For most guys, getting a beard to look its best comes down to a few daily or weekly steps to keep it trim, in shape, and looking killer. A comb-through here and there, a once-over with a trimmer, and some beard oil to give it shine and softness can see most of us through the day. But for a growing number of guys, one particular challenge stands in the way that precludes the satisfaction of having an easily maintaining a great beard: dandruff.
Beard dandruff affects a staggering number of guys nowadays, but because it’s not something men bond over so much, it doesn’t get as much attention as it should. There’s also a striking difference between having dry skin that tends to flake and an actual beard dandruff condition, so let’s dive deeper into all things beard health with two experts: Dr. Daniel Belkin, MD from the New York Dermatology Group and New York City barber and men’s grooming expert Jason Biggs of Babe of Brooklyn to get the full story on beard dandruff.
What Is Beard Dandruff And What Causes It?
“Beard dandruff is a flaky, dry residue left in your beard before or even after a shower,” Biggs said. Depending on skin type and severity, it can either show up as flakes or even what appear to be stray white hairs. “For the most part, beard dandruff is caused by seborrheic dermatitis, which is a type of mild rash thought to be caused by overproduction of sebum (the skin's natural oils) with an overgrowth of a certain type of yeast called Malassezia globosa,” Dr. Belkin explained. While this yeast is naturally found in everyone, it tends to be overabundant in people prone to seborrheic dermatitis.
Dr. Belkin also pointed out that beard dandruff isn’t confined to the beard area—it can also form on the scalp, eyebrows, sides of the nose, and even the ears—a telltale sign that what you’re experiencing may be more than just dry skin.
What's The Difference Between Dandruff And Dry Skin?
For guys reading this and starting to panic because they noticed a few errant flakes on their shirts, don’t panic just yet. Dr. Belkin said that while dry skin can also lead to flakiness, beard dandruff is a whole other thing. “When flaking is from dry skin, the skin can look whitish or cracked, and flakes are dry and small. However with dandruff, the skin will look normal to pink to red, flakes are larger and greasier, and flaking is seemingly never-ending.”
To help discern between the two, Dr. Belkin said that while dry skin flakes can appear to be more like dust, beard dandruff flakes will be larger, like snowflakes, and no amount of moisturizer will help, so if you’re piling on lotion to no avail, you could have a case of beard dandruff on your hands.
He also mentioned that guys who normally experience scalp dandruff are likely to have it in other areas. “The scalp is the most common spot, so many people have it on the scalp alone, but if a person's brows are affected, it is likely that their scalp is as well.”
How To Treat Beard Dandruff
Dr. Belkin said the first line of defense against beard dandruff is to reduce yeast overgrowth with an anti-fungal ingredient such as zinc pyrithione or ketoconazole. “I often recommend my patients use one of these or prescription strength versions of them once per week as a face wash to clear yeast away.” He also said foaming cleansers are helpful in reaching down deep to degrease the skin in thicker beards, especially those that contain sulfur or tea tree oil, both of which have natural anti-fungal properties. If none of these work after several weeks of use, Dr. Belkin said it may be necessary to see a dermatologist, who could prescribe stronger topical medications or steroid drops, which usually clear up the condition.
Biggs mentioned that guys with longer beards may want to consider going a bit shorter. “The longer your beard is, the more likely you are to develop beard dandruff, as with a long beard it’s harder to get a product down to the skin layer, which is where the dandruff-fighting ingredients need to go. So trust that long hipster beards need double the care.”
If it’s just a case of dry skin you’re dealing with, Biggs recommends upping your skincare game and making some changes to improve your skin’s overall health. This means washing twice daily with warm water, rather than hot, which could dry skin out, and following with moisturizer and beard oil or balm. Guys with longer beards could even spring for a beard conditioner, like Bevel Beard Conditioner, to ensure every strand is hydrated. Lastly, using a scrub once or twice a week will help to dislodge dead skin cells and prevent flakes before they start.
For common cases of beard dandruff, Dr. Belkin recommends starting with good old Head & Shoulders Classic Clean Anti-Dandruff Shampoo, which contains tried-and-true zinc pyrithione, a potent anti-fungal ingredient. Another option would be Nizoral Anti-Dandruff Shampoo, a heavy-duty product stacked with 1% ketoconazole to help wipe out excess fungus and restore balance to the scalp area. For guys who may be sensitive to zinc pyrithione, Typology Anti-Dandruff Treatment Shampoo is formulated with 1% piroctone olamine, a common alternative, and boosted by jujube extract to help calm redness while it controls flakes.
No matter what you choose, the key is to work the product deep into your beard so it reaches the skin, where the beard dandruff originates, and leave it on for several minutes to allow the active ingredients to penetrate. Afterward, Biggs recommends applying a good beard oil to help restore softness and shine to your beard and prevent skin from drying out.