Int the study, which was published in the Journal of Hospital Infection, researchers swabbed the faces of 408 men on the hospital staff, with and without facial hair.
Surprisingly, the results found that clean-shaven guys were more likely to be harboring a plethora of germs. In fact, they were three times as likely to be carrying methicillin-resistant staph aureus (MRSA) on their faces.
Why? The researchers reasoned that shaving may cause micro-abrasions in their skin “which may support bacterial colonization and proliferation.” This notion also raised another possible explanation—that beards combat infection.
Adam Roberts, a microbiologist at University College London, tested this hypothesis by growing over 100 different bacteria in petri dishes that were extracted from beards. In a few samples, he found that a certain microbe was killing the other bacteria.
So, does that mean your beard may carry antibiotics of some kind?
“Possibly,” Roberts said cautiously. He identified the microbes as part of a species called Staphylococcus epidermidis. Roberts then tested this bacteria against a drug-resistant form of E. coli, which it killed off effortlessly. Although there haven’t been any new antibiotics introduced in the past three decades, you probably won’t see “Beardicillin” on the market anytime soon, as testing a novel antibiotic is extremely expensive and has a high failure rate.
In the meantime, Roberts and his team have recently isolated anti-adhesion molecules from beard microbes, which stop bacteria from binding to other surfaces. They believe that this may be of interest for oral health, as it could be added to toothpaste and mouthwash to protect enamel from bacteria.
Who knew beards could be so versatile?