Is your beard harboring bacteria?

How clean are bearded faces compared with freshly shaven faces?

My beard is many things for many people. For my wife, the lingering food crumbs are a cause for embarrassment. For my daughter, it gives her something to practice braiding. For my son, it helps him pick me out in a crowd.

So, as thousands of men dedicate the winter months to eschewing razor blades and using their facial hair to keep warm, one question comes to mind: Are beards dirty? Germy?

As a year-round bearded man, I agreed to have my beard tested. And in the interest of science, we swabbed three levels of hairiness — a short-bearded man (an eighth of an inch), a longer-bearded man (nearly 3 inches) and a cleanly shaven man to add a control to our experiment.

After two days of anxious waiting — and wondering if I would be grossed out by the results — Alan Junkins, Ph.D., chief of microbiology, Norton Healthcare, said that my beard did indeed have bacteria.

I could already see the razors on the counter when I got home.

However, all three faces, even the cleanly shaven face, had bacteria — and none of them were harmful.

“Everything is covered in bacteria, most of which are harmless,” Dr. Junkins said. “And these beards all have the typical bacteria that we see on skin. Definitely nothing that would cause alarm.”

The full results showed no signs of fecal matter or deadly bacteria on any of us. Although I did have more bacteria on my longer beard, the strains were similar across us all.

Though our study was not exhaustive, the results matched similar research on the topic.

In 2014, an article in the Journal of Hospital Infection supported the view that growing a beard is not a health hazard. And a 1967 study that involved spraying bearded and clean-shaven men with bacteria, then collecting it from their faces, showed that beards held “more bacteria in general.” However, like ours, none of the bacteria was harmful.

Dr. Junkins added a word of advice to new and old beard-growers.

“Beards need to be cleaned like any other part of the body,” Dr. Junkins said. “A good face wash once or twice a day should do the trick.”

So, to the men wondering if growing out facial hair is really worth all the itching, it’s no holds barred. To their significant others, you’ll have to find another reason not to kiss them. To both, proper face hygiene is key.


Watch a WHAS11 newscast of our beard experiment.

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