Does touching your beard damage it? The surprising damage!

No matter the length of your beard, you may be concerned that you are damaging it when you are touching it. If your beard is short, you may be putting a lot of stress at the base of the hair. If your beard is long, you may be concentrating the stress along the hair shaft, which can create a high-pressure point inducing breakage.

Touching your beard will not damage it if you are touching it lightly. Heavy twisting action at the base of the hair and creating pinch points by bending the hair will increase the damage and breakage you experience.

The less you can touch your beard throughout the day, the better. I often touch my beard because I am worried that I have food in it. Doing light downwards sweeping motions is a way for me to feel less self-conscious about the potential of trapped food. I also touch my beard out of habit as I like the way it feels, and now that habit has become ingrained into my daily life.

Reducing the amount of touching will significantly improve your beard quality and density by minimising the potential for breakage and putting bacteria and other dirt into the hair mass.

Is touching your beard bad for it?

Touching is not necessarily bad for your beard as long as you do not touch it with force. Touching your beard by bending the hair significantly or introducing a lot of stress at the hair base can damage it.

I recently talked about why beard hairs pull out so easily and the damaging action that causes it in my YouTube video below.

Another way that you can cause damage to your beard by touching it is by introducing bacteria or dirt. Introducing bacteria to your beard increases the likelihood of beard smells and skin irritation, and infection.

If you work in a particularly dusty environment, the touching of your beard could introduce a lot of dust particles. Industrial dust is quite sharp. When introduced into your beard, it can rub against the outside of the beard hairs and damage the outer layer.

Once the outer layer of the beard hair has been compromised, it makes it much easier for the beard to become dry, brittle, and break at that point.

Here are all of how touching your beard could cause damage to it and how you can avoid damaging your beard by minimising touching.

Ways that touching your beard may damage it

A simple and single touch of your beard does almost nothing to the beard hair. Touching gets damaging when you do it many times during the day. The number of times that you touch your beard throughout the day will be directly related to the likelihood that you are going to cause damage.

That is because, with each touch, you could potentially end up performing the actions below.

Drying it out

Regularly touching your beard may dry it out. By regularly putting your fingers and palms over the surface of your beard hair you may remove the sebum (the natural oils that protect the beard hairs) from the beard.

The more you touch your beard the more likely that it will end up becoming dry and free of natural oils.

Twisting the roots

Twisting action at the roots of the hair will be one of the most damaging actions.

Does touching your beard damage it? Intense damage caused

Twisting will happen if you are particularly rough with your hair and you put a lot of force directly onto the area of the face where your hair emerges.

Twisting can happen while you are sleeping or if you are brushing your beard particularly vigorously. Hard pressure combined with circular motions is going to be your beard’s kryptonite.

The only solution to twisting hairs during grooming is to consciously go easy on your beard hairs but also purchasing tools that are not so harsh on your beard. This includes using a natural bristle brush and using organic and natural beard products which do not stand any chance of damaging the beard at all.

Using a natural bristle brush means that the bristles will flex and bend so that it is near impossible to put too much pressure on your beard.

Bending the hairs

If your hair is longer than a few inches, there is the potential that touching your beard will bend the hairs in the middle.

As you are touching your beard, you could inadvertently bend a hair in half. The continual pressure on a hair that is bent will concentrate the full force to the apex of the bend.

Once the hair has been bent and a strong force has been applied, it will be very hard to repair. The bend damage will act as a place for further damage that you obtain throughout the day. I have noticed that if I have been bending my beard hairs – something I do regularly in the jaw area without realising it – I will notice a small rough area which I can then use to break the hair.

If you are touching your beard and bending the shaft significantly – you could be creating a point of concentrated damage.

Lifting the cuticles

If you regularly/your hair in the wrong direction, you could lift the cuticles of the beard hair.

I love stroking my beard because it is relatively smooth and very satisfying to stroke when it is properly hydrated.

It is satisfying to stroke because the surface of the hair contains tiles that overlap like the surface of a roof. Like the surface of a roof, the overlapping cells create a slippery and smooth surface in one direction.

Keeping this surface as smooth and intact as possible will keep your beard looking healthy and shiny.

Touching your beard could potentially lift the cuticles and act as a point of further damage. Once the beard hair cuticles have been lifted, the hair’s core is exposed, and it can dry out significantly faster than when all of the cuticles are laying flat.

Cold air will also cause the cuticles to lift, which allows moisture to escape from the depths of the hair.

As the hair is stretched (during combing and brushing), the stretching deforms the outer protective layer causing the cuticle edges to lift and break. Once its cuticle armour is damaged, it can make the beard feel rough and wirier.

Introducing bacteria

Regularly touching your beard hair may also introduce bacteria and grime into the depths of the hair mass.

Ensuring that you wash your hands after you visit the bathroom, perform any particularly dirty activity, and wash your hands regularly is the only way to ensure that you do not introduce bacteria to your beard.

If you want to know more about beard bacteria and what could be lurking in your beard, check out my other article – click here – where I go through everything you need to know about whether or not bacteria could cause your beard to be dirtier than a dog’s fur.

In a study published in February 2019, they were testing to see if it was safe for humans to use the same MRI scanner as a dog.

Their study found that seven men tested positive for microbes, which makes people sick under certain circumstances. Four dogs also had this microbe, but it was significantly less than the seven men with the same bacteria.

It just shows how easy it is to pick up bacteria if you are not being super conscious of it.

Pulling hairs out

For some people, the risk of touching their beards is that they inadvertently pull out hairs. Beard hairs can become easy to pull out if they are in the late stages of growth, leading to a hair fall of approximately 20 to 50 beard hairs per day.

