The Itchy Beard
You are probably here because like almost every man who has let their facial hair grow, yours has gotten the dreaded itch. You are not alone with this, almost every guy will have this happen to them at some point or another. In fact, as we speak, a section of my beard has developed its periodic itch. The good news is that there's lots of things that can be done to help it. The bad news is there's just as many causes for it as there are fixes, and depending on what the cause is, it can affect what you do to help it and how easy it is to sort.
There are many reasons why people decide to get rid of their beard, but none are as forceful or as annoying as when it gets overly itchy. I can't say how many times I've spoken to a guy and they have said something like “I can't grow a beard, as soon as it gets in the long stubble stage it itches like crazy”. The ‘post-stubble-itch’ doesn't happen for everyone however, it also tends to happen more if you are going from a clean shaven face to growing a beard. This is normally due to the skin on your face not being used to the sharp and rough edges of growing hair irritating it. But it doesn't matter if you are at the long stubble stage, your beard is huge or anywhere in between, you can still get itchy.
I have been blighted by severe itching many times in general and as I said I am going through it right now, just under my jaw line. For me personally, an excessive itchiness used to come around quite a lot, it was often accompanied by sores or raw itchy bits on the skin that always made matters worse. I’ll not lie, during the times when the itching has been at its worst, I have been heavily tempted to reach for the clippers. But thankfully I didn’t, through experience/trial and error, research and learning what some of the causes for it are, I have learnt what I can do to help it. Now, the itching isn't as severe when it comes, it occurs less frequently, and doesn't last as long when it does come either. So on that, The first thing I say to anyone who comes to me and complains or asks about it, is not to worry or do anything drastic, there is always something you can do to help it.
That is where this article comes in, hopefully I can give enough help and information to stop you guys shaving and keep you bearded for life.
Why is my beard itchy?
In order to try and beat the itch, we need to find out why we get an itchy beard in the first place. Unfortunately that isn't a straightforward question to answer as there can be many reasons. This is a big part of why it can be difficult to fix and why people feel they have tried everything so shaving is their only option. Of course, everyone and their beards are different, so I can't tell you what to do exactly, but I will do the best I can to point you in the right directions.
But first; The Causes.
If you have been growing a beard for a while, I’m sure you have heard by now that genetics accounts for up to 90% of your beard's characteristics. This is also a huge amount to do with how often or not your beard is itchy and how severe it can be as well. Anything from; the way your beard grows, to how much sebum oil you face produces, or how naturally dry or rough your skin is, are all to do with genetics and can affect the itchiness. Obviously you can't do much to alter what your genes have set up for you, but there are lots of additional factors which can cause or worsen an itchy beard and things that can be done to help it. So let's go into some of the most common causes/reasons for the itching -
The weather - Various weather conditions and climates can cause itching, in particular extremes of hot and cold, high winds or high and low humidity. These can cause your beard and skin to dry out, or it can cause your beard to get greasy from excess sweat, which can clog pores. These extremes can also cause itching in other ways you may not directly think of as well. Often people wash their beard more in the heat or go for more hot baths to warm up after the cold. Hot water helps open up the pores of the skin and the cuticles of the hair, allowing any oils, product or grime build up to be released, which is great for cleaning, but is a nightmare for stripping and drying out your beard. Doing that on its own will give you itchiness, let alone when paired with the weather. Along with making it look messy, the harshness of wind can blast and dry out your beard. As well, it can kick up dust and dirt that will blow into your beard, so with all that extra grim in your beard, your skin and hair will get capped and your pores will get clogged. As a result, your poor skin and beard will not be able to breath and won't be able to release or absorb any sebum oil. This will trigger a response by your skin to try unblock the skin as it is irritated, and the best way it knows how is getting you to scratch it off. In the cases where you are regularly exposed to the extremes of weather or environments where dirt, grime, grease etc is the norm, we would recommend a couple adaptations.
