Barber’s itch – also known as beard ringworm and beard ringworm – is a fungal infection that often develops on the skin under the beard. It can also occur on the neck, chin, and upper lip.
It is caused by two types of animal fungi: T. verrucosum (from livestock) and T. mentagrophytes var. equinum (from horses). Barber’s itch can be spread after direct contact with an animal or person with the fungus.
Read on to learn more about barber’s itch, including its common symptoms, causes, and treatment.
The most common symptom of barber’s itch is a ringworm-like rash on the skin under the beard. This rash is circular in shape with red, scaly lesions. Barber’s itch can also be itchy and mild pain.
Skin spots vary in size from 1 to 5 centimeters (cm), but some people have large, pus-filled acne lesions around their hair follicles. Hair loss is another symptom.
Barber’s itch affects people differently, however. Less common symptoms include a fever and swollen glands.
Here are some pictures of barber’s itch or beard ringworm – from mild cases to inflamed cases.
A fungus is the root cause of barber’s itch, but different factors increase the risk of infection. It’s contagious, so it can pass from person to person by:
- direct contact, for example by touching a person’s infected lesions, then touching your own face
- indirect contact, such as by touching the razor or beard brush of someone with a fungal infection
Keep in mind that hair type is a risk factor. It’s more common in people with coarse beard hair.
Poor hygiene is another important factor. Fungi thrive in humid conditions, so it is important to wash daily, especially after heavy sweating or workouts. You should also dry your body after a bath or shower to prevent fungal infections.
Also, wear protective clothing when landscaping or gardening. Fungi in the soil can cause skin infections.
A weakened immune system also makes you vulnerable to fungal infections. Pre-existing conditions, such as autoimmune diseases, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses, as well as chronic stress and poor diet are also risk factors.
Getting rid of barber’s itch is all about killing the fungus.
Topical antifungal creams are effective for mild cases. You can buy these products over the counter:
Apply the cream to the affected areas as directed. Wait 1 to 2 weeks for an infection to go away.
Good hygiene can also treat a fungal infection. If you shave during treatment, use a disposable razor and do not share personal care items. Wash your hands with warm water and soap after touching your beard.
If itchy or inflamed, apply a cold compress to your beard several times a day for 10 to 15 minutes.
A number of common skin conditions can mimic barber’s itch.
An infection of the hair follicles caused by Staphylococcus aureus (staphylococcus) bacteria or fungus. An ingrown hair triggers these infections, resulting in red pimples, small blisters and itchy rashes on the beard.
Folliculitis can also affect the hair on the legs and groin.
This condition can cause red, scaly patches on the skin under the beard.
Psoriasis is not a fungus, it is a non-contagious autoimmune disease. The rash can come and go as well as develop on other parts of the body such as the elbows, knees and lower back.
Barber’s itch is sometimes mistaken for razor bumps. These are ingrown hairs that form after shaving, causing inflammation and bumps on the skin.
They can occur on any part of the body, including the armpits, legs, and groin. Razor bumps aren’t caused by a fungal infection, although these ingrown hairs can become infected.
See a doctor if the barber’s itching does not improve or if symptoms worsen after 2 to 3 weeks. Over-the-counter anti-fungal lotions and creams can treat mild cases of barber’s itch. But some infections require oral antifungal medication.
Prescription oral antifungal medications can help treat the conditions in about 4 to 6 weeks. Prescription drugs include:
Barber’s itch is treatable and usually doesn’t cause serious complications, but it can progress to more serious symptoms if left untreated.
The infection can spread to other parts of the body. Also, the more barber itch you have, the more likely you are to pass it on to others. Serious infections can also cause hair loss.
Fungal infections can also cause skin damage (cracks or breaks), increasing the risk of bacterial infection. If left untreated, a bacterial infection can spread and cause cellulitis (a serious skin infection). Bacteria can also enter your bloodstream, causing a life-threatening infection.
Barber’s itch is a common condition that affects the skin under the beard. The good news is that it is treatable with both over the counter and prescription antifungals.
Although some people do not develop problems, it is important to treat the condition. This reduces the risk of passing the infection on to others and reduces the risk of complications.