A fungal infection most commonly found in animals like cows causes tinea barbae or beard ringworm in people. The condition causes red, ring-shaped skin rashes. Inflamed areas called kerions can lead to scarring and hair loss. Oral antifungal medicines, and sometimes oral steroids, treat this fungal infection. It rarely spreads among people.
Tinea barbae (tin-EE-uh BAR-bee) is a rare fungal infection that affects your skin, hair and hair follicles in the beard and mustache area. Tinea is the medical term for ringworm. Barbae is the Latin word for beard.
The condition also goes by beard ringworm or barber’s itch because barbers once spread the infection by using the same contaminated razors on different customers.
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Despite having the word “worm” in its name, a fungus — not a worm — causes ringworm. The condition gets its name from the raised ring-shaped rash that forms on the skin.
Fungi called Trichophyton cause tinea barbae. There are many different types of Trichophyton responsible, and they are almost always also found in animals like cows, sheep, horses. Trychophyton are part of a group of fungi called dermatophytes. Other related fungi cause athlete’s foot, jock itch and ringworm on your scalp.
Most people pick up this fungal infection through direct contact with an infected animal. Livestock animals, especially dairy cattle, are most likely to have this fungus. But sheep, pigs, dogs and cats can have it, too.
It’s possible, yet extremely uncommon, to pick up the fungus through contact with contaminated soil or other humans.
Yes, tinea barbae is contagious. However, it’s rare for this fungal infection to spread from person to person or from contact with a contaminated object like a towel. You’re more likely to get the fungus from an infected animal.
This type of fungal infection is extremely rare. Since the first report of tinea barbae in 1842, there have been about 150 known cases. Bacterial infections in the beard area are more common.
Teen and adult males who work with farm animals are most at risk for this fungal infection. You could be at higher risk if you have one or more of these factors:
Tinea barbae causes red, ring-shaped rashes on the outer layer of your skin (epidermis). The rash may be itchy, but it isn’t painful.
This rash may appear on the:
Some people develop a deeper skin infection that causes inflammation in their hair follicles. Hair follicle infection from the fungus is called tinea sycosis. Swollen, pus-filled patches of skin (kerions) can form. Scarring and hair loss can occur at the site of the kerion. You may also experience fever, fatigue and swollen lymph nodes.
A dermatologist (a medical doctor specializing in skin diseases) or another healthcare provider may diagnose tinea barbae after evaluating your symptoms. Your provider may scrape the area and pluck a beard hair. Providers then examine the samples under a microscope for signs of a fungal infection.
Topical (applied to your skin) and oral antifungal medicines stop the growth of fungi infections. Tinea barbae responds well to these treatments. If you have severe inflammation or kerions, you may also take an oral corticosteroid like prednisone. This steroid can relieve swelling and reduce the risk of scarring. It can take up to six weeks for the infection to clear up.
Some fungi that cause infections have developed antifungal resistance. That means the fungus isn’t killed by certain antifungals, making the condition more difficult to treat. If a certain antifungal doesn’t work, your provider may prescribe a different one.
Antifungals are the only way to get rid of tinea barbae. But you can soothe inflamed skin and kerions by applying a warm, moist compress to the skin.
Tinea barbae almost exclusively affects teens and adults who were assigned male at birth. There are rare instances of women or people assigned female at birth developing tinea barbae. Females who can develop the condition have excessive hair growth (hirsutism).
These steps can lower your risk of getting tinea barbae:
Tinea or ringworm can affect many parts of your body. The conditions have different names based on the affected area. Tinea barbae only affects your beard area.
Other types of ringworm include:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Tinea barbae, or beard ringworm, is a fungal infection that often spreads from direct contact with infected livestock animals like cattle. You can get it from other animals, too. Although this infection is contagious, it rarely spreads among people. The condition almost exclusively affects males, causing ring-shaped skin rashes in the beard area. Some people may develop inflamed lesions, called kerions, which can lead to scarring and hair loss. Oral antifungals almost always treat this fungal infection.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/22/2022.
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