If it is due to work or hobbies, wearing some kind of face covering to protect from the elements will make a great difference to protecting your beard and skin. Despite what issues the extra washing can bring, I obviously don't expect anyone to go without in those circumstances, so if you need to do so, I’d recommend doing a couple steps. First, change from hot water to cold water washes of your beard is the first big one, secondly, alternating between using product for the days it needs it more, to using just plain water washes in between as much as you can. You may need to use extra shampoo washes to get it clean and that is fine and I would say to do that, a clean dry beard is better than a dirty dry beard. But lastly, if you are having to do the extra washes as a result of the weather, just make sure you are applying more oil to replenish the good oil that you are cleaning out of your beard. Those steps should be enough to counteract the issues that may occur with extra washes during bad weather.
Beard length - There is a point in the beard growth journey, where an itchy beard is often far more common. As I said earlier, it tends to start around the long stubble stage and ends when your beard is in the short beard stage. This is often worsened when the man has particularly curly and/or coarse hairs. So many men particularly if it is their first beard, shave at this point as they just can't deal with it and think it won't get better or isn't worth it.
Stress - Everyone knows that stress isn't great for your body or your mind long term. Unfortunately, this same stress can reflect on your beard. For example, stress can trigger hormone changes that affect all sorts of factors in your body. This includes but isn’t limited to, causing spot flare ups or sores which can end up affecting your skin under the beard. So keeping yourself as stress free as possible will benefit the beard as well as the soul and mind.
Diet - This is one of those long term, consistent factors in itching. All the junk you hear about being good or bad for your body does reflect on your beard as well unfortunately. We all know not to put lots of salts and sugars etc into our diets, but often people focus just on what's bad for you. However, you also need to consider what is good for you and if you are or aren’t putting that good into your body. Having key vitamins, nutrients and hydration missing from your diet can cause your beard to be unhealthy, even if you aren't filling up with 'rubbish'. You may not be eating chocolate or other junk foods, but you won't be that healthy if all you are eating is three of the same pieces of food with every meal. In particular, if you only have a couple glasses of water a day then your body isn’t hydrated enough, so your skin won't be, and as you probably know, dry skin is often itchy.
Skin Conditions - There are medical conditions for your skin as well as being generally dry through external causes, these include the well known dermatitis, eczema and psoriasis. These three are the most common conditions however there are plenty others that can possibly happen, as well as ones related to each other. Sore spots in general, along with In-grown hairs are also common and can cause their fair share of itching as well as sometimes just being painful. In regards to the in-grown hairs, to help get rid of them along with preventing them, is good grooming habits. By that, I mean consistent brushing/combing, making sure to go down to the skin surface with it daily. While dry brushing isn’t normally recommended, if you have ingrown hairs, then dry brushing is a great way of removing them. It helps wiggle the hair and loosen it, if not quickly, through time it will sort itself and it also helps reduce the chances of more occurring.
Folliculitis - I kept this separate from the skin conditions due to it being slightly different from the three that were mentioned. It is still very common for any adult to get, regardless of whether you are male or female. What it is, is an inflammation of hair follicles that can occur anywhere you grow hair basically. But normally in areas of sensitive skin, hot and bacterial/fungal rich areas like armpits, beards and private regions. It can often happen with shaving as well, like a bad stubble rash (another good reason to let the beard grow.) For the bearded man, the infection can spread over your whole bearded area. It can sometimes be as sore as it is itchy and can be tough to heal and get rid off. It can make lots of spots and sores that can itch like mad and hurt. Also, If it gets really bad it can even cause permanent hair reduction or even loss in an area, although this can be made worse or more likely by excessive itching which can result in scarring. In most cases it is pretty straightforward to fix non medically but it can sometimes need medical help such as getting antibiotics or similar. Either way it is horrendous for people to have and can give the worst and most persistent itch you can get.
