“Men’s beards became the focus of a study intended to find out whether it was safe to use the same MRI scanners for people and dogs. Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
If you’ve been looking for a solid way to shame your beard-sporting partner into clean-shaven submission, congratulations: A recent study suggests that men’s beards may harbor more germs than dog’s fur. Feel free to hit the razor aisle before delivering that news.
The study, published in the February 2019 issue of the journal European Radiology, wasn’t intended to be a compilation of anti-beard evidence, but the results offered some less-than-positive insight for fans of facial hair. The study was actually much weirder than a simple hair vs. fur exploration — researchers were trying to figure out if it was safe for humans to use the same MRI scanners previously used by dogs.
Why in the world would that be a thing experts need to know about, you ask? Apparently most vet clinics don’t have dedicated on-site animal scanners, but because dogs are living longer than ever, they’re experiencing increased diseases in their golden years and often require imaging diagnostics. So rather than having all vets invest in pricey pet-specific machines, the researchers were trying to figure out if pups could just be evaluated in regular human hospitals. As for why the researchers chose bearded men as their comparison group, there’s no clear answer. So is it still a weird study? Sure. But the context helps clear things up a little.
To sort out the issue, researchers analyzed skin and saliva samples from 18 bearded men, ranging in age from 18 to 76, and samples of fur and saliva from 30 dogs, ranging in breed from schnauzer to German shepherd. The fur samples, by the way, were taken from between the dogs’ shoulder blades, which is apparently a "particularly unhygienic" area where skin infections regularly occur on canines, according to the study. Despite sampling the notoriously germy spots on the pups, the men emerged as the germier group.
The study found that all 18 men exhibited "high microbial counts" on their skin and saliva, but only 23 of the 30 dogs showed that kind of extreme germiness. It unfortunately gets even grosser than that: Seven of the men tested positive for human-pathogenic microbes, which are the type of bacteria that can make people super sick under certain circumstances (four of the dogs had it too, but…just four). These microbes included Enterococcus faecalis, a common gut bacteria responsible for urinary tract infections and other health issues, and Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria that lives on up to half of all human adults, but can create mayhem if it gets into the bloodstream.
The good(ish?) news for bearded dudes is that researchers can’t say for sure from this small study whether hairy men are inherently germier than the rest of the human race — in fact, they wrote that "there is no reason to believe that women may harbor less bacteriological load than bearded men." The real message they hope people take to heart is that humans — whether bearded, bald, male or female — leave behind a lot more potentially-harmful bugs behind in hospital settings than experts ever realized.
"The central question should perhaps not be whether we should allow dogs to undergo imaging in our hospitals," the team wrote, "but rather we should focus on the knowledge and perception of hygiene and understand what poses real danger and risk to our patients."
Now That’s Interesting
An estimated 55 percent of men around the world have some type of facial hair, and the average beard grows 5.5 inches (14 centimeters) per year.