Beards, beards, beards—this style of facial hair is popular for a reason. But that doesn’t mean that it’s always easy to maintain. Keeping a well-groomed beard requires dedication, and even then, you might still experience beard dandruff.
It’s not an abnormal experience! A common occurrence for facial hair of all shapes and sizes, beard dandruff can result when the skin underneath your hair needs a little extra TLC. Here’s everything we know about this condition, including tips on how to help prevent beard dandruff and maintain a healthy beard.
Seborrheic dermatitis is a condition that most commonly affects the scalp, face, and chest in adults. It causes red, flaky skin that can also be itchy. Dandruff is the non-inflammatory variant of seborrheic dermatitis found on the scalp and beard region.¹ If you have beard dandruff, you’ll likely see white flakes of skin in your beard, which may fall onto your clothing.
While the exact cause is not yet completely understood, seborrheic dermatitis and subsequent beard dandruff can be caused by Malassezia globose, a fungus commonly found in seborrheic regions (oily areas) like, you guessed it, the face and scalp. High numbers of Malassezia globosa correlates with the appearance and severity of seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff. It feeds on and breaks down the oil (sebum) produced by sebaceous glands, leaving behind unsaturated fatty acids (like oleic acid), which can cause skin changes that may disrupt the skin’s barrier function and trigger an inflammatory response.² This can lead to the redness and itching associated with seborrheic dermatitis.
When a person experiences seborrheic dermatitis and dandruff, they may have an increased skin cell turnover rate in their epidermis.³ This contributes to the flaking seen in these conditions. A typical cell turnover cycle lasts approximately 30 days, and a shorter cycle can cause dead skin cells to accumulate. Not washing your beard often enough can also lead to a build-up of products and dead skin cells, which may result in dandruff.
It is important to note that not all dry and flaky skin is indicative of seborrheic dermatitis or dandruff. If you experience this condition, you may just have dry or sensitive skin.
Banishing beard dandruff requires a two-pronged approach: removing dead skin cells and controlling excess oil production to help prevent new flakes. Following a routine that helps with this can help keep your beard flake-free, healthy, and shiny. Here’s how to prevent beard dandruff:
Exfoliating⁴ helps remove dead skin cells and is a significant first step in the fight against beard dandruff. You may want to try a product with salicylic acid once or twice per week. This may help if you are prone to ingrown hairs.
If you don’t already wash your beard, it’s time to start! You can use regular shampoo, a specially formulated beard wash, or a medicated dandruff shampoo. Try following these steps:
Massage the shampoo into your beard. Make sure it touches the skin underneath.
Let the shampoo sit for a couple of minutes or as directed on the bottle.
Thoroughly rinse the shampoo from your beard using lukewarm water. Very hot water may cause additional dryness and irritation.
If you’re going the medicated shampoo route, look for ingredients like selenium sulfide, zinc pyrithione, or ketoconazole. Try using the shampoo twice weekly and avoid products with coal tar if you have light-colored hair, as this ingredient can discolor it. Using dandruff shampoos with coal tar can also make your scalp more sensitive to sunlight, so be sure to wear a hat when going outside if you use a product with this.⁵
Immediately after washing, moisturize your beard with a pea-sized amount of hydrating beard oil or a gentle moisturizer to protect and rehydrate the skin underneath. Rub the oil between your hands before working it through your beard. Still, feels dry? Add more beard oil, a couple of drops at a time. Moisturizing your beard is essential, so don’t skip this step. If you’re prone to breakouts, look for a non-comedogenic oil (here are some major pore-cloggers to keep an eye out for), and avoid using lotion with comedogenic ingredients.
Did you know that all beards require maintenance, even short ones? Once you’ve gotten your beard dandruff under control, it’s time to follow a maintenance routine! Taking proper care of your beard is crucial to keeping it looking and feeling good and preventing beard dandruff from returning. These beard maintenances do’s and don’ts are simple to follow:
Cleanse your beard regularly. Try washing it two to three times per week. If you don’t cleanse well enough, all sorts of gnarly things can result: dead skin cells build up, bacteria proliferate, and zits can happen.
Use moisturizer. As mentioned above, moisturizing plays an essential role in maintaining a healthy beard, and it’s a step you don’t want to skip. If you don’t like beard oil, try a conditioner or moisturizer formulated for beards.
Use the right grooming tools. If you’re in it for the long haul, consider building a grooming kit with high-quality tools like clippers, sharp scissors, a beard brush, a beard comb, and a razor.
Trim your beard regularly. Regular trimming will help you maintain the shape of your beard and avoid split ends. Here’s a rule of thumb: If you’re growing out your beard, aim to trim it once every four weeks. To help keep your beard healthy as it grows, give it a trim once every seven to 10 days.
Remember your neckline. For many individuals who have facial hair, it doesn’t stop at the jaw. Shave below the jawline to keep your beard looking extra tidy.
Touch your facial hair. Touching your facial hair can transfer bacteria and dirt from your hands to your skin, which can contribute to other skin problems.
Shave with dull razors or skip the shaving cream. Ever. For best results, shave right after you shower, when your hair is softest, and go in the direction your hair grows.
Forget to maintain your tools. Proper tool maintenance helps to prevent bacteria from growing and dead skin cells and hair from building up. They’ll also work better.
Overdo it. With beard care, sometimes less is more, which particularly applies to products. Using too much beard oil or conditioner can weigh your beard down and may contribute to irritation or clogged pores.
While Curology doesn’t treat beard dandruff specifically, we can help take the guesswork out of developing a simple, yet effective skincare routine. Founded by dermatologists in 2014, our mission is to offer accessible dermatology service to all for skin concerns like rosacea, acne, and signs of aging. Our licensed dermatology providers work with you to examine your skin, assess your skincare goals, and provide custom treatment options.
Signing up is easy. Just answer a few questions and snap some selfies to help us get to know your skin better. If Curology is right for you, we’ll pair you with one of our in-house licensed dermatology providers, who will create a personalized prescription formula to meet your specific skin goals. Your Curology provider is there throughout your skincare journey to answer questions and provide product support.
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Seborrheic dermatitis is a condition that most commonly affects the scalp, face, and chest in adults. It causes red, flaky skin that can also be itchy.
While the exact cause is not yet completely understood, seborrheic dermatitis and subsequent beard dandruff can be caused by Malassezia globosa, a fungus commonly found in seborrheic regions (oily areas) like, you guessed it, the face and scalp.
Did you know that all beards require maintenance, even short ones? Once you’ve gotten your beard dandruff under control, it’s time to follow a maintenance routine! Taking proper care of your beard is crucial to keeping it looking and feeling good and preventing beard dandruff from returning.
Tucker, D., Masood, S., Seborrheic Dermatitis. In: StatPearls [Internet]. (2022).
Borda, LJ., Wikramanayake, TC., Seborrheic Dermatitis and Dandruff: A Comprehensive Review. J Clin Investig Dermatol. (2015)
W. Steven Pray, PhD, RPh. Dandruff and Seborrheic Dermatitis. Medscape Dermatology. (2001).
How to care for facial hair. American Academy of Dermatology Association. (2021).
How to treat dandruff. American Academy of Dermatology Association. (n.d.)
Elise Griffin is a certified physician assistant at Curology. She received her Master of Medical Science in physician assistant studies from Nova Southeastern University in Jacksonville, FL.
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Elise Griffin, PA-C