people at barbershop

A spike in ringworm cases in Spain leads to a surprising culprit: the barbershop

​​​​​​​A ringworm outbreak among Spanish teens has been traced back to barbershops and a fashionable haircut: the fade. Spanish dermatologists blame dirty electric razors.

The World

Customers wearing a face mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus get a haircut at a barbershop in the southern neighborhood of Vallecas, Madrid, Spain, Sept. 25, 2020. More recently, a different infection — ringworm — has been cause for concern at the barbershop, with dirty razors blamed for an unusual outbreak among Spanish teenagers over the past year.

Bernat Armangue/AP

In Spain, more than a hundred teenage boys picked up ringworm over the past year.

The outbreak, unusual for the age group, is among the largest in Europe. More commonly, ringworm spreads from household pets, or even farm animals, to young children, according to dermatologists.

But in 2021, dermatologist Leonardo Bascon started seeing something new.

“Some patients were coming here with this new pattern,” he said, from his office in a hospital near Barcelona. “And they were a bit older. The mean age of our cases is actually 19.”

Bascon and his colleagues decided to investigate. They jumped on a nationwide, online chat group for Spanish dermatologists. In a week, they’d compiled 107 similar cases from across the country — and they realized it was ringworm.

From there, the doctors were able to trace the infection to the barbershop and a haircut that’s all the rage, the degradado, or, the fade — via dirty electric razors.


Spanish dermatologists blame dirty electric razors at the barbershop for a recent outbreak of ringworm among teenage boys in the country.


Gerry Hadden/The World

Every single one of the 107 patients had been to the barber to get a fade within two weeks of showing infection.

In Spain, it seems virtually every teen boy sports the fade — it starts out short on the side and gets longer and longer toward the top of the head.

“The key is shaving all the way down the skin around the ears and the nape of your neck,” said Nacho Lizan, a high school soccer player who has the fade.

teens with the fade

Many teenage boys, like the ones shown here, in Spain, are opting for the fade, a haircut that’s long up top and shaved down along the scalp.  


Gerry Hadden/The World

Shaving down to the scalp is where the infection can set in.

Barcelona haircutter Sukhreet Singh said he’s been doing a lot of fades lately, shaving one side of the kids’ heads down to the scalp.

“Sometimes, they also ask for patterns shaved into their hair, down to the scalp.”

Singh said he hadn’t had cases of ringworm in his shop. But razors like his can pick up the fungus from the skin of one client and quickly spread.

“I get 20 to 30 clients a day,” Singh said. “One could easily pass ringworm on to another.

This is a barbershop after all, he said. “We need to be vigilant.”

Singh, like most barbers, disinfects his razors and scissors with alcohol after each client. But apparently, some don’t.

Bascon said ringworm is easily treatable but prevention is best. The fungus, he said, can cause inflammation, fever and even bald spots. Imagine, he said, going to school with a bald spot.

“They are very concerned about the problem. It could lead to alopecia [abnormal loss of hair] if it's not properly treated.”

doctor with image

Spanish dermatologist Leonardo Bascon holds up a photo of one of his young male patients whom he believes contracted the visible ringworm infection from a barber’s electric razor. 


Gerry Hadden/The World

The news has spread fast among teens, with some posting warnings on TikTok. But despite the concern, some are still sticking with the fade.

“I’ve been avoiding the barber since I heard about ringworm,” said Gael Doncell, a high school soccer player. “But next week, I’ll be back in the barber’s chair.”

boy with shaved haircut

Although some teenage boys in Spain say they worry about the spread of ringworm via dirty electric razors at the barbershop, they're not shying away from getting their hair cut.


Gerry Hadden/The World

He and his teammates, who also have the fade, agreed that from now on, they’d just ask the barber to disinfect the razor before they take a seat. And if they forget to ask, they said, they’ll just hope the fungus hasn’t found them.

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