What’s in Santa’s Beard? (And Yours, Too)

Just how much truth is there to the notion that beards are big, grimy poop sponges?

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Santa is famous for sporting a dense beard, among other charitable things, and while the average person has probably never considered the sterile (or otherwise) qualities of his whiskers, we here at Dollar Shave Club are weird like that. Of course, most of us have seen the headlines that claim beards are as grungy as toilets, brimming with literal poop, which is part of what prompted us to take a closer look at the things that really inhabit our facial bristles. So follow along to find out if you should disinfect every present that Santa placed under your tree (and possibly shave your beard, too).

The Crap in Our Beards
1) Literal Crap: Again, you know the headlines, but before taking the notion that beards are riddled with poop at face value, we need to analyze the science. The research that claims beards to be as filthy as toilets involved a TV news crew swabbing “a handful” of beards in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Then, they sent those samples to a microbiologist, who essentially declared that several of the samples were of toilet status. From there, the story went viral.

Now, while some beards are certainly filled with poop particles — shockingly, poop is on pretty much everything — the approach to this experiment was, well, less scientific than it might seem. For instance, they appear to have not swabbed clean-shaven men, and since bacteria lives on to all sorts of surfaces, that could have answered the more important question of whether beards harbor more yuckiness than a clean-shaven face. Which brings us to our next section… 

2) Loads of Bacteria: A more recent study found that while beards are indeed colonized by an assortment of bacteria, it’s men without beards who are more likely to be carrying germs on their cheeks. The researchers specifically found that clean-shaven men were 10 percent more likely to have Staphylococcus aureus on their faces, the insidious bacterium behind staph infections.

While there were some limitations to this study as well — such as figuring out how the length and density of the beard might have impacted the results — the researchers attribute their findings to micro-abrasions caused while shaving, which could actually support bacterial growth. In other words, even if beards are gross, which is something that several other studies have suggested, bare faces at least have the potential to be even more so.

3) Skin Cells and Oils: Our skin constantly sheds dead cells and oils, and while shaving can help with exfoliation, beards tend to take hold of that gunk. Unfortunately, if you neglect the skin under your beard, those dead cells and oils, combined with moisture, can promote the growth of bacteria and other nasty microorganisms, like the ones mentioned above. This, in turn, can cause redness, itchiness and even flakiness

4) Dust, Debris and Food: According to Penn Medicine dermatologist Carrie Kovarik, longer, denser beards have a penchant for collecting all kinds of random debris, so just be sure to keep things groomed (and check out these tips for eating without getting too many crumbs in your whiskers)

5) Lice: Gross, gross, gross. Of course, lice rarely linger in beards, and you’d almost certainly know if you had them on your face. But hairy parts of the body are much more prone to both lice and crabs, and unfortunately, that does include beards. Nope!

The Takeaway
All in all, while beards have garnered a bad reputation for being poop and bacteria sponges, so long as you take good care of them, they can be just as clean, if not cleaner, than barren faces. Now all we can do is hope Santa has a good beard wash and some beard oil, too.