Are Beards Hotbeds for Bacteria?

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Lumbersexuals have invaded and everyone from the neighborhood barista to David Beckham has been cultivating creative facial hair. While heavy stubble and beards are said to make men look manlier and hotter, there could be a disadvantage to wearing a chin curtain. Beards might harbor more germs, making them more dirty than sexy.

“Sebaceous glands on the face, chest, and back are larger than those on the head so hairs coming from the face are likely coated with more oil. Bacteria like to feed on oil, so it’s likely there are more bacteria living on and near the base of beard hairs as compared to hairs on your head,” writes Dr. Whitney Bowe, a dermatologist at Advanced Dermatology in New York City, via email.

It’s also likely that the bacteria living in beards would differ from bacteria living on the scalp or other parts of the body. While it might seem bad, or at least icky, that more bacteria live in beards, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Experts have been learning more about the microbiome, a person’s individual microorganism colony on and in their body. Many of these microorganisms are actually helpful to overall health, though some certainly cause infection.

“If a man habitually strokes his beard or plays with his beard, that could increase the risk of getting a cold because germs live on our hands, and the more we touch our face, the more likely we are to transfer those germs into our airways and get sick,” Bowe says.

So far, there’s no evidence that beards are more or less likely to carry propionibacterium acnes, the bacteria that causes acne. But Bowe sometimes sees beardos with eczema, a bumpy, dry, red rash, especially if they don’t completely wash soap from their manes. And some guys develop what’s known as “irritant contact dermatitis,” which are red, inflamed patches of skin that are the result of spicy and acidic food trapped in the beard.

“I’ve seen beards catch both foods and drinks. Not only is that pretty disgusting for the person who is dining with the bearded men, but certain ingredients in foods and beverages can irritate the skin,” Bowe says.

But shaving causes skin problems, too. Many dudes experience acne-like bumps called pseudofolliculitis barbae from shaving too closely.

“When you shave hairs, especially if they are coarse or curly, sometimes they get trapped on their way back out of the skin,” Bowe says.

Often men using astringent shaving products develop eczema because the harsh products dry out their skin. If bearded men want to shave their facial hair, Bowe recommends that they treat that beard hair differently.

Beard hairs are coarser than head or body hair. Men should lather up well and shave after a warm shower because the heat and humidity makes the hairs softer and more manageable. She also recommends that they shave with the grain of the hair first. Afterwards use an oil-free lotion that doesn’t block pores (blocked pores can cause blackheads).

Even though the microbiome of the beard remains unexplored territory, people cozying up to beardos need not worry. It doesn’t appear that they transfer germs to other people. If anything, rubbing against a beard might cause some irritated skin.