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The Nasty Things You Didn’t Realize Could Be Lurking in Your Beard (or Choice of Facial Hair)

A dermatologist explains 4 icky complications

Your partner doesn’t mind not seeing a good portion of your handsome face. (Thankfully, that rugged, mature look is appreciated.) They don’t even complain it’s scratchy. Their objection? It’s that your full beard at times seems a bit (ahem) unsanitary.

Valid complaint? Maybe. Dermatologist Vij, MD, says a little facial hair know-how is necessary to keep things hygienic. “There’s not too many people who have an irritation ― contact dermatitis ― from food being in contact with their skin,” Dr. Vij says. “I think people wash their beards enough to get gross, big pieces of steak out of their beard.” But Dr. Vij says real issues can arise in the non-clean shaven. “Skin cells shed at a rapid and alarming pace,” he explains. “Whenever dead skin cells and oil from the skin combine with moisture, bacteria, yeast and every other microorganism you think of, they can hide, grow and proliferate ― and try to take over their little world.” Here’s a look at four common (and a few of less oft seen) problems:

1. Seborrheic dermatitis – If you have a tendency to get dandruff (seborrheic dermatitis) on your scalp, you’re likely to also get that same type of scaling and itchiness in your beard area, Dr. Vij says. It’s caused by the yeast pityrosporum, which lives everywhere. Why isn’t everyone affected? It just depends on your skin, the quantity of yeast, your immune system and how your immune system reacts to yeast. “If you start to get red, scaly and itchy, over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoos can be helpful to get rid of it,” he suggests.

2. Staph infections – The bacteria that causes a staph infection, staphylococcus aureus, live on most people’s skins in various locations. “When you have a beard, with humidity and skin flaking, the conditions are ripe that staph can grow into the area,” Dr. Vij says. In areas where your beard is longer, this can cause folliculitis since the staph thrives and causes added inflammation. Treat by washing well with shampoo, and using anti-itch cream, if desired. Severe cases may require an antibiotic.

3. Sycosis barbae – You can also get a chronic infection that spreads from person to person in your beard area. “If you go get a beard trim at a salon or barber shop and they don’t completely sanitize their razor, you can get sycosis barbae,” Dr. Vij says. “It’s basically like a chronic bacterial or fungal infection of the beard area where the germs dive down deep into the hair follicle. It’s not just on the skin.” Typically, washing with shampoo or anti-acne wash and applying an anti-fungal cream is all that’s needed, he says. But more severe cases may require an oral antibiotic or an oral anti-acne medication.

4. Lice – Yes. Lice. Particularly, pubic lice if you have curly beard hair. “Standard run-of-the-mill lice go for straight hair,” Dr. Vij explains. “But if you have curly hair in your beard, you’re more likely to get pubic lice (or crabs) on your beard area.” Lice in your beard look the same as in your hair, he says. You’ll see nits or get an irritation from the eggs. “Either use an over-the-counter anti-lice medication, or shave your beard off and regrow it.” “Use a good shampoo to clean the area ― and really scrub down on your skin to make sure the suds are cleaning that area to clear the extra bacteria as well as the extra skin cells that are floating around,” he recommends.

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