Be gone, beard burn.
Making out should be fun. Full stop. The only thing you should worry about during sexy time is your enjoyment — not whether or not your face might fall off from beard burn thanks to your partner's rough scruff. How to avoid sensitive skin after kissing isn't an unknowable mystery, even if you've gotten a raw chin or a breakout from kissing enough times to nearly resign yourself to celibacy. Luckily, professional dermatologists have weighed in to save all of our skins from the horrors of painful beard burn and skin sensitivity after a makeout.
I had my first kiss with my first boyfriend way back in eighth grade. We would awkwardly make out in the basement of his house for hours because... we really had nothing else to do. I ended up dating him for a year-and-a-half, and I don't ever remember having chapped or irritated skin post-makeout sesh. Retrospectively, it was most likely due to the fact that, as a newly-pubescent man, he didn't have a full face of hair. Curiously, though, I may have kissed many a man over the years while successfully avoiding beard burn — until now.
My first bout of really bad beard burn started three months ago with the guy I'd been seeing. He doesn't have a beard, per se, but he definitely has scruff. Aesthetically, I dig it. However, my sensitive AF skin disagreed. Every time I would see my date, my chin, upper lip, and nose (pretty much anywhere that experienced constant friction with his scruff) would turn red and raw pretty much immediately. The next day, dry scaly patches would develop in addition to the redness.
When I'd apply makeup over the sensitive skin, the product would either cling to the dry patches, creating unwanted texture, or slide right off the scruff-exfoliated patches, revealing all my redness. Generally, my irritated skin would last for six days, pretty much until the next time I saw said guy and started the cycle all over again. Bless me.
I thought I was alone in my struggles until I noticed my editor, Alana, was fighting the same battle. One day, I arrived at her apartment to do some writing, and she opened the door to reveal red welts on her chin. I thought her adorable cat Willow had accidentally scratched her, but it was merely battle scars from a guy she'd been snogging. My skin may be sensitive AF, but Alana's is not, and yet her beard burn was shockingly worse than mine was. A doctor even prescribed her a topical ointment to treat the beard burns because they were so irritated.
After all of this suffering, expert advice was a necessity. Elite Daily consulted Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, board-certified dermatologist and a clinical instructor at NYU Langone and Mount Sinai, as well as Dr. Marisa Garshick, a board-certified dermatologist and a clinical assistant professor at Cornell. With all the creams, treatments, and products out there, there must be a solution to our beard burn woes. Right?
Why Does Beard Burn Occur?
"'Beard burn' happens because the stubble or rough beard hair can cause an irritation to the skin, making it red, irritated, burning, or even tender and raw," Dr. Levin tells Elite Daily, citing the roughness in texture of beard hair as the main culprit. I'll be the first to confirm this statement. My skin becomes straight-up raw after a sensible makeout sesh.
"Many women 'fear the beard' since significant exposure to a scruffy beard can cause irritation to the skin," she says. Not to mention, significant and regular beard burn could have a snowball effect when it comes to your skin. “This irritation triggers inflammation which can affect and contribute to breakouts as well,” Dr. Garshick says. Though a beard is personally something I look for in a man, I've started to reconsider my turn-ons. I just don't think my face can handle much more.
What Can You Do To Avoid Beard Burn Irritation?
When it comes to preventing the problem all together, Dr. Levin recommends taking three major precautions. First of all, make sure to moisturize your whole face, but pay close attention the areas where you might experience beard burn. "Having moisturized and non-inflamed skin before a makeout session is important," she says, so you're already hydrated from the jump.
Next, reduce the frequency of your more active and sensitivity-inducing skincare steps when you have a date with Facial Hair Freddy on your cal. "Avoid exfoliating or using more aggressive anti-aging products that make the skin irritated, dry, or flaky before," Dr. Levin explains. Yes, that means you might want to pause on the retinols, hydroxy acids, chemical exfoliants, and other strong products. Retinol, for example, is known to make your skin more sensitive, so Dr. Garshick suggests applying a thin layer of a skin barrier cream to protect the skin from any friction if you accidentally use a strong product. Although I love a glow-inducing resurfacing mask as much as the next girl, I agree that it's probably not the best thing to use before someone's beard goes HAM on my delicate skin.
