At one point in time, beards were reserved for lumberjacks and hipsters who were busy drinking deconstructed coffee. Now, the tables have turned completely. Today, men seem to be all about facial hair; and it’s not just the lumberjacks and hipsters hopping aboard. A trend has begun and rather than shaving their faces for a baby smooth look and feel, many are opting for a more rugged look. And several grooming companies and blogs have begun to devote themselves to the new man who’s rocking the facial hair.
A simple Google search will net you all kinds of content: how to care for your beard, the best products for it, what beard fits your face, and how to meticulously care for it in the comfort of your own home. Many barbershops have also begun posting content and YouTube videos showing off some killer beard styles and how to achieve them. This just further shows how important facial hair has become to today’s man.
And for many, the beard has become a way of life. A lot of time and effort is put into beard maintenance. “Back in the day, my facial routine was done in about 15 minutes; now it takes over an hour,” says one guy. “I take a lot of time and put a lot of care into my beard. I make sure it’s even, conditioned well, and maintained. The girls love it and I love it.”
However, according to recent studies that have been conducted, men might want to rethink their grooming habits or their beard altogether. According to these studies, the germs residing within all of those whiskers far outside those that dogs have in their fur. And no, we’re not joking. Women would be better off putting their faces in their dog’s fur than cuddling up with their hubbies.
Reaching this conclusion
BBC recently published the results of the beards versus dogs study and it went viral almost instantly. From the moment it popped up on social media, people began to spread it all over like wildfire. YouTubers were also quick to post videos regarding the subject matter and their thoughts. Some even went as far as to shave their facial hair off. “I’m not going to be dirtier than my dog,” they said.
Researchers from the Hirslanden Clinic, which is located near Zurich, Switzerland, are responsible for the disturbing study. The researchers were interested in seeing whether or not scanning both dogs and humans inside the same MRI machine would be hygienic.
They also performed a test that compared the bacteria in CFU, or colony-forming units, of human pathogenic microorganisms to those in furry dogs and bearded men. For their study, they used samples from 18 men and 30 dogs. The team also examined the levels of bacterial contamination within the MRI scanner used on both the dogs and the men. They then compared the results to scanners used by humans only.
“I don’t know what we really hoped or planned to find, but this definitely wasn’t it. The results left us sick to our stomachs. It was absolutely disgusting. Yeah in the back of our minds we were expecting some high levels of bacteria and germs to be present within beards, but not at the level that we found,” said the researchers.
All of the men who took part in the study showed exceptionally high microbial counts (bacteria). However, only 23 of the 30 dogs that also took part in the study did. “We expected to find high microbial counts on ALL the dogs, not just 23. And while that’s still more than half of the dogs surveyed, the fact that all of the men had high levels of bacteria present but not all of the dogs did speaks volumes,” researchers say.
But wait, there’s more!
Researchers also turned back to examine the scanner that was used by both subject parties and they were completely shocked by their findings.
According to the results, the scanner that was used by both the dogs and the humans had less bacteria than the one that was used on humans only. Yuck! “We found a significantly higher bacterial load in the scanner where we put the bearded men only than we did in the one that was used to scan both the humans and the dogs. We had originally predicted that the scanner used on both parties would be much, much more contaminated than the human one. However, the humans only scanner was far dirtier,” researchers said.
Even though the scanner that sampled both the dogs and humans saw far more traffic than its “people only” counterpart, the scanner was much cleaner. “There were levels of bacteria present of course, but it was far cleaner than the scanner we used on the men only. 48 participants, both human and dog passed through the first scanner. Only 18 passed through the second. With that kind of traffic, and especially considering the presence of dogs who engage in less than hygienic practices like licking genitals then licking their fur or rolling in dead animals, we expected the results to be much different,” researchers continued.
“We also found a higher bacteria count in specimens taken from the beards than those taken from the fur of the dogs,” Professor Andreas Gutzeit, a study author, said. “We can arguably say that dogs can be considered far cleaner than bearded men.”
It gets worse
However, if those results aren’t bad enough on their own, it gets worse. “Our findings didn’t just stop with, ‘men’s beards are dirtier than dogs’; it escalated to the fact that seven of our human participants had so much bacteria present within their beards that they were actually at risk of becoming sick,” researchers lamented. Yikes!
“We did expect to find some bacteria levels as we stated before, but we didn’t expect them to be as high as our findings showed. We also weren’t prepared for the results of the seven. We were shocked to learn that the amount of bacteria that was present within their whiskers was high enough to put them at risk of becoming sick. And not just common cold levels of sick (though that was certainly present as well), but also ‘you could end up in the hospital’ levels of bacteria. That’s worrisome,” the researchers continued.
Throwing back to 2015, a study was conducted to examine the cleanliness of beards. According to the study, most beards are just as filthy and bacteria ridden as a household toilet seat. “If you have a beard or you cuddle with someone who does, you’re basically rubbing your face on a toilet seat,” concluded the study. Many people lamented when the results went viral and others were quick to grab a razor.
