Let’s pretend ITG is We Met At Acme. First date is great, but they don’t kiss you—red flag, or dealbreaker? Not to brag, but my first date with my partner was excellent. But when it was over we… went our separate ways. He waved at me from the subway platform. “I don’t even know if you’re a good kisser or not!” I replied later to his kind, thoughtful text telling me he liked spending time with me and would like to do so again soon. Too bold? Well, too late. And anyway, it worked—we made out on our second date. I was relieved to learn that he’s a great kisser! But I also learned that I was the latest victim of beard burn. Red, flaky, irritated skin ensued for days after.
I love making out with my partner, but it was screwing up my skincare. Should I have stopped? I took a pass on that. But what else was there to do, short of forcing him to shave? Eventually—and I’m genuinely still mystified how—my skin just kind of got used to it. Almost like it was a figment of my imagination. Almost like I was projecting my anxiety about my skin onto him the way I projected my fears of meeting his parents (they were lovely), or that he was secretly just waiting for the right moment to break up with me (still hasn’t yet). But then, a few months later, this question popped up in ITG’s Facebook Group (sidenote: are you a member of The Group? You should be), and I remembered. I remembered! Argh!!!!! Beard burn!!!!!!
Because I didn’t have the answers, I reached out to dermatologists Dr. Y. Claire Chang from Union Square Laser Dermatology and Dr. Carl Thornfeldt, founder of Epionce skincare. “Beard burn is essentially an irritant contact dermatitis of the skin,” said Dr. Chang. “Male facial hair tends to be coarse and rough, and this can cause abrasion similar to a harsh scrub or microdermabrasion. The coarser the beard and the longer the contact, the more severe a reaction.” She notes that if you’re regularly using retinoids or chemical exfoliants, you’re more likely to experience red, dry patches—it’s over exfoliation. And, as much as I’d like to believe, your skin never really gets used to it. “Your skin can get inflamed every time it is exposed to the irritant—in this case, the beard.”
There seemed to be two plans of attack: make your skin barrier stronger, and make his beard softer. It takes two to tango, and all that. “Keeping the skin barrier healthy is the first line of defense for any kind of damage,” said Dr. Thornfeldt. “A healthy skin barrier helps mitigate the amount and severity of the skin’s reaction to damage.” He recommends products with ceramides, cholesterol and free fatty acids for maximum comfort. To that list, Dr. Chang adds hyaluronic acid. “Prevention is the best treatment,” says Dr. Chang, “but over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream can calm down the irritation and inflammation after the fact. As long as the area is not continuously being irritated by scrubs and peels, it should improve within a week.”
For him, a beard oil can act as a conditioner, making the hair softer and less abrasive. Recommendations from The Group ranged from skincare-y (rosehip and argan oils) to luxe (Fur Oil) to brazenly manly (Grave Before Shave oil). And if you can’t get him to shave, maybe try to convince him to grow it out. “Shorter, stubbly hairs are more irritating than longer hairs,” added Dr. Chang. “They tend to be coarser, and protrude out to cause more friction.”
Have you figured out the magical recipe to avoid persistent beard burn? Please let me know in the comments. You’ll be doing a service for men and women everywhere.
Photo via ITG