(making a permanent page from a post in March 2015):
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.
Beard bacteria could lead to new antibiotics – Matthew Stock – Reuters, February 2016
Finally, new science data came in! Beards actually contain less MRSA than skin. Bacterial ecology of hospital workers’ facial hair: a cross-sectional study – E. Wakeam – Journal of Hospital Infection – January 2016
Beards may be more hygienic and bacteria-resistant than shaven skin, study finds – Kate Ng – Independent
Beards may not be that gross, after all – Rachel Thompson – Mashable
Are beards good for your health? – BBC News Magazine
Update, October 2015
Funny: Will Forte (actor from “The Last Man on Earth”) has beard swabbed for bacteria test, fails, at Jimmy Fallon show – Yahoo Video (October 2015)
Update, May 2015
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 petridish, or -even worse- a beard) to her face.
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 – May 2015
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.
“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 – May 2015
“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 – May 2015
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 – May 2015
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 – May 2015
“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 – May 2015
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 – May 2015
“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
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 – October 2012
Beard Yeast Beer – Christina Agapakis – Scientific American – June 2012
Beard Beer – Rogue.com, with 6 ingredients: Munich, C15 and pilsner malts; Sterling hops; free-range coastal water; Beard Yeast (HT: Matthew Barber, @bioBarber) – 2014?
The Beard-ome project by Hydrocalypse Industries (YouTube video) – March 2010
The microbiome and the future of artisanal gastronomy – Jason Tetro – PopSci – November 2013
Featuring UC Davis based feminist Jonathan Ricin: Researcher reveals microbiome involved in everything; wishes everyone would shut up about it – The Science Web – February 2014
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.