Can beards smell? [Causes and simple solutions]

No problem is more embarrassing or obvious than a beard that smells. Beards can smell like many things, onions, vomit, smoke, and have musty overtones – sometimes all simultaneously! It is not always necessarily hygiene issues either that cause a bad smell. Can beards smell? Yes, they can! But there’s more to it than that!

Beards smell because sweat and oily skin under your beard builds up. Bacteria thrive in moist, dark environments like the base of your beard hairs. A beard can also absorb many smells from the environment like smoke, alcohol, and pollution.

You may have seen that beards have been in the news for bad reasons. There are news reports that your beard contains more germs than poo.

We have also been told that your beards are dirtier than dogs. But the good news is that there is very little solid evidence that your beard is full of things that are a hazard to your health.

If you are a visual learner check out my YouTube video on this exact topic:

Here, we can talk about all of the reasons your beard can smell and what you can do about it.

Why do beards smell bad?

That is why it is so important to keep them clean, shampooed conditioned, and you use beard wax, beard oil, or beard balm with a little bit of fragrance to keep them smelling awesome.

Now, let’s take a look at the specific things that can cause your beard to smell bad.

Bacteria

One of the most common reasons beards smell bad is that bacteria lurk inside them.

That’s not unsurprising, considering that beards collect sweat and skin cells and other dirt and grime that bacteria feasts on.

So, if your beard is smelling, the first thing you can do is incorporate good hygiene into your beard maintenance schedule.

If you are doing activities that cause you to sweat more, like working out, running or any other form of exercise, then you need to wash your beard more and more thoroughly.

Also, it would help if you kept your hands as clean as possible.

When you have a beard is incredibly tempting to touch your beard all the time. I know I do it.

The thing is, if you touch your beard with dirty hands, the dirt, grime and bacteria that is on your hands get transferred to your beard. So make sure that you clean your hands after doing any particularly dirty activity, especially if you’ve just been to the toilet.

Your environment

There are so many things in your daily life that smell and can get absorbed into your beard. Even if you work in an office, there are plenty of opportunities to infiltrate your beard throughout the day of smoke, pollution, and grime.

When you have fun, smells can infiltrate your beard. You could be having a barbecue with friends. You could be arranged a smoky campfire. Ordering a multitude of other activities.

The only real way to overcome absorbing the smells into your beard is to wear a beard bandanna or something covering your beard.

Alternatively, you must clean your beard regularly with good quality beard products and beard shampoo.

Food

As you grow a beard, you will reach a certain length of moustache way you notice that nearly everything you eat ends up in it.

Using a napkin becomes a common part of having a beard.

There is no real way to stop the food from getting into your beard as you are eating it – other than using a fork and opening your mouth is pretty wide.

It comes down to being hyper-aware of your hygiene while eating.

If I’m out with friends, I’ll tend to eat something I can cut up into manageable bite-size pieces that don’t get smeared into my moustache and beard.

However, sometimes I have to eat the messy ribs. I will make sure that my beard is given a special deep clean the evening after or the morning after eating the messy food.

Sebum

Sebum is the natural oil that gets produced by your face. It’s the body’s way of keeping the hair conditioned and soft. With a long beard, sebum builds up at the base of the hair relatively quickly.

So if you don’t wash your beard deeply, i.e. get to the roots of the beard, the sebum can build up and harbour bacteria that will start to make your beard smell.

You can easily tackle this with a really good quality beard shampoo.

Sebum is also heavily influenced by the foods that you eat. If you eat particularly strong-smelling food, the sebum excreted by your face will quickly adopt that smell.

If you find that the smell is coming deep from the base of your beard – try eating a less stinky diet for a week to see if that improves the smell.

So those are the main reasons why a beard is likely to smell. It’s not necessarily that beards are more likely to have bacteria or poo or have anything gross inside them. It comes down to having a robust cleaning schedule.

Specific beard smells people experience

Sometimes there are very specific smells that a person and easily identify. These include onions, cheese and vomit.

Not the nicest of smells, but here are the reasons these can occur. All backed by science!

Why does my beard smell like onions?

The odour of the oils from your hair follicles, in this case, sebum, can be heavily influenced by what you eat. If you have been eating a lot of onion and garlic-based dishes, it can cause the oils on your scans to smell like onion and garlic.

You can minimise the effect of onion and garlic by drinking a lot of water after eating a particularly onion heavy meal.

After this, if you find that it still smells like onions, remove onion and garlic from your diet and see if it improves.

If it doesn’t improve, you could have a medical condition characterised by extreme body odour – called Bromhidrosis.

When you have Bromhidrosis, a strong smell is created from the byproduct of sweat mixing with skin bacteria. They produce a compound that smells like sulphur, onions, or raw meat when these come together.

If you feel like you are suffering from this, seek help from your medical professional.

Why does my beard smell like vomit?

Strangely enough, vomit is a common smell to find lingering in a beard.

Sometimes, however, it is not even the beard that smells – you could be suffering from acid reflux.

Acid reflux is a condition where the sphincter between your stomach and oesophagus loosens. The loose sphincter causes stomach acid to shoot back up into your oesophagus.

It can even get as far as your sinuses and nose and even down to your lungs.

If you burp a lot, it could be a symptom of acid reflux. Certain foods can worsen, such as chocolate, tea, garlic, onions, citrus, fatty foods, and fast foods.

Why does my beard smell like cheese?

Your beard could smell like cheese because bacteria are feasting on the odourless fatty acids found in your sweat.

It often develops in a beard that is not properly cleaned and maintained.

Even if you have a good hygiene schedule and have been showering and washing your beard regularly, your daily activities mean that you will be exposed to many different bacteria.

