There’s a new paper in the Journal of Hospital Infection that takes a look at the bacterial ecology of facial hair. In this study, 408 male health care workers had two areas of their face cultured. About half of the men had facial hair and the other half did not. Interestingly, the men with facial hair were significantly less likely to have skin colonization with Staphylococcus aureus (lip: 34% vs 45%; cheek 41% vs 52%). When the facial skin was scratched with a sterile swab there was no difference in bacterial shedding between the two groups.
These findings are consistent with what we know about S. aureus. Colonization rates are higher in persons with chronic breaks in the skin (e.g., patients with eczema, dialysis patients, diabetic patients who require insulin injections, and IV drug users). Shaving causes micro- (and sometimes macro-) abrasions and lacerations. And cosmetic body shaving has clearly been associated with MRSA infections.
Based on this study, I would grow a beard, if only I could. Mine is too mangy. It would scare my patients. But for $8500, I could get a facial hair transplant, which is now all the rage in New York. Maybe there’s hope ...
Michael B. Edmond, MD, FACP, is a hospital epidemiologist in Richmond, Va., with a focus on understanding why infections occur in the hospital and ways to prevent these infections, and sees patients in the inpatient and outpatient settings. This post originally appeared at the blog Controversies in Hospital Infection Prevention.