When Should I Worry About...

Could Germs Be Hiding in Your Beard?

May 27, 2020 - Katie McCallum

Whether you choose to sport a beard because it's stylish or because "No Shave November" just always seems to turn into a year-round thing, you probably already know that keeping up with your beard can be hard work. Aside from grooming the perfect look, maintaining a beard means keeping it clean. So, when it comes to your beard, how clean is clean?

First of all, your beard is really close to both your nose and mouth — two spots where disease-causing germs commonly enter the human body. And you may also remember last year's beard hygiene panic — sparked after the media overhyped results from a small research study showing that a man's beard contains more germs than his dog's fur.

It's enough to ask yourself: Is my beard full of germs?

While not untrue, there are a few things that need explaining before you reach for those clippers.

Yes, your beard has germs — but not all germs are bad

Most of us probably only think about germs when they're causing disease or illness, but germs aren't always bad. In fact, a ton of germs reside, harmlessly, on and inside your body. What's more is that many of these germs play important roles in your overall health — helping you digest food or even warding off the bad germs that do cause disease.

Given that germs come in the good, the bad and the neutral varieties, there's no reason to automatically assume that it's bad to have more germs in your beard than your dog has in his fur.

Plus, there are a lot of other important nuances in the study that sent people into a panic about beards, by the way. First, the study showed no significant difference in the amount of bad, disease-causing germs, specifically, in the beard vs. dog fur analysis. Second, the study also showed that the men's mouths harbored more germs than the dogs' mouths — so, it's not just beards that are more germ-heavy in people than in dogs. Lastly, the study wasn't even examining beard hygiene — it was determining whether or not it's hygienic for humans and dogs to share the same MRI scanners (which are incredibly expensive diagnostic machines).

So what does a study examining beard hygiene — on purpose — tell us?

When you compare men with beards to men without, beards seem to be in the clear

A 2014 study examining beards in the health care setting found that hospital workers with facial hair do not harbor more disease-causing germs than those without facial hair. And while men with beards seem to shed germs more easily than men without, any health care worker, regardless of facial hair status or gender, sheds significant amounts of germs when touching his or her faces.

While you may not be a health care worker, the results of this study suggest that in general, your beard has just as many germs as the skin of your clean-shaven friends.

A quick word on beards and masks

We've all seen the power that wearing a well-fitting mask can have on preventing the spread of germs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Well-fitting being the key word, though. To work effectively, your mask should fit snugly, and some beards can interfere with how well a mask fits. For this reason, the CDC recommends and discourages certain facial hairstyles. This is more important for health care workers.

Beard hygiene is still important

So, your beard has germs — and that's okay. But, you still need to clean it regularly.

Think of a beard as an extension of the hair on your scalp. This means you should wash it as often as you wash your hair, making sure to get a good lather going, scrubbing thoroughly and rinsing completely.

When it comes to what product to use, soap is soap — but using shampoo, or some other fancy beard product, can help keep your skin from drying out.

Just make sure that you're tending to it at least a few times a week.

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