To combat the smelly beard situation, you should shampoo and condition your beard deeply at least two times a week. And importantly, make sure that you dry it completely so that bacteria doesn’t lurk in the damp spots in your beard.

Like the other issues in this article, if you find that your beard does not smell any better after a deep clean for a couple of weeks, make an appointment to see your local and trusted health professional.

Is having a beard unsanitary?

If you want to find eight more about beard bacteria, check out my other full article on beard bacteria. The nasties lurking in your beard.

This question is an age-old debate about beards: is having a beard unsanitary, or is it just as clean as having no beard hair at all. It seems to make sense that beards would have a load of bacteria and be more likely to have bacteria than a clean-shaven face.

But before you decide to cut off your beard because you’ve read an article online about how much poo is in it – think again!

In 2014, a paper was published in the Journal of Hospital Infection answered these questions.

This study had a huge sample of human faces and focused on men who work in healthcare. The researchers were interested in men with beards and comparing them to other men who didn’t have beards.

The researchers took swabs from their faces and counted the number and type of bacteria on faces with and without a beard.

There is some great news if you have a beard.

The scientists found that the overall colonisation of bacteria is similar in male health co-workers with and without facial hair. However, certain bacterial species were more prevalent in workers without facial hair.

So, having a beard doesn’t necessarily have to be unsanitary. Keeping your beard fresh and clean comes down to regular maintenance and using antibacterial, antifungal, and cleansing products. That is particularly easy to achieve with essential oils in beard products.

Now, let’s take a more in-depth look at how you keep a beard as fresh as possible.

How do I keep my beard fresh and smell free?

The first thing about keeping a beard fresh is to lay the foundations by removing all the dirt and grime built up throughout the day.

Daily washing is not something you should do unless you have a particularly dirty job or a daily routine involving getting dirty!

How often to shampoo a beard?

Over shampooing a beard is one of the worst ways to dry out your beard! Overwashing can strip your beard of natural oils and cause your beard to become dry and wispy.

I recommend a maximum of three times a week, but one to two times a week is all you need to do for most people.

Make sure that you use beard shampoo!

Hair shampoo is a little harsher and can quickly dry out your beard. If you find that your beard is still a little dry, you should consider using a beard conditioner.

After washing, some care is needed to keep the hair conditioned and the skin underneath moisturised.

My daily routine

  • Wet the beard fully in the shower – use your fingertips to get deep into the beard. Use the fingertips to massage the skin underneath the hair.
  • Use beard shampoo and conditioner (every two or three days) – work the beard shampoo through the beard and rinse thoroughly. Repeat with the beard conditioner after leaving it for two minutes.
  • Towel dry your beard slowly – don’t be overly rough with your beard. You can easily damage the beard when it is wet.
  • Use low heat hair drying technique – brush the hair into the desired shape and hold it in place while drying on low heat. Blast with cool air to lock the hair into place.
  • Use beard oil – Beard oil is a must for your beard! Take the time to choose a beard oil that you like the smell of! You’ll be smelling it all day!
  • Use beard Balm (optional) – Is your beard still looking a little bit dry? Feel free to back up your beard oil application with a little beard balm. My DIY beard balm has a bit of beeswax, shea butter, and essential oils in it. Perfect for hold and extra hydration!
  • Look fabulous! Comb your beard into the shape that you want it to take. Maybe you can back up the hold with beard wax – particularly useful for fancy moustaches.

After laying the foundations, remove all the grime and dirt with a good quality shampoo. You can then start to look at beard oils, balms, butter, and waxes.

Use a good beard oil

Beard oil is specifically designed to give your beard a deeply nourishing treatment while also leaving a relatively long-lasting scent. Commonly, people will apply beard oil at the beginning of the day, which means the fragrance will last well into the afternoon.

Using good beard oil will make sure that your beard not only looks good but remains as fresh as possible. Feel free to back this up with a beard balm if you need extra hold for your beard style.

Now let’s look at all of the frequently asked smelly beard questions. There will be something in here to surprise you, no doubt!

Frequently asked smelly beard questions – Can beards smell?

Here are frequently asked questions about beards and their smells. As your beard grows, gets longer, and changes shape, you probably notice that it changes its smell and appearance. So, what should a healthy beard smell like? Let’s tackle that one first:

What do beards smell like?

A well looked after beard should hardly smell at all. But sometimes, it can have a very slight musty smell.

Even if you always keep it incredibly clean, the slightest smells become more noticeable because it is pretty close to your nose.

If it is the first time you’ve grown a beard, you may just be smelling your natural scent.

Wet beard hair smells different from dry beard hair, and all the natural oils in your skin mix up to make your unique scent.

The odour of the oils from your hair follicles can even be influenced by what you eat. Things like garlic, onions, seafood, eggs, chilis and all other sorts of foods can have a strong impact on what your natural oils smell like.

In summary, beards can smell like a range of different things and is unique to each person.

As long as the beard doesn’t smell particularly gross, then you probably don’t have any problem. However, if you notice that your beard smells very off-putting and other people have noticed a strong smell – you need to seek professional help.

Conclusion

So, in conclusion, yes, beards can smell.

It can be for various reasons, including dirt and grime build-up, sebum builds up, and environmental factors and smells that get absorbed into your beard.

It’s relatively easy to keep your beard smelling fresh; you have to invest in good quality shampoo or beard soap.

If you find that after a good shampoo and conditioning over a few weeks, there is no change, seek help from a medical professional or a dermatologist to isolate the reasons you cannot get rid of a smell.

Never settle for a beard that smells, and keep searching to find a solution until your beard smells fresh all day long.

The Author


Andy Stapleton

Andy is a writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. He has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. He is an avid beard grower and after many years of growing and trialing different beard styles, he started this blog to share the tips, tricks, and science that he has learned along the way!