Last year, a TV station in Albuquerque, New Mexico, analyzed the beards of a handful of men and found some of them “as dirty as toilets.”
Now a more thorough study has determined that the chins of shaven men can be just as unsanitary. In a report for the BBC Magazine, the host of the TV show “Trust Me, I’m a Doctor,” proposes that having a beard might even have some protective health benefit.
In his piece for the BBC, Michael Mosley reported on a study published in the Journal of Hospital Infection, in which researchers swabbed the faces of 408 hospital employees.
The clean-shaven workers were more than three times as likely to be carrying the bacterium known as methicillin-resistant staph aureus, better known as the potentially deadly MRSA.
“So what’s going on?” wrote Mosley. “The researchers suggested that shaving might cause micro-abrasions in the skin ‘which may support bacterial colonization and proliferation.'”
Mosley, however, had another hypothesis: Beards might fight infection, so his team swabbed another assortment of beards and sent them to Dr. Adam Roberts, a microbiologist at University College London. While observing more than 100 bacteria grown from the samples, the microbiologist realized that some were attacking others.
“We see microbes as our enemy, but they clearly don’t see us that way. Down at their level, bacteria and fungi spend their time competing with each other. They fight for food, resources and space,” Mosley wrote, noting that penicillin was discovered when Alexander Fleming noticed a stray fungus spore attacking bacteria he was growing in a petri dish.
“So, could our mysterious microbes be doing something similar? Killing fellow bacteria by producing some sort of toxin?” Mosley asked. The microbiologist did not share his enthusiasm for the hypothesis, but answered, “extremely cautiously,” that it was possible.
Mosley concluded, “Purifying and properly testing a novel antibiotic is so expensive and has such a high failure rate that it is extremely unlikely doctors will be prescribing Beardicillin anytime soon.”
For the time being, both the bearded and clean-shaven can benefit from close association with soap.
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