Care routine (or lack there off) - Using too little or too much product can cause itching. Too little, the beard and skin isn't getting looked after enough and can become dry. Too much and the beard can become overly greasy, clogging the pores or smothering your beard and skin. But part of the care routine can include brushing, as brushing is great for your beard's health as well as for styling. It de-tangles the hair and helps your beard and skin breath, it's a form of exfoliation, helping blood flow to the area, and as mentioned earlier, it also helps get rid of dead skin cells and reduce the chances of ingrown hairs among other reasons. Of course, there is the other end of the scale where brushing in excess is a problem in itself. It can cause irritation of the skin as well as pulling out hairs and weakening follicles which can all cause itching as well. You can over-brush and under-brush (of course), but there are ways to tell if you are doing the right amount of brushing. The easiest way you can tell you are over brushing are; your face hurts in some form or another, your beard is getting thinner or there's noticeably larger clumps of hair coming out. To tell if you are under brushing, your hair will snag easier, it feels rougher, you could be developing “beardruff”/flaky, more itchy, spots, sores or ingrown hairs developing, among others.
Hygiene habits - So simply enough, infrequent washing can leave the skin underneath clogged with grease, grime and oils. But too much washing strips your beard of those oils, leaving it dried out and unhealthy. But even if you have the frequency right for your own body and lifestyle, sometimes a simple change can occur and make it go from a good routine to a bad one. So if that itch comes along, try and see if any changes have happened around you as well and mix up your routine to counter it. There is also the temperature of the water, if you are one of the people that enjoys looking like a lobster after washing, you may want to change that. As using very hot water to wash yourself isn’t good for your beard as a whole. Some people may not think it is a big deal, but it is harsher for the skin and beard in general but also strips the oils from your beard as well. Think of it this way, you don't wash dishes or your hands with cold water if you want a proper clean, as hot water helps loosen the oils and grime. So if you use hot water on your beard, while it will strip the grime, it will do the same to the good oils. The same issue occurs if you use too much product to wash your beard or you use product too often.
Product Selection - Using an all natural ingredients product like the Beard Wash supplied by Bangin’ Beards is vital for your beard. No, a normal hair shampoo is not ok for the beard, they are designed for your scalp and head hair which contains a far higher volume of sebum oil naturally. Your skin is more sensitive on your face firstly, which is just one factor. The hair on your head is also very different from the hair on your face, tending to be thicker and coarser and also more porous, so it dries out easier. This means that using normal head hair shampoo will strip your beard skin underneath far too harshly of any oils, moisture and nutrients and make it dry out severely. You also need to consider if you are buying oils and what brand you are using, making sure they have as many “good” ingredients as possible and as little of the “bad” ones as possible as well. Simply buying a supermarket brand of beard oil and shampoo can cause as many problems as using standard hair products. As they will be packed with cheap ingredients that are better for mass production but worse for your beard.
How do I stop my beard being itchy?
How do I stop my beard being so itchy then? How long will it take for the itchiness to go away? The answer to these is of course mostly down to the reason behind the itch and how it reacts to the “treatment”. But now that you know the main causes for having an itchy beard, we can use this information to work on the solution a bit easier. Some of you may already know why you have an itchy beard or at least sometimes know the reason, if you do then that's great, you can start trying to do things to improve it. But most of the time you won't know exactly, so it can become a process of trial and error of doing various “right things” to sort it.
One thing to bear in mind that I think is easily forgotten during the frustration, is that sometimes it takes a repetition of a change/treatment for it to work. I’ve had several discussions when people have said that they tried and failed to stop the itch. They would, for example, say they increased the amount of oil they put in their beard. But when I asked them how long they tried it for, they said for just a couple days and it didn’t work so they stopped. Now don't get me wrong, sometimes treatment doesn't work which is why I said it can be a bit of trial and error. But if you have a bad itch, two days of a change of routine isn’t likely to be near enough time to notice a change in it. Put it this way, if you have a bad cold, you don't normally see a change with just two days of trying to help it do you? Sometimes it takes time and repetition of positive steps to help an itch, especially due to your facial skin being extremely sensitive. It doesn't take much to irritate your face and that can make the itch take longer to go away.
