Is it bad to pull out beard hair? [Science and tricks to stop]

While you are growing beard, it can be very tempting to want to pluck the beard hair. This could be due to style preferences, a simple habit that you enjoy, or at the more sinister end of the spectrum, it can be caused by a disorder called Trichotillomania. I had a friend in high school who would regularly pluck all the hairs on his top lip because his preference was to have no hair on his moustache area. His moustache grew back with no issues and that’s because he did not do it compulsively.

Pulling out your beard hair is not bad if you do it infrequently. However, obsessive beard hair plucking, called Trichotillomania, can damage the hair follicle and it may take 2 to 4 years to grow back. You can break the habit my obstructing behaviour patterns related to pulling.

The efficacy of plucking your beard is related to the individual tolerance to the pain and also the beard owner’s ability to placate the beard hairs cleanly.

There are many effects of plucking a beard and here are a few of them that you need to be aware of if you are going to pluck your beard hair regularly.

Effects of plucking beard

There is a huge range of responses of hair follicles to plucking and the reaction pattern may be unpredictable. Just because you have plucked your beard hairs before with no issues it doesn’t mean that any future plucking won’t result in more severe problems like infections.

The plucking of the hair generally stimulates the hair route into growing another hair which means that after plucking you will normally see a beard hair growing in the same spot after a couple of weeks. And that is because it is rare that plucking causes complete removal of the follicular bulb – where the hair grows.

Changing hair thickness

A lot of people pluck beard hairs to remove the beard hair from a certain part of their face as a way of maintaining the style and clean cut edges of their beard. Beard hairs can be plucked from the cheeks and the neck area for a much cleaner beard line.

However, you have to be very careful about whether or not removing and plucking beard hairs will achieve what you want – it doesn’t always thing out the hair in the way that people expect.

Research published in 1995 shows that after plucking some hair follicles produce a thinner, finer hair whilst others may convert vellus (thin light hairs) to thicker courser hair. So, you must be careful about the consequences of plucking your beard.

The ability to placate facial hair depends on your skill level with a pair of tweezers (or your tool of choice) as well as your ability to tolerate significant discomfort at the point of hair removal.

Some men are able to pluck facial hair with little difficulty whilst others develop symptoms such as hyperpigmentation, localised scarring, ingrown hairs, and distorted follicles which inhibits and changes further hair growth at the site of plucking.

 

Damage to the hair follicle

When you pull a hair out the hair follicle will try and repair any damage which has occurred from the process of plucking. This can include localised cuts, tearing of the skin, introduction of bacteria into the hair follicle and much more.

If you pull out a hair and it does not have a large bulb at the bottom this means that the hair was in its resting phase of its growth cycle and you have not caused too much damage to the hair follicle.

On the other hand, if you pull out a hair with the root attached the hair was in the active phase of its growth cycle it is this type of hair pulling which can cause the most amount of damage to the hair follicle.

Sometimes, you may be able to see a black tip on the hairs that you have pulled out from your skin. This is the area that is responsible for putting colour into the hair while it is growing.

If you pull out a hair and the whole follicle comes out with a red tip this means that you have just detached the blood supply and tiny muscle (the one that makes your hair stand on end) from the skin. This is permanent damage and it means that the hair will not grow back in the same spot.

You have to be very careful when plucking beards because beard hairs and eyebrow hairs are much easier to damage than scalp hairs.

Distorted hair follicle

distorted hair follicles can happen when you use plucking or waxing to remove any type of hair on your body. You can cause significant trauma to the base of the hair and the elasticity of the skin means that the root can be pulled towards the surface of the skin during plucking. When the hair breaks away, the root snaps and doesn’t always return to the same position.

This can change the position that the hair follicle lies in relation to the skin. The new position of the hair follicle as it lies against the skin can result in a number of different shapes of hair follicles including corkscrews, spirals and an increase of curliness at the surface of the skin.

Infection

Plucking hairs contributes to the local spread of infection in at least two ways. Firstly, the plucking of the hair may cause skin microtrauma is which allows an infection to get into the skin. Secondly, the infection can be spread mechanically by using infected tweezers or other tools to pluck the hairs.

Infectious diseases that can spread this way include Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pyogenes, Pseudodominas Aeruginosa as well as human papilloma virus and molluscum contagiosum.

Toxic shock syndrome

In extreme cases infection may induce toxic shock syndrome. Toxic shock syndrome is caused by a group of bacteria known as Streptococcus and cause issues when they enter deep into tissues or the bloodstream of people.

Toxic shock syndrome often feels like a typical cold or flu with symptoms which include:

  • fever
  • chills
  • nausea
  • vomiting

These symptoms quickly progress into much more serious symptoms which can lead to organ failure in the kidney, liver, lungs and serious blood issues.

If you have significant symptoms after plucking your beard you should immediately seek medical attention.

Ingrown hairs

Pulling out your hair can cause more issues than it solves. For example, if you pull out a hair and the follicle returns to a deeper location in the skin or its position has changed relative to the surface of the skin you can introduce a significant number of ingrown hairs.

After plucking, or waxing, hairs which grow back in the hair follicle can struggle to break the surface of the skin. This means that the hair gets trapped under the skin and continues to grow in the hair follicle and produces a large cavity just under the skin.

Quite often you can see ingrown hairs as a dark spot under the skin which can sometimes be confused as a black head or pimple.

