Beard Dandruff: Common Causes and How to Stop It

When growing a beard, beard dandruff is a common ailment that many men experience.  Below, you will learn what causes beard dandruff and how you can treat or prevent beard dandruff from happening.

What is beard dandruff?

Beard dandruff is dry, flaky skin that is shedding from the skin underneath facial hair.  It is typically caused by either dry skin or fungal infection. Most cases of beard dandruff are easy to treat.

What causes beard dandruff?

Dry Skin

Dry skin is the most common cause of beard dandruff.  When growing a beard, men may use cleansers that strip the natural oils that worsen dry skin.  With time, the skin will begin to itch, and then flake if it is not adequately moisturized with a supplemental conditioner.  

Beard dandruff may worsen during cold weather, when most men grow beards, due to dry environmental conditions. 

Fungal Infections

Fungal infections such as seborrheic dermatitis are another cause of beard dandruff.  You must treat seborrheic dermatitis with a medicated shampoo.  Men with a fungal infection will have a red itchy rash and scaly skin.  

Doctors don’t know the exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis. However, two leading reasons are the malassezia globosa bacteria found in the sebum oil secreted by sebaceous glands or from an irregular response by the immune system (source).

A byproduct of malassezia globosa is oleic acid, which “penetrates the epidermis corneum layer and causes an inflammatory response” (source).

How do you treat beard dandruff?

To get rid of beard dandruff, follow these steps:

  1. Clean facial hair thoroughly with a natural beard wash or medicated shampoo, depending on the cause of beard dandruff.
  2. Pat dry with a towel.
  3. Apply a conditioner such as beard oil or beard balm.
  4. Style your beard with a beard brush or beard comb.

Exfoliate your Skin

When growing a beard, you should exfoliate two or three times weekly.  Regular exfoliation of the skin removes dead skin cells, oil buildup, and unclogs pores.  

Beard Conditioners

When applied daily, a beard conditioner will nourish and moisturize your skin.

There are many types of beard conditioners available.  Common beard conditioners include beard balm, beard oil, beard butter, and beard jelly.  Most beard conditioners rely on common base ingredients: carrier oils and essential oils.

Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

Men experiencing beard dandruff as a result of seborrheic dermatitis should consider using an anti-dandruff shampoo. Anti-dandruff shampoos are specially formulated with active ingredients such as ketoconazole, selenium sulfide, or pyrithione zinc to kill the fungal growth.

Currently, there are a limited number of anti-dandruff shampoos formulated for facial hair use. Therefore, you may need to use a shampoo formulated for top-of-head use on your beard.

Lactic Acid

A lactic acid cleanser will help to remove dead skin cells and flakes from your beard.  Urea, lactic acid, and propylene glycol were effective in treating seborrheic dermatitis over a four-week study (source).

Does beard length matter?

The longer your beard, the more difficult it is to clean and condition.  Men with longer beards are likely to experience beard dandruff simply because they are unable to reach the skin while washing or conditioning.

Should you consider an alternative beard style if you have beard dandruff?

If you cannot remove beard dandruff, it may be worth considering an alternative beard style.  A beard with a shorter length will be easier to condition and cleanse.  

Does drinking water help?

Increasing the volume of water that you drink will not have an immediate effect on dry skin (source). Instead, the skin beneath your beard will need to be moisturized with a conditioner.

Allergic contact dermatitis or dandruff from beard care products

Some may experience an allergic reaction when applying a beard care product.  Consider the following:

Essential Oils

Essential oils are potent.  Some essential oils will cause allergic reactions when applied to the skin.  Just because an essential oil is derived from natural sources doesn’t make it safer.  Lastly, essential oils must be diluted with a carrier oil before application.   

Carrier Oils

Carrier oil is a common ingredient found in many beard conditioners.  Derived from plants, seeds, or trees, each carrier oil has different properties and comedogenic ratings.  Should you have oily skin, avoid applying carrier oils with a high comedogenic rating (i.e., coconut oil).  Consider beard conditioners with a lower comedogenic rating, such as argan oil or grapeseed oil.

Synthetic Ingredients

Synthetic oils such as silicone may worsen beard dandruff as it is difficult to wash off.  Only use a beard conditioner that discloses all the ingredients and is made by a reputable brand.

Patch Test

Should you have sensitive skin, always conduct a patch test before using any new grooming product.  Consider seeking medical advice from your family physician or dermatologist if you have additional questions.

Other facial hair conditions

Here are a few other conditions that may be mistaken with beard dandruff:

  • Eczema.  Per the National Eczema Association, there are seven types of eczema: atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, nummular eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, and stasis dermatitis (source). Many of these conditions have common symptoms, including dry, discolored, and itchy skin.  Seek out medical advice from your family physician if you think this could be the cause of irritation beneath your facial hair.
  • Beard Ringworm (Tinea Barbae).  Found only in adult men, tinea barbae is a fungal infection and is relatively rare (source).
  • Pili Multigemini. Compound hairs are common in beards.   One study found that a man with several pili multigemini hairs on his back caused an itchy sensation (source).  Pili multigemini hairs are harmless and can be plucked.

Home remedies for beard dandruff

The skin underneath your beard requires regular conditioning.  While a beard oil or beard balm is recommended, here are some home remedies to consider:

  • Petroleum Jelly (Vaseline). A light coating of petroleum jelly on short facial hair can help to heal severely dry or cracked skin.  Application of petroleum jelly on longer beards is not recommended as it can be messy.
  • Mineral Oil (Baby Oil). With its ability to reduce water loss, mineral oil is a thin solution that can help in preventing your skin from drying further.
  • Carrier Oil. The active ingredient in beard oil, carrier oils will nourish and moisturize the skin.  There are many different types of carrier oils available.  By itself, carrier oil is significantly cheaper than beard oil.

Adam Williams

As the lead editor of Tools of Men, Adam loves men's grooming products. Particularly of interest is managing facial hair and perfecting the art of the modern man's skincare routine. His work has been featured or quoted in several publications, including New York Magazine, Vice, Sharpologist, MIC, Elite Daily, and more. When Adam isn't working, he enjoys spending time with his two little kids who keep him both on his toes and young at heart.

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