Turns out they're not super-clean, but they're not as dirty as everyone thinks

By Alex Heigl
Updated May 05, 2015 03:00 PM
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Credit: Alli Harvey/Wireimage; Future-Image/Zuma; Steve Sands/Wireimage

This week, you may have seen a story or three online that seemed to imply the average man’s beard is full of fecal matter and/or bacteria.

That’s not exactly true, but let’s start at the beginning. Several reporters at Action 7 News in Albuquerque, New Mexico, decided to take hygienic stock of the population’s beards, as one does. They swabbed the beards of a few local men and took the results to Quest Diagnostics, who said:

“Several of the beards that were tested contained a lot of normal bacteria, but some were comparable to toilets. ‘Those are the types of things you’d find in [fecal matter],’ [Quest Diagnostics microbiologist John] Golobic said, referring to the tests.”

So, that’s how you’re getting all manner of headlines in your feed suggesting your beard is full of poop. But – thankfully – it’s not the complete truth.

Basically, there are all kinds of bacteria in and on your body – up to and including E. coli – that are necessary for digestion. And because they’re going to be found in your gut, they’re going to be found in your … you know. Hence the tenuous connection some publications are making.

But that doesn’t mean your beard is exactly pristine. Carol Walker, a consultant trichologist at Birmingham Trichology Centre, told the U.K. Daily Mail that “beard hair – it’s coarser … The cuticles on the hair, which are like layers of tiles on a roof, trap the germs and grease.”

And a 1967 study that involved spraying bearded and clean-shaven men with bacteria then collecting it from their faces showed that beards held “more bacteria in general. The clean-shaven men always had less bacteria recovered from their faces than the bearded men.”

So, what’s the takeaway? A bearded face might be a little more bacteria-y than a clean-shaven one, but it’s not as bad as the Internet would have you think.

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