We all know there’s a certain satisfaction in blindly uprooting one or two nose hairs—or as many as can be corralled between the thumb and forefinger before the light turns green—and then celebrating with a massive, bestial sneeze.
Trouble is, it turns out, this could kill you.
Just when hair growth on a man’s head is slowing to a crawl, his ear, nose and eyebrow hair is getting ready to party. That’s because the hormones that cause thinning hair in the scalp also awaken “vellus hairs,” the short, light-colored, barely noticeable thin hair that develops on a man’s body during childhood. Once a guy hits 40, vellus hairs in his ears and nose grow darker, faster and coarser. They also become itchy, prompting him to reflexively scratch the itch; or, better yet, eviscerate it, sending a message to all the other little itches up in this piece who’s in charge.
There are two reasons why this is a bad idea. First, there are different kinds of nose hair: Some are tiny and called “cilia,” while others extend beyond the edge of the nostril and are called “freakin’ gnarly, bro.” Both types keep out germs and, according to Manhattan physician Barry Cohen, “have a protective role as filters from stuff we breathe.”
He adds that nose hair serves as one of the body’s first lines of defense against harmful environmental pathogens—germs, fungus, spores, etc.—by trapping larger particles and harmful debris, and directing it to the back of the throat for swallowing. In other words, nose hair does have a purpose.
The second reason it’s a bad idea to yank ’em out with your fingers involves what Dr. Oz refers to as the awesomely-named “triangle of death,” better known as the space between the nose and mouth. “You pick in that area, that triangle of death, and you run a real risk of that infection transcending the skin and going up to your brain,” he says.
Plucking with tweezers is also a bad idea, but doing it with fingertips—you know, those things that flush toilets, shake hands with strangers and the like—is way worse. Infections that develop in the triangle of death completely bypass other organ systems and go directly to the nerve center. Worst case scenario? “Methicillin resistant staph aureus,” Cohen warns. “A break in the skin from removing nose hairs can cause overgrowth and a local cellulitis which can spread and become sepsis. Stop ripping nose hair out with your fingers!”
So what should you do with the little buggers? Just about anything else. For those wedded to low-tech, a simple set of round-tipped facial hair scissors will do the trick (accent on the “round”—see above). There’s also a cavalcade of battery-powered trimmers.
When using either option, first make a pig nose by pressing backward on the tip of your nose to illuminate the nostrils, making it easier to see which weeds you’re whacking. Then, gently circle around your nostrils and clip the hairs, being careful not to press too hard to avoid nicks and cuts inside your nose (remember: triangle of death = bad).
Granted, both alternatives require slightly more forethought than mindlessly grooming yourself like an ape, but on the other hand, not having a massive, possibly fatal infection inside your face is nice, too.