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Are Beards Hotbeds for Bacteria?

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Lumbersexuals have invaded and everyone from the neighborhood barista to David Beckham has been cultivating creative facial hair. While heavy stubble and beards are said to make men look manlier and hotter, there could be a disadvantage to wearing a chin curtain. Beards might harbor more germs, making them more dirty than sexy.

“Sebaceous glands on the face, chest, and back are larger than those on the head so hairs coming from the face are likely coated with more oil. Bacteria like to feed on oil, so it’s likely there are more bacteria living on and near the base of beard hairs as compared to hairs on your head,” writes Dr. Whitney Bowe, a dermatologist at Advanced Dermatology in New York City, via email.

It’s also likely that the bacteria living in beards would differ from bacteria living on the scalp or other parts of the body. While it might seem bad, or at least icky, that more bacteria live in beards, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Experts have been learning more about the microbiome, a person’s individual microorganism colony on and in their body. Many of these microorganisms are actually helpful to overall health, though some certainly cause infection.

“If a man habitually strokes his beard or plays with his beard, that could increase the risk of getting a cold because germs live on our hands, and the more we touch our face, the more likely we are to transfer those germs into our airways and get sick,” Bowe says.

So far, there’s no evidence that beards are more or less likely to carry propionibacterium acnes, the bacteria that causes acne. But Bowe sometimes sees beardos with eczema, a bumpy, dry, red rash, especially if they don’t completely wash soap from their manes. And some guys develop what’s known as “irritant contact dermatitis,” which are red, inflamed patches of skin that are the result of spicy and acidic food trapped in the beard.

“I’ve seen beards catch both foods and drinks. Not only is that pretty disgusting for the person who is dining with the bearded men, but certain ingredients in foods and beverages can irritate the skin,” Bowe says.

But shaving causes skin problems, too. Many dudes experience acne-like bumps called pseudofolliculitis barbae from shaving too closely.

“When you shave hairs, especially if they are coarse or curly, sometimes they get trapped on their way back out of the skin,” Bowe says.

Often men using astringent shaving products develop eczema because the harsh products dry out their skin. If bearded men want to shave their facial hair, Bowe recommends that they treat that beard hair differently.

Beard hairs are coarser than head or body hair. Men should lather up well and shave after a warm shower because the heat and humidity makes the hairs softer and more manageable. She also recommends that they shave with the grain of the hair first. Afterwards use an oil-free lotion that doesn’t block pores (blocked pores can cause blackheads).

Even though the microbiome of the beard remains unexplored territory, people cozying up to beardos need not worry. It doesn’t appear that they transfer germs to other people. If anything, rubbing against a beard might cause some irritated skin.

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Big Questions
How Do Aerial Skiers Perfect Their Jumps?
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Cameron Spencer, Getty Images

If you've ever watched an aerial skier in action, you know that some of the maneuvers these athletes pull off are downright jaw-dropping—and you've probably seen more than a few of these skiers land on their rear ends at some point. The jumps are incredible, but they're also so technical that one seemingly insignificant motion can drop a skier on his or her tail.

Given that the skiers can fly up to 60 feet in the air and come down on a 37-degree grade, it seems like just going out and trying a new trick would be a good way to break your neck. That's why you'll need one unexpected piece of equipment if you want to start training for aerials: a towel.

Instead of perfecting their flips and twists over the snow, aerial skiers try out their new maneuvers on ramps that launch them over huge swimming pools. The U.S. national team has facilities in Park City, Utah and Lake Placid, New York that include specially designed pools to help competitors perfect their next big moves. The pools have highly aerated patches of bubbles in their centers that decrease the surface tension to make the water a bit softer for the skiers' landings.

If you're an aspiring aerial skier, expect to get fairly wet. New skiers have to make a minimum of 200 successful jumps into water before they even get their first crack at the snow, and these jumps have to get a thumbs up from coaches in order for the skier to move on.

This sort of meticulous preparation doesn't end once you hit the big-time, either. American Ashley Caldwell, one of the most decorated athletes in the sport, is competing in her third Olympics in Pyeongchang, but failed to advance past the qualifiers on February 15, as she wasn't able to land either one of the two triple-flipping jumps she attempted. Still, it's this very sort of risk-taking that has brought her to the top of her game, and caused friction with more than one of her past coaches.

"Why win with less when you can win with more?" Caldwell said of her competition mentality. “I don’t want to go out there and show the world my easiest trick. I want to show the world my best trick, me putting everything on the line to be the best.”

You can check out some of Team USA's moves in the video below:

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Is There Really Such Thing As 'Muscle Memory'?
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Is there really such a thing as 'muscle memory'? For example, in the sense of your fingers remembering where the keys of the keyboard are?

C Stuart Hardwick:

Yes and no. There is no literal memory in the muscles, but the thing people call “muscle memory” exists, though the name is a misnomer.

A better name might be “subconscious memory,” as the information is stored in the brain, but is most readily accessible—or only accessible—by non-conscious means.

What “non-conscious” refers to here is the brain’s enormous capacity to train up what might almost be called “subroutines,” that exist outside our conscious experience. I like the term for this that at least one researcher in the field uses: “zombie agency.”

Zombie agents are non-conscious, or sub-conscious (in the literal, not the Freudian sense) that can do essentially everything you can do except make value judgments. So, for example, you don’t consciously know how to control your muscles in order to walk —in all likelihood, you wouldn’t know where to begin—but your zombie agents do, and they’ll take you wherever you want to go, dodging curbs and puppies, and “waking you” when appropriate to decide which babies to stop and kiss.

Zombie agents can be rather startling things. When you suddenly become aware that you’ve driven halfway across town in the direction of the office instead of going to the shoe store Saturday morning, you have zombie agents to thank. You “wake” as if from slumber, and with the frightening realization that you’ve been flying down the highway at prodigious speed while your mind was on other things. You feel as if you’ve been asleep, and in a way you have—but a very funny kind of sleep in which it is only the uppermost layer of abstract reason that is disassociated from the rest of conscious experience. Your zombie agents have been driving to work, responding to traffic, adjusting the radio, noting the check engine light, all the things you think of as “you, driving the car,” except the big one: deciding where to go. That part was on automatic pilot (which is another good way to think of this).

This is at the advanced end of the spectrum. Typing your friend’s phone number using “muscle memory” is at the other, but it’s the same phenomenon.

We didn’t evolve to remember phone numbers, so we aren’t very good at it. In fact, we are so bad at it, we invent all sorts of mnemonic devices (memory aids) to help us [in] relating numbers to words or spacial memory, either of which are closer to the hunting and gathering we are evolved for. The illusion of “muscle memory” arises because we are supremely well adapted to manual manipulation and tool-making. We don’t need to invent a memory aid to help us remember what we do with our hands, we only have to practice.

So the conscious mind says “dial Tabby’s number,” and our fingers—or more correctly, the zombie agent which learned that task—do it. Similarly, after sufficient training, we can do the same thing with tasks like “play a major fifth,” "drive to work,” or “pull an Airbus A380 up for a go-around.”

It feels like muscle memory because the conscious mind—the part you experience as being you—is acting like a coach driver, steering the efforts of a team of zombie agents, all harnesses to collective action. But it isn’t muscle memory, it's just memory—though it may be stored (or at least some of it) in the deeper, motor cortex parts of the brain.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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