(Photo: Getty Images)
Why Is This Important?
Because we usually don’t associate beards with cleanliness.
Long Story Short
Contrary to popular belief, a recent study of hospital workers found that those without facial hair are more likely to harbor dangerous bacteria than their more hirsute colleagues. Further research found that beards may actual have antibacterial properties.
Beards, for the most part, communicate masculinity. They’re the easiest way to appear more rugged and outdoorsy, and they may in fact help save your life in those situations. One knock against beards is that no one associates them with exceptional hygiene, and they’ve even been found to contain poop bacteria. But that experiment was hardly scientific, so would a more controlled one produce different results? Indeed they would, according to researchers at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital who found that if anything, our more bearded brethren are carrying less bacteria.
The research took place in a hospital, where they swabbed the faces of 400+ staff members both with and without beards. Shockingly, the bearded employees were less likely to carry methicillin-resistant staph aureus, better known as the ultra-antibiotic resistant MRSA. The researchers speculate that shaving creates microscopic abrasions in the face that serve as prime breeding grounds for the dangerous bacteria.
That could definitely be true, Michael Mosley, host of BBC’s Trust Me I’m a Doctor thinks there may be more to it than that. They sent swabs from over 100 bearded men to a microbiologist with the intention of seeing what, if anything, he could grow in petri dishes. The short answer? A lot. While he did find a whole host of harmless bacteria, he also found something curious — in some of the samples, something seemed to be actively killing off some of the bacteria. Bacteria are more than just ever-present pests; they’re surprisingly sophisticated microorganisms who compete with one another for resources just like animals. According to the biologist, it’s entirely possible that some of the bacteria found in beards have evolved to release powerful, antibiotic toxins that keep harmful bacteria at bay.
It’s not surprising from a historical standpoint. While the practice of shaving has shockingly deep roots, there was a time when humans (or at least our predecessors) were incapable of ridding ourselves of body hair. It wouldn’t have made sense for those genes to survive if having a beard was detrimental to our health.
By Ian Lang
This story originally appeared on AskMen.