Beards may be more hygienic and bacteria-resistant than shaven skin, study finds

Study finds beardless men to have more of a certain type of bacteria than bearded men

Kate Ng
Wednesday 20 January 2016 19:55 GMT
Having a beard may be more hygienic than people think
Having a beard may be more hygienic than people think

Beards may contain bacteria which could potentially be developed into new antibiotics, a study has found.

Researchers found that clean-shaven men were actually more likely to harbour infection-causing bacteria resistant to antibiotics when compared to bearded men.

The study, published in the Journal of Hospital Infection, tested swabs from the faces of 408 hospital staff with and without facial hair.

According to the results, clean-shaven men are more than three times as likely to be carrying methicillin-resistant staph auerus (MRSA) on their cheeks as their bearded counterparts.

Clean-shaven men were also more than 10 per cent more likely to have colonies of Staphylococcus aureus on their faces, a bacterium that causes skin and respiratory infections, and food poisoning.

Researchers suggest this may be due to micro-abrasians caused by shaving in the skin, “which may support bacterial colonisation and proliferation”.

The report reads: “Overall, colonisation is similar in male healthcare workers with and without facial hair, however, certain bacterial species were more prevalent in workers without facial hair.”

Dr Adam Roberts, a microbiologist from University College London, was able to grow over 100 different bacteria from beard swab samples in a separate analysis.

Among the petri dishes, he found the presence of a microbe that appeared to be killing the other bacteria.

Dr Roberts isolated the microbe and tested it against a form of E. coli that causes urinary tract infections, and found the microbes killed the bacterium efficiently.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today presenter Mishal Husain that this analysis does have potential for further research for the future.

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The current stock of antibiotics is quickly becoming ineffective, with antibiotic-resistant infections killing at least 700,000 people a year.

No new antibiotics have been released in the past 30 years.

Dr Roberts compared the findings to Alexander Fleming’s success with penicillin, which was discovered by chance when a fungus spore was accidentally blown into his lab onto a petri dish.

Fleming noticed the bacteria he was growing in the dish had died around the area the spore had landed, and subsequent research led to penicillin as it is known today.

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