Beard Fungus (Tinea Barbae) Causes, Treatment, Prevention

Tinea barbae is a fungal infection of skin and hair in the lower part of face and neck. Also known as beard fungus or barber’s itch, tinea barbae can cover the entire skin area where beard and mustache grow. Beard fungus is not a very common condition in the present day world. This rarity is attributed to increased attention that people pay to skin hygiene while shaving.

Tinea barbae may also be confused with other fungal infections of the skin on face. Fungal infection of the skin on face is technically termed as tinea faciei. Tinea barbae can be distinguished from tinea fasciei by its restricted localization over the bearded area of the face and neck. In contrast, tinea fasciei can affect skin on other regions of face. Tinea barbae is also restricted to adolescent and adult males. Tinea barbae may also be confused with folliculitis. Folliculitis refers to bacterial infection of hair follicles. It may happen in the region where tinea barbae is already present. However, these two are separate conditions, and have different causes.

Read more on ringworm.

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of tinea barbae vary with the severity of the condition. In certain mild cases, no signs and symptoms may be apparent. The infected individual in such cases is referred to as being asymptomatic. In some mild cases, only itching may be felt in the region of infection. No visible rash may be discernible.

When a rash is present, it is mostly in the form of ring-shaped lesions. However, the ring shape of lesions may not always be discernible, especially if the area of infection is large and the lesions become contiguous.

The skin lesions caused in tinea barbae may either be inflammatory or non-inflammatory. The inflammatory lesions of tinea barbae are red in color. The ring shape of inflammatory lesions may or may not be discernible. The infected area of skin may become swollen. There may also be nodules present on skin, and these nodules might display an oozing discharge. The infected and inflamed area may also be painful.

The skin lesions in the non-inflammatory type of tinea barbae have comparatively less swelling and redness. Unlike in inflammatory lesions, non-inflammatory lesions are mostly devoid of any nodules. Itching is commonly present in the area of lesion. Hair loss is also commonly seen in the affected skin areas.

Hairy skin regions affected in tinea barbae may also go on to develop painful spongy masses with pustules. These are referred to as kerions. Kerions are also observed in tinea capitis (fungal infection of the scalp).

Causes of Tinea Barbae

Tinea barbae is a fungal infection of skin and hair. It is caused by a class of fungi known as dermatophytes. Dermatophytes are found across the globe, and are the cause many types of fungal skin infections in humans and other animals. Examples of skin infections caused by dermatophytes include athlete’s foot and jock itch. Athlete’s foot, also known as tinea pedis, refers to a fungal infection of the skin on feet. Jock itch, also known as tinea cruris, refers to a fungal infection of the skin in groin area.

Dermatophytes normally reside on human skin. Due to the common ring-shaped appearance of skin infections caused by dermatophytes, these fungi have earned the nickname “ringworm”. Dermatophytes possess enzymes that can break down the outermost keratin layer of skin, hair and nails. Usually, a dermatophyte infection only affects the outermost layer of skin. The fungus does not infect the underlying tissues. However, deep tissue injuries can occur due to secondary bacterial infections and due to immune response of body against fungal infections.

There are many types of dermatophytes that can cause tinea barbae. Some of these are anthropophilic. They mainly infect human skin. Others are zoophilic, and infect other animals. Dermatophytes that cause infection in other animals can also be transmitted to humans. They are fully capable of causing skin infections in humans.

Some of the dermatophytes that cause tinea barbae in humans include the following species:

  • Trichophyton verrucosum
  • Trichophyton megninii
  • Trichophyton mentagrophytes var granulosum
  • Trichophyton rubrum
  • Trichophyton schoenleinii
  • Trichophyton violaceum
  • Microsporum canis

The predominant dermatophyte species responsible for tinea barbae may vary according to geographic location, climate and lifestyle factors. Close contact with animals may increase the risk of contracting certain types of dermatophyte infections.

Read more on folliculitis.

Treatment for Tinea Barbae

Treatment for tinea barbae and tinea capitis (also known as scalp ringworm) are similar. Both are skin areas with copious amounts of hair. Therefore, the first step in treating these areas is to remove the hair.

After hair removal, both topical anti-fungal agents and oral anti-fungal medications are given. Anti-fungal medications are usually prescribed for a duration of 4-6 weeks. Some common anti-fungal medications used for treating tinea barbae include fluconazole, itraconazole, griseofulvin, and terbinafine. These drugs must be used till the fungus is totally eradicated. Fungal infections also have a tendency to recur. Therefore, preventive measures must be taken to prevent any recurrence of tinea barbae after treatment.

When secondary bacterial infections are present alongside tinea barbae, it becomes necessary to first treat the bacterial infection. Treatment for bacterial infection should begin even before the hair is shaved off the area.

Preventing Tinea Barbae

The following are some of the precautionary measures to reduce the chances of getting tinea barbae:

  • Hygiene should always be a concern while shaving, especially when shaving is done at a barber shop. A clean (and preferably new) razor blade must be used every time one gets a shave done. Razors must not be shared.
  • Personal items of clothing (such as towels) must not be shared with people who have tinea barbae. Clothing of infected individuals should be washed separately to prevent the spread of fungus.
  • Removal of facial hair may help if tinea barbae is a recurrent problem. Non-razor methods of hair removal are preferable in such cases.
  • One must refrain from touching one’s face after touching an animal. Hands must be washed immediately after close contact with animals.
  • Fungal infections in other regions of the body must be treated completely to avoid the spread of infection. Care should be taken to avoid touching the infected regions and then touching the facial region.
  • Anti-microbial disinfectant after-shaves can be used after completing a shave. Skin moisturizers may also be used to prevent drying of skin.

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