So, now onto the ‘fixes’. To begin with, if you haven't already done so, changing the products you use to natural, specialised beard specific products is a must. So if you use products designed for head hair or even mass produced beard products from supermarkets, you need to make the switch. The Beard Wash and/or the various Oils and Balms that Bangin’ Beards offer are a great example of the right route to go down. Not only are they all free from the harsh, artificial chemicals and ingredients that you frequently get in chain store brands, but they also have ingredients that in themselves are good for your beard. So what you get are products that are designed to gently but thoroughly clean and enhance your beard, but also leaves your beard and skin with good and nourishing ingredients, win-win right? But no matter what brand or route you go down, I can’t state how important it is to use the right products in general for the health of your beard and skin, regardless of any itching issues.
“ balance is key”
There are a lot of possible ‘fixes’ that can be done to try and help your beard itch, and you may have picked up that to fix the itch, balance is key, and should be a starting point in the quest against the itch. Not too much or too little of anything, like reducing or increasing the frequency of washing with or without a product, brushing, oil and balm application changes and use are often all it takes to settle the itch. There are of course the other factors, such as the very important one of drinking a good amount of water, which is vital in hydrating the skin and hair from the inside out. Making sure you have a varied diet to get the right nutrients in you, along with reducing stress wherever possible are a couple other important factors.
I'm sure you saw this one coming somewhere in this, but exercise can play a great role in stopping the itch. But how can it help a beard from being itchy? Surely the sweat from the exercise can cause more problems than good right? You are correct, it definitely can, so will washing your beard too much more as a result of the sweating. You just need to account for this in your cleansing routines by using more straight water washes for your beard instead of always using products, this can make a huge difference alone. Not forgetting the importance of replenishing the oils you have stripped from your beard while washing with a good oil product.
To give you an idea of how often you should be washing your beard, on average, you should use a Wash product every 2-4 days, with in between only doing water washes or sometimes just rinsing. Even with a normal daily amount of build up, I still wouldn't wash your beard with product more often than every 2 days. Unless you have had a more exposed or dirty day than normal, in that case it is of course fine. Bare in mind that even on the days you are doing just a plain water wash, make sure that while you are doing the washing, you also do the massaging and scrubbing with your fingers that you would with a shampoo wash.
Anyway, as everyone knows, exercise has a range of benefits for your health, and these extend to benefiting your beard and the skin underneath it. It will increase blood circulation which will help flush out toxins as well as deposit nutrient rich blood, oxygen and water to the follicles and skin. It can also help with sleep, testosterone and feel good hormone production, vitamin uptake and so on. These are all beneficial to the health of your skin, body, mind and hair follicles and a healthy body and beard is often not as itchy as one that isn't.
“Ok, I do all that and it's not helping, why is it still so itchy?” I hear you asking my frustrated readers. You could have a seemingly perfect routine that ticks all the boxes, and use all the right products, but you still have got an itchy beard that has come up and is driving you mad. That happens to the best of us unfortunately, and it can sometimes seem like there is no reason due to your spot on routine and care habits. On the occasions that I get the bad persistent itch, it almost always seems to come from nowhere and doesn't make sense as to why it has happened. This is where the “trial and error” method comes in that I mentioned earlier. But next, I will give you my ‘hot tips’ in my mission to fix the itch.
What I recommend to begin with, is to be done in your next evening shower (ideally not the morning one for this first step as you want your beard and skin to rest after and not have a full day of exposure). Once in the shower, wait till the end of your wash routine to do the beard stuff, then get your beard cleaning product, (I find the Beard Wash from Bangin' Beards works great for this) and give your beard a deep massage wash with warm water (not too hot). Use your finger tips to help exfoliate the skin in a firm but gentle approach. Don't be too aggressive as you don't want to agitate it further, but a gentle, deep and firm with slight scratching massage. This is to help loosen any debris and grime like any wash, but it is also to help remove the dead skin cells and work the product into the skin to help clean and sooth it. Massaging it and slightly scratching also encourages blood flow to the area, which will help with the healing process.
