Are beards really dirtier than toilets?

Beard One

Are beards really dirtier than toilets? A recent wave of pseudo-science articles has swept across social media, and claims that the average beard is dirtier than the average toilet. Is that accurate? How clean are our hairs? Should you be worried? (In case you’re really worried: The short answer is “No.”)

You may have noticed a rash of recent “Beards = Poo” articles sweeping across your Facebook page or Twitter feed. They’ve been all the rage this week, in part because of the popularity of 2015’s “Lumbersexual” look. Chances are, if you or someone you know rocks a proud beard, you’ve heard the claim that beards are one of the following:


-As dirty as a toilet seat
-As dirty as a toilet
-Full of more poop than a toilet
-Dirtier than an entire bathroom at closing time in a Mexican restaurant
-All of the above.


To be sure, there is a definite clickbait vibe to almost all of these articles. Common sense tells us that the only way to get a beard full of poop is to dunk your head into the toilet bowl. And that’s surely not an epidemic. So: where does this claim come from, and what on earth does it mean? Are beards really dirtier than toilets?


Beard Two


This whole craze got started thanks to television station KOAT out of Albuquerque NM. The evening news paid for a handful of volunteers to have their beards swabbed by a laboratory, and to have the swabs analyzed. What the station found was that some portion of the men had bacteria in their beards that is comparable to some of the bacteria found on feces. (You can read the original story here.)

As far as science goes, it’s pretty shoddy stuff. We don’t know how many men the lab tested; what, specifically, they were testing for; what the bacteria that’s also found in feces is called; where, other than fecal matter, this particular bacteria is found; whether it’s abnormal to find this particular bacteria outside of feces and the general feces-producing region of the body; and whether the men who had poo-bacteria on their beards had cleaned their beards recently.

It’s also worth pointing out that the KOAT story ends on a bizarre note in which the scientist speculates that the entire city of Albuquerque might need to disinfect its entire water supply. Apparently Thursday, April 30, was a slow news day in New Mexico.


Beard Three


But the story went viral, as tends to happen with tales of great fear-mongering. Buzzfeed picked it up, along with CNN and AskMen and a hundred other copycats. As the Huffington Post pointed out, though, there are so many different types of bacteria, and they grow in so many different places, that it’s misleading to say “the kind you find in feces,” since so many of those are found elsewhere. According to Sarah Zhang of Gizmodo, in a completely different article on microbial biology two months before #BeardpoopGate:


Sorting bacteria into categories based on where they come from, like skin, feces and soil, is really just our feeble human minds imposing artificial order on a natural world. A type of bacteria, Lactobacillaceae, might become known as fecal bacteria because we find a lot of it in the human gut, but that doesn’t mean it grows there exclusively. Just because there is Lactobacillacae on my door frame (which, for the record, there was) doesn’t mean it got there through a smear of poop.


So, unless you or your loved one really is plunking his head down into a full toilet bowl every morning, you really don’t have anything to worry about. Just clean your beard regularly and go about your business with your head held high, secure in the knowledge that there’s no more poop bacteria on your face than there is on any other part of your body. Which is to say: There’s a lot of it.


(Photo credits: Are beards really dirtier than toilets: Leo via WENN; Beards One, Two, Three via Flickr)

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