You can combat ingrown hairs by:

  • exfoliating the area of plucked hair with a light cloth or other mild exfoliative. This enables the hair to break the skin more easily. Exfoliate your skin a couple of times a week after waxing to help remove dead skin cells and cleared the hair follicles for new growth.
  • Stay clear of masks, or any other tight fitting fabric over your beard area. This can be hard due to Covid 19 regulations but keeping your skin free of obstructions will help you grow out those ingrown hairs.
  •  

Folliculitis

Pseudofolliculitis barbae is an inflammatory condition of the beard area. It seems to be more prevalent in men of an African descent and it can expect both men and women. There is a study published in 2016 which looks at the condition and also the role of facial grooming in making it worse.

Prior to this study there was not any robust clinical evidence to support recommendations about shaving or not shaving with single blade or multi-blade razers. The study highlights that daily shaving which includes a good pre-shave and post shave hydration may be beneficial to stop the development of ingrown hairs.

Daily shaving with a multi-blade razor will reduce the pressure that you put on your skin and also reduce the irritation from having to pass over the same part of the face over and over again.

Folliculitis can also be caused by plucking your beard hairs as there is a fair amount of trauma caused to the local areas around the hair follicle. If you want to reduce the chances of contracting folliculitis you must make sure that everything which touches your beard is as clean as possible and has been disinfected using hospital grade sterilisation liquids

If you want to know more about beards and acne check out my other article and video where I go through everything you need to know to keep your beard and facial area clear – click here.

Why do you pull out your beard hair?

If you want to stop pulling out your beard hair the first thing to identify is why you are actually pulling out the hairs. I think that the reasons tend to fall into these two buckets.

Habit

Humans are essentially habit loops that play over and over again. Habits form because the brain doesn’t want to make a decision. This habit loop can run almost subconsciously without you realising it in order to conserve brain energy.

Some of our habits are great – like eating fruit or going for a run. Whilst others can be less beneficial to our lives and that can include rubbing or plucking our beard hairs.

Trichotillomania

There is a condition called Trichotillomania which is a hair pulling disorder. 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.

A study performed in 2018 highlighted the symptoms of plucking out your beard hair. This was a picture of the patient which was reported in the scientific paper.

You can see that there are small blood blisters where he has plucked the hair and the skin is very inflamed and red.

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

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

If you feel like you have a compulsion you should contact your health professional as soon as possible and talk about the options available for treating your compulsive stroking and hair pulling.

Style control

I have a friend who, when he was younger, he liked to pluck his moustache area. This is because he preferred the way it looked and felt, and it matched the other parts of his beard much better. He didn’t have a lot of growth on his cheeks and decided to pluck areas of high growth.

He didn’t pluck his moustache too often but when he did he often left red marks which lasted for a couple of days.

If you are considering plucking your beard hair in order to control your beard style I would highly advise against it and there are other options for you which will cause much less damage to your hair and the hair follicle.

Does beard hair grow back if you pull it out?

Beard hair grows back as long as you do not pull it out too often. If you pull out your beard hair too often it will cause terrible damage to the hair follicle by removing the blood supply to fuel hair growth.

How long does it take for pulled out hair to grow back?

Typically, if a beard hair is pulled out and there is no root attached the hair will grow back after a period of resting. This can be anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks.

If, you pull out your beard hair and there is a root attached to the end of the hair you will have to wait longer for the hair follicle to generate a new hair. If there is a small amount of red at the root end of the beard hair it is likely that you have significantly damaged the hair and it will not grow again in the same spot.

How do I stop picking my beard hair?

You can is stop picking out your beard hair by learning to address habits, using physical barriers such as gloves to stop you getting to the beard hair and also turning to counselling and therapy for long-term recovery.

Address the underlying habit

Addressing the underlying habit of your beard plucking will enable you to create a new habit to replace the plucking. Habits rely on a habit loop which includes:

  • A Cue – this is anything that triggers a habitual behaviour. It can be anything in the environment, any time, and also proceeding moments that you associate with this habit.
  • The routine – the second part of a habit loop is the routine that you want to change or reinforce.
  • Reward – this is the path the habit loop which is most important. This tells your brain that your habit is a good habit and you should continue doing.

Changing the habit involves changing the queue that you use and you normally associate with the habit. This will stop you from triggering that bad habit.

You can also change the reward so that when you complete something or you do something which benefits you. You can reward yourself. This may be a little bit of a sweet treat or it could be something else that makes you feel good about yourself.

Wear gloves

You can create a physical barrier between you and the plucking. For most people this is as simple as wearing gloves but you can also decide to use superglue, or Vaseline, on your fingers so that you do not get the tactile sensation in the case of superglue or you do not want to put Vaseline throughout your beard.

There are many other options for putting a physical barrier between you and your beard hair.

Use a fidget toy

Keeping your fingers busy is also another option. If you find that your habit is related to idle hands when you are doing other activities you can simply purchase a fidget toy or fidget spinner which will allow you to keep your hands occupied while your mind is actively focused on something else.

Counselling and therapy

If you are looking for long-term results you should consider counselling and therapy. Particularly if your habit is compulsive you will need professional help to break any behaviour patterns and also address the absolute underlying reasons for your beard plucking and pulling.

Summary

In this article we have gone over everything you need to know about whether or not pulling out your beard hair is bad.

As long as you do not pull out your beard hair to aggressively and you do not do it too often your hair will be able to grow back without any issues. However, some people can create a compulsion around pulling their hair and in this instance you should seek the advice of a professional so that you can get the help you need to combat the habit.

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!