No one can get away with white, flaky beard dandruff -- not even Santa Claus. It's itchy, unsightly, and can turn a dark-coloured shirt into a warning sign for those who might otherwise be attracted to you.
Photo by David Goehring.
Causes of Beard Dandruff
There are a two major causes of beard dandruff: dry skin and fungal infections. Dry skin occurs under your beard when you wash your face with harsh cleansers or regular soap. They keep your face and beard clean, but they also remove any oils on your skin or beard hair that keep them from drying out. Dry skin can also occur when it's very cold out.
Fungal infections occur because the yeast that lives on your skin can hide away from sunlight -- which normally kills it and slows its growth -- under your glorious beard and mustache. The longer your beard hair gets, the more places malassezia fungus can hide. If you were to shave your face completely, the issue would likely resolve, but then you don't have your awesome facial hair anymore.
Wash and Exfoliate Your Beard
For starters, you need to make sure you wash your face and exfoliate your skin under your beard regularly. Natural soaps and facial cleansers are best for this since they are not as harsh and less likely to dry out your skin. Otherwise, opt for a high-end facial cleanser designed to moisturize your face in addition to cleaning it. That house brand soap bar you've been using isn't going to cut it.
Next, get an exfoliator of some kind. It can be a brush or loofah-type thing, or better yet, an exfoliating glove. You can then use your fingers to get in under your beard and remove all that old dead and dry skin, as well as any yeast or other fungi, before it flakes off like a blizzard in July. While you wash, use cold water instead of warm water, as it will help keep your skin from drying out. When you're finished, gently towel dry your beard without pulling on the hair follicles.
Use a Dandruff Shampoo, Occasionally
While dandruff shampoos designed for your scalp aren't ideal for your face, they can help you get control over your beard dandruff when it's getting bad. If your dandruff is light, Head & Shoulders may help -- its active ingredient pyrithione zinc fights off fungi and bacteria, and treats mild seborrhoeic dermatitis (another possible cause of dandruff).
Keep in mind that these shampoos can also dry out the skin under your beard, however. At most, you should only use dandruff shampoos a couple times per month, and when you do, make sure you follow up with some moisturizers or oils.
Use Oils, Balms, and Other Beard-Specific Products
Natural oils, like the ones your skin produces, keep your skin from getting dry and act as antimicrobial barriers. But when you wash your natural oils away in an effort to scrape off dead skin or use anti-dandruff chemicals, you need to replace them.
Studies show that oils like tea tree oil do a great job of fighting off the fungus that causes flaky skin. According to dermatologist Dr. Cheryl Lee, other oils that are safe to use on your skin include coconut oil, jojoba oil, safflower oil, evening primrose, perilla, and hemp oil. If you scour beard forums and message boards, many people swear by jojoba and coconut oil specifically. Dr. Lee does note, however, that some oils should be avoided. Don't use olive, avocado, peanut, or almond oil if possible. They are detrimental to the skin barrier, and may even cause you to develop an allergy.
When applying oil to your beard, make sure your beard and skin under your beard is dry. Then apply a small amount of oil to your hands and massage it into your beards roots. If your beard is longer, use a boar hair beard brush to help spread out the oil and groom your beard hair. Repeat daily.
You can also find products that are specifically designed for washing, moisturizing, and grooming beards. There's beard wash, which is shampoo that is specifically designed to clean and hydrate beards and the skin underneath. There's also beard balms that you massage into your beards after washing. These balms usually contain a combination of the oils mentioned above, in addition to other natural ingredients that make it smell nice and clean.
If There's No Change, See a Dermatologist
If you've tried all of the above and still have visible beard dandruff, it's time to seek help from a professional. You may have an abnormal skin condition causing the dandruff, and you may need a prescription medicine to eradicate the problem.
From no beard, to full hobo beard and back again, I have done it all. I'm no rugged lumberjack or style-conscious hipster, but this is my bearded experience.