Okay look: I have a thing for rugged-looking stubble. Lumberjack beards, even. Bonus points for smelling of leather and campfires. You could say I am a facial-hair devotee—but I'm not alone. In fact, there are even dating sites specific to matching people with beards with those who deem it high on their list of S.O. priorities. Qualifiers aside, though, I never thought my penchant for kissing subjects with facial hair would sacrifice my once clear, glowy skin. But here we are.
For a while over the past few months (reliably the morning post-kissing), I was waking up to raw, red, irritated skin. Then, a day or so later, the universe would gift me with a round of breakouts on my nose and chin—exactly where that once lusty stubble stabbed my poor face. As someone who intricately and painstakingly takes care of her skin, I felt like this was a particularly cruel and unusual punishment. I'd mask to hydrate and soothe, exfoliate to nix dirt and bacteria, and do a lot of why me?–type complaining to, well, complain. I'm acutely aware that as far as problems go, this isn't the worst one to have, but still, it's a dilemma I was determined to solve.
As I do for most of my skincare woes, I reached out to Renée Rouleau. She's a beauty guru who will answer a late-night lancing text just as often as one during regular work hours. If skin could have godmothers, she'd most certainly be mine. First, I asked what kind of facial hair causes the most damage. According to Rouleau (and my redness Richter scale), the most irritation will result from stubble, rather than a clean shave or full beard. "The reason stubble hurts the most is, simply, the hair is sticking straight out (and can feel like little sharp needles on the skin because the hair is short and can't bend). As the hair grows longer into a beard, there is more flexibility and movement, so it will rub against the skin instead of poking into it."
Meet the Expert
Renée Rouleau is a celebrity esthetician based in Austin, TX. She is also the founder and creator of her eponymous skincare line.
Below, find the beard burn (or maybe we should rename it stubble burn) facts, tips, and prevention tactics Rouleau recommends.
How to prevent the irritation:
"You might not be able to prevent the irritation from happening in the first place," says Rouleau, "short of asking the one you're kissing to shave completely. But, if they do keep their skin shaved, for many, by day's end it can feel stubbly nonetheless. You can ask them to kiss in a gentle way so as not to tear up your face," she notes. "You might even consider asking them to shave a second time before heading out for the night."
If that doesn't work, the goal is to put some sort of barrier on the lower half of your face to act as a protective shield. "To do this, use a heavier-than-normal moisturizer under your makeup, followed by primer and liquid foundation," suggests Rouleau. "The idea here is you're layering your face both with makeup and skin products that can prevent the barrier from being broken down due to the chafing. This gives the skin some defense and protects it from getting as easily irritated. Nothing you can do to the face can help it from experiencing the pain during kissing (unless you apply a numbing cream), but the goal is to lessen the aftermath (the visible signs of irritation)."
The factors that add to irritation:
"Factors that add to irritation include having thin, fair, easily irritated skin (usually someone who's prone to redness or rosacea); if you're a regular user of prescription retinoids, retinol, or exfoliating acids; and if you currently have a sunburn, recently had a chemical peel, or are currently suffering from an eczema flare-up, skin rash, or a condition called perioral dermatitis (which causes small, red, pus-filled bumps and mild peeling of the skin around the mouth)," says Rouleau.
"Post-care is where you can make the biggest difference," explains Rouleau. The goal is to soothe the visible signs of irritation, reduce the skin's internal temperature (because when it's irritated, the skin's heat adds to redness), and provide an overall soothing comfort to the face.
"To do this," Rouleau recommends, "you should use a soothing gel mask because they naturally retain a cooler temperature." Try Bio Calm Repair Masque ($50), Biologique Recherche Creme Masque Vernix ($190) or Rapid Response Detox Masque ($61) if, like me, your irritation leads to breakouts.
Make your own skin-soothing face mask using aloe vera gel, cucumber, parsley, and manuka honey.
"To make it even colder prior to application (and therefore, more soothing), I suggest putting it in the refrigerator," adds Rouleau. "First, cleanse with a gentle, non-drying cleanser, sulfate-free cleanser (I'm partial to Eve Lom Cleansing Balm, $80, and muslin cloth), and apply a generous coat to affected areas. This will provide several benefits—helping to reduce heat, which can reduce visible redness, infuse water (hydration) to the skin cells to make the skin feel less tight, and deliver soothing ingredients to reduce irritation. Once you rinse off, you'll want to apply a serum and moisturizer that is formulated to improve the barrier function of the skin. Doing this can help seal up little cracks created in the skin's barrier that can cause moisture to escape and leave the skin feeling tight and dry (try Dr. Barbara Sturm Calming Serum, $225, and Phytolipid Comfort Creme, $63).
I'm already a fan of so many of the products suggested, so experimenting with Rouleau's tips was a breeze. I found the prevention section to be most helpful, believe it or not, as I was already masking, soothing, and hydrating post-makeout (like I said, I'm a skincare lunatic). I added a super-thick cream below my makeup before a night out (either La Mer Crème de la Mer Moisturizing Cream, $170; Dr. Barbara Sturm's Facial Cream Rich, $215; or Skinceuticals Triple Lipid Restore, $127) and found it made a huge difference come morning. The irritation still occurred, but my skin was better prepared, and the redness lasted far less time than it had previously. It was more of a pink-tinted irritation than a full-blown rash.
Of course, the biggest game changer was using a gel mask in place of a chemical exfoliator, peel, or cream. I thought because I was breaking out, the right thing to do was prevent them with my usual AHAs and BHAs. Not so. That only added to the inevitable irritation and didn't even prevent the brewing acne. I was essentially doing the exact opposite of what I should and, thus, only making things worse. The gel was cooling, anti-inflammatory, and a really luxurious treat after a late night. So, it technically counts as skincare and self-care—and that's a duo I can get behind.