But what kind of bacteria and germs are we talking about? Well, researchers point out that fecal matter is one of the most common foreign substances and bacteria present within the beard. “It’s no secret that beards contain fecal matter and thus levels of E. coli. Whether it’s due to unhygienic practices or something else, that bacterium is certainly present. And with it being so close to the mouth, there’s a huge risk of ingesting it and getting sick,” researchers worry. The 2015 study also concluded that the beards were full of “enteric bacteria”, which is a part of the human biome that’s frequently found within fecal matter.
Researchers also point out that partners who cuddle with their bearded significant other, play with their whiskers, or nuzzle the furry areas are also at risk. “E. coli and fecal matter is content to travel. It doesn’t have to stay in one place; it’s more than happy to latch onto your fingers or face and make a home on you too. This means that you’re also at risk of getting seriously ill just from exposure,” and doctors support this claim.
Are bearded men really that gross?
Once the latest study hit the airwaves, men were quick to defend themselves. “Who are they testing? The homeless? Men who eat off of the floor? Those that don’t wash their hands after a deuce? Of course you’re going to find all kinds of nasty stuff within beards if you’re studying people with less than perfect hygiene. Sample mine and I’m sure the results will be much different,” is the sentiment that a lot of bearded men share.
Others point out that hair in general contains trillions of bacteria. They also argue that almost all of the surfaces we come across contain some level of bacterium. “You can’t escape it. Every day we’re put into contact with bacteria. And even if you’re washing your hands and cleaning your house religiously, you’re still being exposed to it. But for the most part, it’s harmless. Some are even necessary for our bodies. This is just modern fear mongering from people who hate the beards. I’d like to see tests done on more than just the whiskers on a man’s face; I bet the hair on women’s heads is pretty dirty too,” say some.
But fecal matter being present is far worse than the everyday bacteria we come across. But many insist that that’s just the product of improper hygiene. “If you’re not in the habit of frequently washing your hands, especially after finishing up in the bathroom, then of course you’re going to transfer the bacteria to your beard. But those same people are also transferring it to the hair on their heads, their cell phones, and their keyboards.”
So while the results could definitely be skewed or biased, it’s enough to at least convince some men to take a stronger look at their beard care routines.
Once again, men are taking up arms to defend themselves against the results and the studies that continue to come out that says the beard has to go.
“It’s easy to scare people now a days; especially with a ‘scientific’ study such as this one. However what they’re not telling you and what we don’t know is the condition of the men surveyed. Are these guys practicing proper hygiene or are they lax on it? Also, nobody pays attention to the studies that refute this kind of misinformation. They don’t get as much attention because they’re not clickbait or scary. It’s a like a train wreck, we have to tune in despite our better judgments,” says one man.
Specifically, he is referencing a hospital study that was conducted. According to this study, beards might actually be less likely to store bacteria than clean-shaven faces. According to dermatologist Carrie L. Kovarik, who specializes in infectious diseases of the skin, concluded that the premise of the test was simple: if it was true that facial hair played host to more abundant pathogens than smooth skin, bearded men would pose a far greater risk of spreading infections. “And that’s just not something we’ve seen,” she said.
To test this theory, researchers conducted a test that studied 409 hospital staff. The numbers were evenly divided between clean shaven men and those who possessed a beard. Each of those who participated in the study were regularly in contact with patients and gave samples from their upper lips as well as their cheeks.
Dr. Kovarik said, “not only did the bearded men harbor less bacteria than those who were clean shaven, the baby faces actually had higher rates of certain bacterium. We suspect that this is due to micro-trauma associated with shaving.”
Beards are natural sponges
Despite the doctor’s findings, men were quick to argue that beards are playgrounds for bacteria. Dr. Kovarik agreed to a certain extent.
“Beards are like natural sponges; they soak up things around them. Just like your husband might have enough crumbs in his beard after dinner for a second meal, these hairs are also collecting other less desirables around them. However, in the same way that your husband can easily dispatch these crumbs by washing his face, the same can be done with bacteria. As long as you’re washing the hairs regularly, there’s no reason to believe or evidence for that matter either, that the hairs are ‘clinging’ to the bacteria,” she said.
She also noted that some beards are incredibly coarse, almost like brillo pads. Because of this, they’re prone to picking up dirt and debris. “This often leads us to think of them as being dirtier than clean skin. After all, you can often see the dirt in side the beard but it’s just not true. Washing those hairs will clean them and remove any unattractive debris. It’s common sense really,” Kovarik continued.
So in other words, as long as you’re washing your whiskers thoroughly with antibacterial soap and warm water, you’re fine.
What are your thoughts?
Do you think this study is reason enough to “fear the beard” or are you siding with those who claim that the study is biased and inaccurate? Does this make you rethink your skincare routine if you’re a male or does it dissuade you from cuddling from your bearded partner? Let us know in the comment section below! We’d love to hear from you.