Go ahead, grow a beard: It's just as hygienic as having a clean face, and possibly more so, according to two recent studies. In stark contrast to earlier research that found beards could be as dirty as toilets, researchers who swabbed the faces of 409 male hospital workers found clean-shaven men were three times more likely to carry bacteria on their faces compared to men with beards. And that's not all. "The clean-shaven men actually had higher rates of certain bacterial species" and were 10% more likely to carry antibiotic resistant bacteria MRSA on their faces, study author Carrie Kovarik explains in a release. Though Penn Medicine researchers didn't examine why this was the case, Kovarik says shaving causes tiny cuts on the skin where bacteria can fester. "In general, we have no need to fear the beard," she says.
In a second study, researchers took a closer look at the beards of surgeons, which are "controversial because of their potential to retain and transmit pathogenic organisms." After 10 surgeons with full beards and 10 without shook their faces over a petri dish, researchers concluded "the bearded group did not shed more than the clean-shaven group while unmasked, masked, or hooded." "It's not unthinkable that the cleanliness of my own beard may pale in comparison to the immaculate whorls of a surgeon’s tress or nurse’s sterile chops," Joshua A. Krisch writes at Vocativ. "But, at the very least, these studies suggest that all facial hair deserves to be judged on a case by case basis." More good news for men with beards: Facial hair keeps sweat close to the face for a nice cooling effect in summer, per GQ. (Your beard might be clean, but you might be sexist.)