Then, once the product is washed out with the warm water, you need to rinse your beard with cold water, basically as cold as your shower can go. No, I'm not suggesting you have a full blown cold shower, just grab the shower head and angle it so it washes all the beard area for about 30 seconds. This will further sooth the area, as well as close up the pores, locking in moisture and temporarily stopping the skin drying out.
Upon leaving the shower, gently towel dry the beard so it is 95% dry, then use a generous helping of oil, making sure to massage it deep into the base of the hairs and the skin. This will further help sooth the area and replenish any oils cleaned out during the wash, but this time, don't brush or comb your beard. It has already had enough irritation and stimulation from the wash, any more and it could agitate it further, you just want your oil to do its magic at this point. The following days, any showers you take morning or evening, do NOT use any shampoo/wash product for your beard washing. So for the washes, just use plain, and ice cold water with no warmth at all. Do this for 4 or 5 days, with the same using a generous helping of oil (which you can now gently brush/comb through) after it has been towel dried to the same 95% first.
This should make a big difference to your beard and normally when I do this i notice a difference after a few days. One thing that does also help is if it is possible to do so for yourself, skip the odd shower where you can, this is regardless of if you shower once a day or twice a day. Missing the one shower in between can make all the difference for giving your beard a rest and stopping it drying out further.
Another option is changing up the routine. This is often a good step in fixing any itch that comes along and sometimes it is all I need to do. What I outlined before with regards to the cold washes is a good example of changing up the routine. But say that isn't enough, or you already do it, what to do is just do something very different to your normal beard care routine.
What I do is, after thinking about my routine and what I have been exposing my beard to lately, I will change something almost dramatically so it completely mixes up my routine. I may go a couple days not using oil at all, or I will apply a lot more. Another option is I could wash my beard a lot more, either with or without a product. I could comb it more or not comb it at all. You get the idea, just doing something that changes what your skin may have got used to or is not liking currently can really quickly sort the problem. Regardless of what change you do, if you find it helps and your itch goes away, you can gradually go back to your normal balanced routine and see if the itching returns. If it doesn't return then it was just a temporary change that was needed, if it does then you may need to look into it further. The return of it could be a problem with your routine, product or an underlying skin condition.
But something is more important than any changes you make to sort it. You have to try, no matter how hard it is, to not scratch the itch. If that is not possible then try to keep scratching to a minimum. I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that scratching may feel nice but more than likely will lead to a worse itch and a bigger problem. No matter what you do to try to sort the cause for the itchiness, if you scratch it a lot you are going to suffer longer. It causes further irritation to the area and cracks in the skin and prevent healing. It can cause and promote sores and spots under your beard. It can cause skin to flake into your beard and give you noticeable beardruff. It can weaken follicles, damage and pull out hairs.
If the itch has been caused by bacterial or fungal build up, like some cases seen in Folliculitis, scratching is even worse. If you scratch the area it can help the issue spread the bacteria or fungus to other areas, or go deeper. Making the infection worse. Another way to look at it is this. When you fall and graze your knee, it starts to heal and scabs over. This scabbed area can often become itchy, partially because it is healing. So if you scratch it, possibly knocking the scab off, it irritates the area further and slows the healing. Possibly causing scarring as well. This isn't that different, even if the cause is, and you would just be prolonging and even worsening the problem you want gone. If scarring happens in a beard area it can even cause bare spots where hair doesn't grow or grows weakly.
The underlying skin condition possibility is something I can't directly help you with as I am not an medical professional. So if it is possibly something you suspect then you may need to ask your local pharmacist or GP for advice on that matter. However I can say that most conditions in that regard can be fixed by standard medical intervention quite easily and aren’t normally too much of a problem. Although I cant promise they wouldn’t recommend shaving off the beard even when it is not necessarily needed. If it is something you really do not want to do then vocalise that with them. By letting them know that it is a last resort not a first step, they will often come up with an alternative solution if there is one.
So as you have seen, there are a lot of possible causes and solutions t