Beards have sometimes been regarded as dirty or unhygienic, but a new study suggests that they may actually be more hygienic than clean-shaven skin.
Despite their popularity, beards have been criticized by some as being dirty. Beards have been though to harbor everything from crumbs of food to dust to harmful bacteria. A recent study even found bacteria that are present in fecal matter in a random sampling of beards.
However, a new study that compared bearded men with clean-shaven men has found that facial hair may actually be cleaner.
In the study published in the Journal of Hospital Infection, researchers swabbed the faces of 408 male hospital workers. Bacteria and microorganisms are a particular concern in hospitals, as bacterial infections can harm immune-compromised patients, as well as patients undergoing surgery.
The study found that the clean-shaven hospital workers were more likely to be carrying harmful types of bacteria than the bearded workers.
“Our results suggest that male hospital workers with facial hair do not harbour more potentially concerning bacteria than clean-shaven workers, and that in some instances, clean-shaven individuals are significantly more likely to be colonized with potential pathogens,” the researchers said in the study.
Clean-shaven men were three times as likely to harbor MRSA, a harmful type of bacteria that is resistant to many types of antibiotics. MRSA is a concern in hospitals, as it can result in life-threatening infections and is very difficult to treat.
As well, over half of clean-shaven men had Staphylococcus aureus bacteria present on their faces, with 52.6% of swab samples positive. In comparison, only 41.2% of bearded men had that bacteria present on their faces.
For bearded men, there was no significant difference depending on the type of facial hair, meaning that the results were seen whether men had stubble, goatees, or full beards.
The results of the study indicate that not only are beards clean, but they may actively help fight against or prevent bacteria.
Researchers were unsure why beards would have less bacteria than clean-shaven faces. One theory is that shaving may cause tiny scratches and abrasions that can harbor bacteria and other microorganisms. Bacteria can colonize in small abrasions.
Another theory that has been suggested is that beards may actually harbor “good” bacteria that fight off harmful types of bacteria. Some types of bacteria produce toxins or byproducts that can kill off other bacteria.
While beards were cleaner than clean-shaven faces, researchers did not see a significant cause for alarm in the results of the study. Bacteria colonization rates for healthcare workers were generally low, meaning that despite the differences between bearded and clean-shaven men, neither had very high amounts of bacteria present.
Until further research is done, the exact reason for these results will be unknown.
Sources for Today’s Article:
Wakeam, E., et al, “Bacterial ecology of hospital workers’ facial hair: a cross-sectional study,” Journal of Hospital Infection, 2014 May; 87(1):63-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jhin.2014.02.010. Epub 2014 Mar 26.