Finally, Dr. Levin also recommends having a conversation about the beard burn with your scruffy partner if you can. "If you are in a long-term, comfortable relationship," Dr. Levin says, "consider asking [your partner] to practice certain beard practices." You hear that? Grooming isn't just for women.
Short beards (the hairs of which tend to be sharp and pointy) are more likely to irritate your skin, while medium-length beards are slightly less aggressive. Dr. Levin also recommends that people with beards should shampoo and condition their beards just like they would the hair on their heads. I'm confident this works; my best friend was finally able to escape the wrath of beard burn when her boyfriend started using Garnier Fructis Sleek & Shine Shampoo and Garnier Fructis Sleek & Shine Conditioner ($3, Target) to maintain his facial hair.
Finally, if they're not afraid of a little product, your makeout partner can also use a beard oil to hydrate, smooth, and soften their facial hair. The Jack Black Beard Oil ($25, Sephora), for example, contains hydrating grape seed and jojoba oils, and the hydrating properties of those ingredients might lessen the likelihood of a bad beard burn. TBH, you can also just buy it for them as a thoughtful gift. Spend a little cash so you can really save your crying skin.
How Do You Treat Beard Burn After The Fact?
Even if you take all the necessary precautions, beard burn might still occur. If that’s the case, don’t panic. Just ensure you take care of the area quickly. "Carrying a gentle, thick moisturizer that you can apply immediately afterward will help restore the skin’s outer layer from the irritation," says Dr. Levin. Her personal favorites are the Cetaphil Rich Hydrating Night Cream ($14, Target), La Roche Posay Toleraine Cream ($29, La Roche-Posey), and the Avene Toleraine Cream ($38, Avène). Once you get home, it's also important to wash your face with a mild cleanser. Dr. Levin recommends the Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser ($13, Walgreens) to cleanse the face before moisturizing again. Moisturizing is really key here. Dr. Garshick says that if your skin is left feeling particularly itchy, you may also want to treat the affected area with a hydrocortisone cream, so you don’t scratch and irritate it further.
As you wait for your skin to heal, Dr. Levin says it's important to avoid anything that can further irritate the skin, such as "retinoids, fragrances, alpha hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acids (like salicylic acid), and facial cleansing brushes." As much as you love your chemical exfoliant, hold off until the beard burn heals.
Will Anything Make Beard Burn Heal Faster?
Moisturizing over time will certainly heal all wounds (almost), but what if a special event is on the horizon? Nobody wants their aunt inquiring about their welts and redness at the next family barbecue. "If the skin is still irritated, you can apply a gentle over-the-counter cortisone twice daily for one to two weeks to calm down inflammation, dryness, and flaking," Levin says. Pro-tip: You can score samples of cortisone or steroid cream directly from your dermatologist.
Otherwise, continue to apply your moisturizer regularly. If you feel your skin is still lacking in hydration, you can even use Vaseline Petroleum Jelly ($4, Target), Cerave Healing Ointment ($17, Target), or Aveeno Eczema Therapy Balm ($19, Walmart), which are thicker options that can boost your hydration and skin protection levels even more.
Can Beard Burn Cause Permanent Skin Damage?
I'm not about to stop making out with hotties because my face hurts sometimes. However, I am just vain enough to wonder if my constant facial irritation is enough to cause permanent damage.
"Chronic inflammation from beard burn is much like wind burn, so it can leave your skin being dry, flaky, sensitive, and even discolored if the inflammation is severe enough," says Dr. Levin. "It’s important to treat the irritation when it occurs, use gentle cleansing and moisturizing ingredients while the skin is irritated, and, of course, [use] sunscreen to protect from developing discoloration."
The bottom line? Take your precautions, invest in aftercare, and don't be scared to chat with your man about his spiky skin, my friends. If you're smart about it, you'll be good to French for years to come.
Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, board-certified dermatologist and a clinical instructor at NYU Langone and Mount Sinai
Dr. Marisa Garshick, a board-certified dermatologist and a clinical assistant professor at Cornell
Additional reporting by Margaret Blatz.
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