Hipsters all over the world were panicked by news this week that their much-loved facial hair may hold more faeces than a toilet. The argument made in the research was that if the water system consisted of equal amount of bacteria that an average beard holds, it would be shut down to be disinfected.
However, some experts say beard lovers should not reach for their razors just yet, because the results may have been misinterpreted.
The original research was founded on fragment from a TV news network in New Mexico, which involved a reporter swabbing a group of men’s beards for testing in a lab. Enteric bacteria, that microbiologist John Golobic from Quest Diagnostics, discovered are the type of bacteria usually found living in the intestines.
Those are the types of things you’d find in faeces,’ he said. ‘I’m usually not surprised, and I was surprised by this,’ Golobic added. According to Nick a data journalist for Guardian: ‘While it’s true human faeces are partially composed of gut bacteria, it’s not accurate to describe those bacteria on their own as faeces.’
The blog Jezebel notes that feces can also contain water and cellulose – but on that basis people cannot claim water is unhealthy, or that people should stop eating corn. Anyways, despite these protests there’s some evidence that suggests beards can spread bacteria. According to Professor Anthony Hilton, head of biological and biomedical sciences at Aston University, there’s clear evidence beards can spread bacteria.
The study investigated whether surgical masks caught bacteria falling from surgeons faces, and whether having a beard affected how many bacteria fell. ‘What they found was that men with beards do harbour a significant number of bacteria, more than non-bearded men and women,’ Dr Hilton told media. ‘And bearded surgeons wearing masks did shed more organisms from the beard outwards when they wiggled.’
Nevertheless, he also said that despite evidence that beards are filled with bugs, we cannot claim this leads to health problems. ‘It’s not uncommon to find 20,000 bacteria on the skin, and this isn’t harmful,’ he said.
Some experts are of the view that beards are no less hygienic than a clean-shaven face.
Professor Hugh Pennington, an emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, said: ‘It’s the same bacteria that’s on your skin. It’s not problematic and it’s not a health risk.’ But, scientists around the world are split regarding how filthy beards can get.
Carol Walker, a consultant trichologist from the Birmingham Trichology Centre, said bearded men are prone to catching skin infections easily, and can pass on the germs to others. Facial hair is courser than other hair, so traps dirt and germs more easily, she explained. Mrs Walker said: ‘If you’re affectionate with someone, if you kiss them, you can pass on bacteria.’