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Beard Health: How to Care for Your Facial Hair

Beards have become a fashion staple for many men, but they have also become the subject of a hot debate in recent years. According to some professionals, they may cause a hairy health situation.

On a local CBS News report, a doctor in New York warned men of the possible health hazards of beards. “A beard could become problematic,” he said. “I think things get trapped in there, so bacteria can be trapped in there and can grow as a result.” A second doctor said beards could trigger skin irritation and an infection known as folliculitis.

It’s true that beards can essentially act as fomites, which are objects that can carry infection. Viruses, bacteria, and fungi can all be carried in facial hair. But should you forgo the five o’clock shadow and shave off your stubble? Don’t grab your razor just yet. Other evidence suggests that beards offer some potential health benefits.

“Growing beard hair out can actually be helpful for some people,” says Erika Summers, MD, director of the Division of Cosmetic Dermatology at University of Utah Health. “Irritant folliculitis, ingrown hairs, bacterial folliculitis, and an inflammatory condition called pseudofolliculitis barbae can all occur in the beard area and are often precipitated by shaving.”

Since sporting facial hair means cutting out shaving, that removes a common trigger for these conditions.

Beards may also protect your face from the sun. A 2011 study from the University of Southern Queensland in Australia found that beards offer UV protection, with longer hair shielding the skin a bit more effectively. That's helpful for places like your upper lip, where it's easy to forget to apply an SPF product.

Still other studies suggest that beards may harbor even less bacteria than clean-shaven faces. This could be because of micro-trauma in the skin due to regular shaving, which aids in supporting bacterial growth.