The Beard Microbiome

A discussion today on Twitter led me to investigate researchers on a very specific part of the human microbiome: The Beard. Having no opportunity to grow one myself, I was curious to see how much is already known about this habitat. As it turns out, not a lot. Here are some articles I found on this topic, including the ones that came out today. They are mainly popular science articles, but not a lot of peer-reviewed papers, unfortunately.

Update, May 2015

New Beards_sometimes_as_dirty_as_toiletsshocking science was published the first weekend of May. Well, it was not science, and it was not published in a scientific journal. But shocking indeed.

A real microbiologist puts the dirty-beard theory to the test. He swabs several beards, inoculates petridishes….. and finds bacteria. OMG. The reporter is so shocked, she slaps her gloved hands (which probably just touched a beard or a petridish) to her face.

Some beards as dirty as toilets–  Microbiologist tests beards for germs (and is surprised when he finds them?!) – Royale Da – KOAT

This unintentionally funny video led to a whole new set of popular science articles. A selection:

Bearded men have poop on their faces – Michael Morrow – New York Post

Microbiologist John Golobic, of Quest Diagnostics, swabbed a number of beards searching for bacteria for the study and found that some of the bacteria “are the kind of things that you find in feces.” .. “Try to keep your hands away from your face, as much as possible,” Golobic added.

Poo in Beard: Study shows beards full of bacteria. How to wash my beard and avoid a face of faeces – MK Web

“Bad news ladies, you encouraged your man to grow it, watched it slowly bloom and marvelled as the boyish youth of your BF turned brutish male.”

Hey Guys, Toilet Bacteria Is Probably Lurking In Your Beards – Amy Capetta – Yahoo

“Some men believe that freedom from shaving is freedom from hygiene and maintenance yet nothing could be further from the truth, both for health and aesthetic reasons.”

So It Turns Out Men’s Beards Are Covered In Poop – Julie Gerstein – BuzzFeed

Albuquerque’s ABC affiliate swabbed and tested several men’s beards and found that while some beards contained normal bacteria, others’ beards contained bacteria similar to those found in fecal matter.

Your Beard Is Covered In Shit: According To New Study Beards Are Crawling In Poop Particles – Cass Anderson – BroBible

At some point every bro will need to make this decision: beard or poop face. ..There’s dung on your chin, there’s crap on your cheeks, there’s shit on your lip. Why haven’t you shaved yet?!?

Even The Atlantic is participating in the craze. How Filthy Is Your Beard? – Olga Khazan – The Atlantic

“There is more crap in these stories about poo in beards than there is in beards.”

Luckily, Rachel Feltman provides a scientific perspective: No, your beard isn’t full of poop (probably) – Rachel Feltman – The Washington Post

I have bad news for y’all: You’re covered in poo bacteria. COVERED. .. It’s okay. It’s really fine. Embrace the poo bacteria, it is a part of you because you are a multitude of microorganisms, each more special than the last.

David Coil also wrote a piece on Slate to debunk the story: Your Beard Is Covered in Bacteria: So is everything else. Don’t fall for the latest viral freak-out – David Coil – Slate

“We found germs on X” is pointless unless you’re talking about Mars, the moon, or something sterilized.

But I am afraid that the popsci articles on “dirty beards” will be around for a while. The general audience seems to love stories like this. Science stories, not so much.

The real science

Microbiological Laboratory Hazard of Bearded Men – Manuel S. Barbeito – Applied Microbiology 1967 (HT: James Meadow  ‏@JamesMeadow)

This is a must-read paper with very instructive images featuring men taking showers and baby chickens (peeps?).

The effect of facial hair and sex on the dispersal of bacteria below a masked subject – H. A. McLure – Anaesthesia – 2000

We investigated the effect of mask wiggling in 10 bearded and 10 clean-shaven male subjects, and 10 female subjects. Wiggling the mask significantly increased the degree of bacterial shedding onto agar plates 15 cm below the lips in bearded males (p = 0.03) and females (p = 0.03), but not in clean-shaven males. At rest without mask wiggling the bearded subjects shed significantly more bacteria than clean-shaven males (p = 0.01) or females (p = 0.001). To reduce the risks of contamination of the sterile field when face masks are worn females and bearded males should avoid wiggling the face mask. Bearded males may also consider removing their beards.

Bacterial ecology of hospital workers’ facial hair: a cross-sectional study – E. Wakeam – Journal of Hospital Infection – 2014

Workers with facial hair were less likely to be colonized with Staphylococcus aureus (41.2% vs 52.6%, P ¼ 0.02) and meticillin-resistant coagulase-negative staphylococci (2.0% vs 7.0%, P ¼ 0.01). Colonization rates with Gram-negative organisms were low for all healthcare workers, and Gram-negative colonization rates did not differ
by facial hair type.

News articles, March 2015

Beards Are Unhygienic As They Carry Bacteria And Spread Infection Claims Trichologist – Inquisitr

Are hipster beards unhygienic? Facial hair is riddled with bacteria which may spread germs and trigger infections, experts claim – Madlen Davies – Daily Mail

Experts say beards breed disease – Stephen Morgan – Digital Journal

Your Beard is a Disgusting Bacteria Breeding Ground – Jake Woolf – GQ

Older popular press articles

Better Beer Through Beards – Yeast Genome

Beard Yeast Beer – Christina Agapakis – Scientific American

Beard Beer – Rogue.com, with 6 ingredients: Munich, C15 and pilsner malts; Sterling hops; free-range coastal water; Beard Yeast (HT: Matthew Barber, @bioBarber)

The Beard-ome project by Hydrocalypse Industries (YouTube video)

The microbiome and the future of artisanal gastronomy – Jason Tetro – PopSci

Featuring UC Davis based feminist Jonathan Ricin: Researcher reveals microbiome involved in everything; wishes everyone would shut up about it – The Science Web

If this is all there is, I am calling out to all microbiome researchers with some free time and some money to spare (ha!) to fill this gap in our knowledge. A comparison of all the hairy surfaces of our bodies would be best, but I will take a small beard microbiome student project too!

I’d be more than happy to add more hairy papers, in case I missed one.

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One thought on “The Beard Microbiome

  1. Pingback: May 5, 2015 | Microbiome Digest – Bik's Picks

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