Beard bacteria – what nasties are lurking in your beard?

Beards have not been getting good press in the news! Whether it is poop, beard bacteria or other random bits of dirt, bearded men can’t get away from the fact that our beards are under attack. What is the truth to this bad press and how do you make sure that your beard is as clean as a whistle?

Beards can contain bacteria including Enterococcus faecalis and Staphylococcusaureus but there’s very little scientific evidence that your beard is full of bacteria or even hazardous at all! There’s even some evidence to suggest that your beard is cleaner than that of your clean-shaven co-worker!

Let’s take a look at the bad press that beards have been getting and bust some of the myths behind the sensationalized headlines.

Beard bacteria in the news

The first one combines two of my favorite topics – beards and dogs!

Men’s Beards Carry More Bacteria Than Dogs’ Fur.

This first study was published in February 2019 in the journal European Radiology.

The researchers wanted to test to see if it was safe for humans to use the same MRI scanners as dogs. If dogs could use the scanners without any health implications it would help with ensuring that the dogs had the best level of care and were able to be diagnosed quicker.

The research wasn’t meant to be a fur vs. hair argument but that is what the headlines were reporting on.

The study used 18 male volunteers and found that all 18 exhibited “high microbial counts” on their skin and saliva. When compared to their doggie equivalents, 23 of the 30 dogs showed that level of germ contamination.

The story doesn’t end there – it even gets a little worse!

Seven of the men tested positive for microbes which make people really sick under certain circumstances. Four of the dogs also had this microbe but that’s significantly less than the seven men with the gross bacteria!

Beard bacteria – Enterococcus faecalis.

The most disgusting microbe was Enterococcus faecalis. This is a common gut bacteria responsible for urinary tract infections and other health issues.

In healthy people, or when present in normal amounts, this bacteria doesn’t cause any issues what so ever.

Unfortunately, if it spreads to other areas of the body, it may cause life-threatening infections. The bacteria can cause infection in people when it enters wounds, blood, or urine. It is the people in the hospital that have the greatest risk of complications from this bacteria.

You can be at risk if you:

  • have week immunity due to surgery
  • been undergoing treatment for cancer
  • are receiving an organ transplant
  • Have HIV or AIDS
  • Major dental surgery

Good hygiene and regularly washing your hands are the best way to stop the spread of this bacteria.

Beard bacteria – Staphylococcus aureus.

Beard bacteria Staphylococcus aureus

Staphylococcus aureus is a bacteria that lives on up to half of all human adults but it can cause havoc if it gets into your bloodstream.

Golden staph (as this bacteria is more commonly known) is carried on the skin or in the nose of about two out of three people.

Staphylococcus aureus can be spread by skin-on-skin contact or by touching contaminated surfaces. This bacteria is more likely to be on those persons with poor personal hygiene – so get washing those hands and beards!

What does this mean for you and your beard?

The study that first highlighted this increased level of gross bacteria in beards used a very small sample size. This means that the study really can’t say for sure that bearded men are germier than the average person.

They even said themselves “there is no reason to believe that women may harbor less bacteriological load than bearded men.”

The next study that is widely published has a much larger sample size of people…but does this mean your beard is filthy?

The journal of Hospital Infection – beards vs clean shaven

Another study, completed in 2014, was published in the Journal of Hospital Infection.

This study had a much larger sample of human faces and focussed on men who work in healthcare. The researchers were looking at men that had beards and another lot that were clean-shaven. They took swaps from their faces and looked at the number of bacteria on the face.

Clearly, for healthcare workers, you want to have as clean an environment as possible and make sure that you don;lt infect any patients.

This is where the good news comes in for your furry face friend…

The scientists found that:

“Overall, colonization is similar in male healthcare workers with and without facial hair; however, certain bacterial species were more prevalent in workers without facial hair.”

Ah, there you have it. You don’t need to worry – your beard probably doesn’t contain a load of bacteria that aren’t found on other people. It’s only when this bacteria enters the bloodstream or body through some other means that you really have to worry.

In conclusion

This probably won’t be the last you see of news headlines or bad press about beards. Be prepared for more articles or studies but here is how you can tell if it is good science or not:

  • Does the research come from a credible university or research institute?
  • Is there a large sample size – or is it less than 100 test subjects?
  • Is the science funded by a group that would want a particular outcome?
  • Does the research have a peer-reviewed article?

Using these simple checks and balances can help you work out if the science is credible or not.

That said, it certainly isn’t a bad idea to keep your beard fresh and clean to avoid bacteria build-up. Also, it is just good manners to keep your beard looking and smelling fresh.

How to keep your beard clean

Cleaning your beard regularly and properly isn’t rocket science but can mean the difference between a clean well-nourished beard or a clean dry beard.

Here I want to talk you through the process of how to clean your beard AND make it conditioned so you can have confidence!

Daily washing is not something you should do unless you have a particularly dirty job or a daily routine that involves you getting dirty!

How often to shampoo a beard?

Over shampooing a beard is one of the worst ways to dry out your beard! Overwashing can strip your beard of natural oils and cause your beard to become dry and wispy.

I recommend a maximum of three times a week but for most people one to two times a week is all you need to do.

Make sure that you use a beard shampoo! Hair shampoo is a little harsher and can quickly dry out your beard. If you find that your beard is still a little dry a beard conditioner is something you should consider using.

After washing there is a little bit of care needed to keep the hair conditioned and the skin underneath moisturized.

My daily routine

  1. Wet the beard fully in the shower – use your fingertips to get deep into the beard. Use the fingertips to massage the skin underneath the hair.
  2. Use beard shampoo and conditioner (every two or three days) – work the beard shampoo through the beard and rinse thoroughly. Repeat with the beard conditioner after leaving in for two minutes.
  3. Towel dry your beard slowly – don’t be overly rough with your beard. You can easily damage the beard when it is wet.
  4. Use low heat hair drying technique – brush the hair into the desired shape and hold in place while drying on low heat. Blash with cool air to lock the hair into place.
  5. Use beard oil – Beard oil is a must for your beard! Take the time to choose a beard oil that you like the smell of! You’ll be smelling it all day!
  6. Use beard Balm (optional) – Is your beard still looking a little bit dry? Feel free to back up your beard oil application with a little beard balm. My DIY beard balm has a bit of beeswax, shea butter and essential oils in it. Perfect for hold and extra hydration!
  7. Look fabulous! Comb your beard into the shape that you want it to take. Maybe you can back up the hold with beard wax – particularly useful for fancy mustaches.

There we have it, my friends! Your beard is not as dirty as the media will have you think. It’s easy to keep your beard clean and you can easily maintain a nice beard routine!

The Author

Andy Stapleton

Andy is a writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. He has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. He is an avid beard grower and after many years of growing and trialling different beard styles, he started this blog to share the tips, tricks, and science that he has learned along the way!