It’s bad news for hipsters but men with beards harbour more germs in their whiskers than dogs carry in their fur, scientists say.
The alarming news follows a study that found every sampled beard was crawling with bacteria, and nearly half had bugs that were hazardous to human health.
By contrast, a number of dogs tested proved to have lower levels of microbes. Now men have been left bristling with fury, with claims that the results stem from pogonophobia – the irrational fear of beards.
In the study, scientists wanted to discover whether there was a risk that humans might pick up a dog-borne disease from an MRI scanner that was also used for examinations by vets. Researchers took swabs from the beards of 18 men and the necks of 30 dogs, across a range of breeds, and compared the results.
Professor Andreas Gutzeit, of Switzerland’s Hirslanden Clinic, said: ‘The researchers found a significantly higher bacterial load in specimens taken from the men’s beards compared with the dogs’ fur.’ The study found all of the bearded men, aged from 18 to 76, showed high microbial counts, but only 23 out of 30 dogs had high counts. The remainder had moderate levels.
Seven men were even found to harbour microbes that posed a threat to human health.
After the MRI exams of the dogs, the scanners were disinfected and showed a ‘significantly’ lower bacteria count compared with levels seen when used by humans.
‘On the basis of these findings, dogs can be considered as clean compared with bearded men,’ said Dr Gutzeit.
But Keith Flett, founder of the Beard Liberation Front, which opposes discrimination against the hirsute, cast doubt on the report.
‘I think it’s possible to find all sorts of unpleasant things if you took swabs from people’s hair and hands and then tested them,’ he said. ‘I don’t believe that beards in themselves are unhygienic.
‘There seems to be a constant stream of negative stories about beards that suggest it’s more about pogonophobia than anything else.’