Beard plague is no laughing matter - but what is it?

Itching, redness, razor bumps, ingrown hairs – could it be sycosis?
We all know the symptoms. But what causes it?
Is it infectious? And what’s the best way to treat it?

What's beard plague?

First, you’ll be happy to know that most cases of red and itchy discomfort related to shaving are not serious.

The dermatological condition called sycosis requires medical treatment, but fortunately it is not very common. The condition appears as pus-filled blisters that develop in the hair follicles, and it can spread to infect larger areas of the skin. Other symptoms, such as irritation, razor bumps and ingrown hairs, are indications of shaving rash, which can potentially develop into sycosis, but generally doesn’t.

Shaving rash develops after shaving, but goes away with time and doesn’t spread.

What causes shaving rash?

Shaving rash, as the name suggests, is caused by shaving with a razor. However, it can also develop with other types of hair removal. Shaving causes tiny little abrasions where staphylococcus bacteria from your razor or the surrounding skin can get in and cause localised infection under the skin.

The infection appears initially as little red bumps around the hair follicles and can subsequently develop into tiny little pimples or pustules that can become abscessed if you are very unfortunate.

What causes ingrown hairs?

When the hairs need to grow back, the infection can prevent them from breaking out through the skin and they start to grow inwards.

This is what is experienced as ingrown hairs.

Who’s to blame?

The bacteria that cause the infection can come from two sources:

  1. Your shaving gear
    This is especially true if it is not properly cleaned or the razor blade is dull. For example, a razor that has been used for a long time will be filled with bacteria from previous shaves and cause more cuts in the skin.

  2. Your skin
    Everyone has mild staphylococcus bacteria in their skin. When we shave, small cuts are made in the skin, allowing the bacteria to create small inflammation-like conditions inside the skin.

Does it matter if I shave with the grain or against it?

Does your shaving technique matter? Yes, it does.

Beard plague most often occurs if you shave against the direction of your hair, as this gives bacteria easier access to your follicles.

Does shaving rash only occur on the face?

Beard plague, despite the name, is not restricted to the face. The most vulnerable areas are the neck, groin, crotch, buttocks and armpits, depending on where you shave.

That said, beard itch can actually also occur in places where you haven't shaved if the hair follicles are particularly susceptible to bacteria.

Can anyone develop shaving rash or is it just me?

Shaving rash is a very common and widespread condition, and most men who shave or trim their beards have experienced it.

Is shaving rash infectious?

Shaving rash and sycosis can be transmitted to others through direct or indirect contact. Because everyone has staphylococcus bacteria on their skin, which is the cause of the problem, it’s important that you never share your razor or towel with others and that you maintain good personal hygiene.

How can I avoid shaving rash?

We have written two articles about this. Click here to find out what precautions you should take to avoid beard plague and read our shaving guide. Or click here if you want to know something special about intimate shaving for men.

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