If you’re a germophobe, you were probably taken in by a viral story that circulated the Internet this week, claiming that beards harbor “dangerous germs” that rival the dirtiest of toilets. Yes, trusted sources were telling people that their beards contain poop.
Apparently, the hysteria started when a news station conducted a study of a “handful” of beards, sent the samples off to a company for analysis, and got back the results they were looking for: beards contain “germs” more commonly known as enteric bacteria, which are part of the human gut microbiome and therefore also found in feces.
But don’t freak out. Writing in Slate, David Coil pulled the veil off this latest revenue-generating scare tactic, pointing out that everyone, bearded or beardless, is completely bathing in bacteria.
Yes, that means you too … 15 showers a week notwithstanding. Everything is covered in bacteria, most of which are harmless or beneficial. Any story that starts with “we found germs on X” is already pointless unless you’re talking about Mars, the moon, or something that’s supposed to have been sterilized (like surgical equipment). So of course they found bacteria on beards. And I can promise you that if they swabbed any other part of those dudes, they’d also find bacteria. Amazing! What we’d want to know is whether men with beards harbored more bacteria than men with clean-shaven faces. Which of course they didn’t look at. Fortunately, this question has been addressed in the scientific literature. A recent article titled “Bacterial ecology of hospital workers’ facial hair: a cross-sectional study” concluded that health care workers with and without beards harbored similar numbers of bacteria.
So just to recap: websites post a viral story sourcing a study which took data completely out of context, freaking out germophobes and women fed up with the facial hair of their hipster boyfriends, ultimately landing in your newsfeed.
If you’ve already shaved off your whiskers, the good news is that they’ll grow back, filthy bacteria and all.
[Featured image credit: WestEnd61/Rex Features]