Does touching your beard damage it? Intense damage caused

Beard hairs are quite well anchored into the skin and the hair bulb. However, some people find that they pluck beard hairs without even realising it. It could be a matter of habit, or it could be another issue known as Trichotillomania.

If you find that you cannot stop doing any beard-stroking or pulling, you may have this. It is a mental disorder that involves irresistible urges to pull the hair out from your beard despite trying everything you can to stop it.

For some people, trichotillimania is very mild and is often manageable. However, for others, their compulsive urge is overwhelming, and they may have a significant loss of hair in one part of their head or face.

This is a focused activity where they pull out their hair intentionally to relieve stress for some people. And for others, it is automatic where they may play with their hair without even realising it while doing activities such as watching TV or scrolling through Facebook.

Suppose you feel like you have a compulsion. In that case, you should contact your health professional as soon as possible and talk about the options available for treating your compulsive stroking and hair-pulling.

Touching it in your sleep

Touching your beard at night may be one of the most damaging types of touch. While you are asleep, you’re not 100% aware of how you are touching your beard.

You can choose to wrap your beard in a beard scarf at night. They are becoming increasingly popular with bearded people and are an excellent way to protect your beard. This product will create a physical barrier between your fingers and your beard while you are sleeping.

For other ways to protect your beard while sleeping, you should check out my YouTube video where I go through everything you need to know about sleep and protecting your beard.

How to protect your beard

Beards can withstand the daily wear and tear as long as they are kept healthy. Beard hairs will continue to be generated to replace damaged and old beard hairs. It only becomes an issue once your damage starts outweighing the replacement rate of the beard hairs.

To ensure that your beard is kept at its best for as long as possible, here are the simple ways that you can protect your beard so that touching does not cause significant damage.

Keep it hydrated

Keeping your beard hairs hydrated as possible will be the number one defence against damage caused by touching your beard.

Does touching your beard damage it? Intense damage caused

Healthy hair is defined by science as shiny hair with a smooth texture and clean-cut or tapered ends.

Keeping your hair smooth and shiny means drinking lots of water and using products that will impart a fair amount of hydration to the depths of the beard hair.

You can do this using a beard conditioner or other deep hydrating treatment. Please stay clear of any alcohol-based products as they can easily wick out the moisture from deep within the hair shaft.

My favourite way to keep my beard hydrated it is to use beard butter.

Beard butter is an incredible product that contains natural butter that can hydrate, condition, and repair your beard hair. Not only is beard butter fantastic for your hair, but it also really helps the skin under your beard and will create a softness, smell, and cut down the frizzy notes, which will make people envious of your beard.

Beard butter is made from shea butter or other organic butter, which you can use after showering in the morning and as a leave-in conditioner. Apply a thumbnail-sized amount to your palms and distribute evenly through your beard to get the maximum benefit for your beard.

Cover It up at night

It is important to cover up your beard at night if you are a heavy sleeper. The majority of the damage at night is completely unknown to you until the problem gets worse and the beard hairs become dry and easy to damage.

Avoiding damage throughout the night is as easy as purchasing a beard bonnet to wear against your beard while sleeping.

If you cannot find a beard bonnet, you could use a silk scarf or a silk or satin pillowcase to reduce the frictional coefficient your beard hairs encounter while you are sleeping.

Stopping the small amount of damage that can happen at night will also prevent the compounding damage, which happens quickly after quite light and small hair defects are introduced into the hair fibre.

Don’t touch it while it is wet

However, no matter how well-nourished and conditioned your beard is, you need to pay extra attention to it when it is wet.

It is well known that hair is porous – and damaged hair is more porous than healthy hair. Water absorption causes the hair shaft to swell, and the weight of the hair increases by anywhere between 12 to 18%. The wetting of your beard and drying of your beard is a basic hair styling technique, but you have to be aware that wet hair has higher combing friction and dry hair stop this means that wet hair is far more likely to break if you already have an underlying issue with brittle hair.

When wet, hair can be stretched by up to 30% of its original length without damage. However, irreversible changes happen when the beard hair is stretched between 30 and 70%. Anything over 80% stretch causes a fracture and death or breakage of the hair shaft.

Simply understanding these numbers means that you will be extra careful when grooming your hair when it is wet. Go easy, do not pull through snacks, and use a machined comb without sharp edges to minimise the amount of stress that you’re placing on your hair to cause stretching and breaking

How do I stop touching my beard?

Understanding the best way to stop yourself from touching your beard means you need to understand how habits and new actions are learned.

I first learned about habits through a book called The Power of Habit (click here to be taken to purchase the audiobook, paperback, or Kindle version). In this book, the author discusses the science behind habit formation and how to make and break them.

The idea is that your brain is constantly trying to reduce the amount of energy it uses to make decisions. After a few rounds of a habit-forming activity, the brain can reduce the amount of activity required and turn it into a habit. This initial activity can form a good habit or a bad habit. Ideally, we would be using this knowledge to increase the number of good habits we have – like looking after our beards properly. And reducing the number of bad habits we have – like stroking and pulling at our beards.

Learning the queue, routine, and reward cycle and learning how to change the habit is the number one weapon you have against breaking the continuous touching of your beard.

Summary

In this article, we have gone over everything you need to know about touching your beard and the potential risks of continually touching your beard throughout the day.

A single touch is not damaging, but continual touching and stroking can build up very quickly. From mechanical stress to the introduction of bacteria and dirt and grime, a small amount of damage can quickly escalate into much bigger beard problems if they are not caught early enough.

Protecting your beard by keeping it hydrated and learning how to break the habit of a lifetime are the weapons you have in your arsenal for protecting your beard.

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!