Beards in the lab

Fashion is cyclical. Beards are back in, after 35+ clean-shaven years.

I don’t wear one myself, but I am aware of some individuals that do. And some of them work in laboratories. Eww.

Why eww? Because you’ll surely remember the 1967 research of Barbeito et al. entitled:

Microbiological Laboratory Hazard of Bearded Men


Allow me to reacquaint you with their work:

An investigation was conducted to evaluate the hypothesis that a bearded man subjects his family and friends to risk of infection if his beard is contaminated by infectious microorganisms while he is working in a microbiological laboratory.

It’s a serious thing, and it’s why we wear lab coats and gloves (and sometimes more PPE) when we’re working in the lab. It’s why we wash our hands thoroughly each time we leave the room. And it’s not just to protect ourselves from contaminated and/or infection. No-one wants to wander out of the lab and give spread germs, disease and infection to everyone they meet. (Although this does depend on who they meet, I guess.)

So we’re all covered and washed, but… but what about the guy over there with his beard? Well, Barbeito et al.’s  methods to investigate whether bearded men could carry germs out of the lab were pretty cool:

They sprayed some non-pathogenic (non-disease causing) bacteria into real beards on real men and sampled the beard at 30 minutes and 6 hours)

The 30-min interval was selected to represent two work situations: (i) the time necessary for a man to complete a laboratory operation in a zealous attempt to avoid loss of an experimental series despite a known accidental contamination of his beard before he rejoined his associates with an unwashed beard, and (ii) the time required for an immediate shower and change of clothing, after an accident that contaminated the beard and the before association with fellow employees or family.
The 6-hr interval was selected to represent the time between an unrecognized contamination of the beard and family contact with the unwashed beard.

“Sorry dear, I’ve brought some work home this evening.”

Then they sprayed Botox and rubbed infected chickens against a beard on a mannequin. Seriously.

fullscreen-capture-2016-10-21-104950-am-bmpYeah, that image will stick with me as well. Apologies for that.

Clean-shaven men (and presumably, clean-shaven mannequins) were used as controls, just to see that any significant results were genuinely beard-related.


Yes. Beards are dirty and dangerous and yucky and are (now) full of Serratia marcescens and Bacillus subtilis var. niger and Newcastle disease virus and Clostridium botulinum toxin, type A:

The experiments showed that beards retained microorganisms and toxin despite washing with soap and water. Although washing reduced the amount of virus or toxin, a sufficient amount remained to produce disease upon contact with a suitable host.

Do you have a beard? Do you work or live with someone who has a beard?

This experiment suggests that even if they don’t work in a lab, and even if they do wash their beard, it’s still horribly full of nasty bacteria and cornflakes* and stuff. You will might get an infection.

Consider yourself warned. And go get a shave.


* possibly, anyway.

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