams containing NSAIDs, MSM (methylsulphonylmethane), or salicylic acid. Witch hazel can also help as a facial toner and should help relieve inflammation that can prompt skin breakouts.
Many people find that shaving their face in a different direction to usual can help decrease acne, as can exfoliating prior to shaving, using a gentle exfoliating agent like fruit acid from pineapple, lemon, or papaya. Consulting a dermatologist may help make shaving less traumatic for the skin and decrease pimple production.
Growing it Out
For those who want to maintain their beard and address underlying acne, there are a number of options. Firstly, as beard hair can accumulate dirt and oil throughout the day, it is especially important that facial hair is washed regularly and combed where possible. Using a moisturiser, or even a beard oil, can also help to regulate the production of oil by the skin under the beard, meaning that pores are less likely to become blocked by sebum and prone to infection and acne flare-ups.
Should You Shampoo Your Beard?
One good way to keep beard acne in check is to shampoo the beard with a specially formulated beard soap or tea tree shampoo as this essential oil has antiseptic properties, helping to kill the bacteria responsible for acne (Propionibacterium acnes).
Alternatively, using a facial cleanser every day before bed can remove built-up dirt and oils and prevent transference to and from a pillowcase at night. Switching to a fresh pillowcase every couple of days can also help. Some people find that using an anti-dandruff shampoo for their beard helps prevent facial pores becoming clogged, thereby decreasing acne cyst development.
Combing the beard daily may also help decrease acne breakouts as beard hair that is oily or dirty tends to curl back towards the skin, causing cystic acne. This type of acne is typically painful due to the inflammation involved.
Growing the beard for 30 days without shaving is suggested to minimise the risk of ingrowing hairs due to regular shaving. Make sure to use a robust beard comb, not your regular hair comb that will likely snap when catching on coarser beard hair!
It may also be beneficial to avoid stretching the skin when shaving as this encourages hairs to grow beneath the surface of the skin. Plucking, shaving against the direction of growth, and using multi-bladed razors can all increase the risk of ingrowing hair and may be worth avoiding for those who have experienced ingrowing beard hair.
Ingrowing Beard Hair and Acne
Anyone who is growing their beard after having regularly shaved should also pay special attention to the development of any acne under beard hair as this may indicate ingrowing hairs that need to be carefully tweezed outward. Daily exfoliation of the skin under a beard can help prevent this happening.
Those with especially curly or kinky hair tend to have more problems with ingrowing facial hair. When these acne cysts develop they may lead to keloidal scarring, causing raised, hard bumps on the surface of the skin under a beard.
Everybody’s skin is different in how it reacts to shaving and to growing out beard hair. This means that the only way to combat acne under beard hair is to use a trial and error approach to see what works for you. It may be that shaving off a beard after many years leads to plenty of chin-stroking that encourages the spread of bacteria and the development of acne.
Or, for others, growing a beard for the first time in many years may encourage chin-stroking and an accumulation of oils and dirt that lead to acne. In both cases, keeping on top of good beard hygiene is paramount.
Anyone experiencing acne under beard hair would also do well to ensure a healthy diet and lifestyle that decreases inflammation and helps to nourish the skin. Find out more about how to eat to beat acne in my latest book.