A recent study published in the Journal of Hospital Infection contains potentially far-reaching implications for the field of occupational medicine. The crux: beards are good for you.
Bacterial swabs taken from the faces of 408 health care workers, some sporting beards, others with cleanly shaven faces, showed that regular shavers are upwards of three times more likely to be carrying the much-feared MRSA bacteria (methicillin-resistant staph aureus).
The last several decades have seen a dramatic and worrying rise in the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant infection, MRSA chief among them. The same time period has seen a stall in the development of new antibiotics to fight these super-infections, which kill an estimated 700,000 people each year.
It is commonly understood by occupational medicine service workers such as those from U.S. HealthWorks that health care professionals are often unwitting carriers of these “superbugs”, thus making them a useful test sample for the study. Symptoms caused by superbugs may be as mild as unpleasant skin infections or as severe as respiratory distress and in some cases, death.
A Hairy Weapon Against Infection
New research points to facial hair as a potentially powerful weapon in combating these new illnesses. Scientists studying the issue have theorized that the usefulness of beards may be twofold. Beards themselves can actually help prevent and combat infection, and neglecting to shave may rob bacteria of a convenient breeding ground; your face.
As any man (or woman) who’s ever used a cheap razor can tell you, shaving causes tiny cuts in the skin, known as micro-abrasions. These micro-abrasions serve as small canals and crevices that allow bacteria to flourish. Skipping your daily shave may cut off access to this habitat, thereby muting the spread of these dangerous, super-armored germs.
But beards themselves may be surprisingly helpful tools in this fight. In the same way that small skin abrasions can serve as breeding grounds for deadly bacteria, beards themselves can function as breeding grounds certain microbes that kill that same bacteria. Take for instance Staphylococcus epidermis, known to especially deadly to e. coli.
Sound implausible? Recall that Alexander Flemming discovered penicillin when a microbial fungus accidentally blew onto his petri dish and wiped out a colony of his homegrown bacteria. Flemming’s accident gave birth to a generation of new and life-saving drugs.
The fight against MRSA and other drug-resistant infections will have to be multi-faceted. Over prescription and overconsumption of antibiotics are a major part of the problem. But thanks to the good people at the Journal of Hospital Infection, we have now identified a new and thankfully easy-to-combat threat; the babyface.
Beards may be more hygienic and bacteria-resistant than shaven skin, study finds. Independent.
Are beards good for your health? BBC.