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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
Why Do Baseball Managers Wear Uniforms?
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Basketball and hockey coaches wear business suits on the sidelines. Football coaches wear team-branded shirts and jackets and often ill-fitting pleated khakis. Why are baseball managers the only guys who wear the same outfit as their players?

According to John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball since 2011, it goes back to the earliest days of the game. Back then, the person known as the manager was the business manager: the guy who kept the books in order and the road trips on schedule. Meanwhile, the guy we call the manager today, the one who arranges the roster and decides when to pull a pitcher, was known as the captain. In addition to managing the team on the field, he was usually also on the team as a player. For many years, the “manager” wore a player’s uniform simply because he was a player. There were also a few captains who didn’t play for the team and stuck to making decisions in the dugout, and they usually wore suits.

With the passing of time, it became less common for the captain to play, and on most teams they took on strictly managerial roles. Instead of suits proliferating throughout America’s dugouts, though, non-playing captains largely hung on to the tradition of wearing a player's uniform. By the early to mid 20th century, wearing the uniform was the norm for managers, with a few notable exceptions. The Philadelphia Athletics’s Connie Mack and the Brooklyn Dodgers’s Burt Shotton continued to wear suits and ties to games long after it fell out of favor (though Shotton sometimes liked to layer a team jacket on top of his street clothes). Once those two retired, it’s been uniforms as far as the eye can see.

The adherence to the uniform among managers in the second half of the 20th century leads some people to think that MLB mandates it, but a look through the official major league rules [PDF] doesn’t turn up much on a manager’s dress. Rule 1.11(a) (1) says that “All players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style, and all players’ uniforms shall include minimal six-inch numbers on their backs" and rule 2.00 states that a coach is a "team member in uniform appointed by the manager to perform such duties as the manager may designate, such as but not limited to acting as base coach."

While Rule 2.00 gives a rundown of the manager’s role and some rules that apply to them, it doesn’t specify that they’re uniformed. Further down, Rule 3.15 says that "No person shall be allowed on the playing field during a game except players and coaches in uniform, managers, news photographers authorized by the home team, umpires, officers of the law in uniform and watchmen or other employees of the home club." Again, nothing about the managers being uniformed.

All that said, Rule 2.00 defines the bench or dugout as “the seating facilities reserved for players, substitutes and other team members in uniform when they are not actively engaged on the playing field," and makes no exceptions for managers or anyone else. While the managers’ duds are never addressed anywhere else, this definition does seem to necessitate, in a roundabout way, that managers wear a uniform—at least if they want to have access to the dugout. And, really, where else would they sit?

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
How Long Could a Person Survive With an Unlimited Supply of Water, But No Food at All?
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How long could a person survive if he had unlimited supply of water, but no food at all?

Richard Lee Fulgham:

I happen to know the answer because I have studied starvation, its course, and its utility in committing a painless suicide. (No, I’m not suicidal.)

A healthy human being can live approximately 45 to 65 days without food of any kind, so long as he or she keeps hydrated.

You could survive without any severe symptoms [for] about 30 to 35 days, but after that you would probably experience skin rashes, diarrhea, and of course substantial weight loss.

The body—as you must know—begins eating itself, beginning with adipose tissue (i.e. fat) and next the muscle tissue.

Google Mahatma Gandhi, who starved himself almost to death during 14 voluntary hunger strikes to bring attention to India’s independence movement.

Strangely, there is much evidence that starvation is a painless way to die. In fact, you experience a wonderful euphoria when the body realizes it is about to die. Whether this is a divine gift or merely secretions of the brain is not known.

Of course, the picture is not so pretty for all reports. Some victims of starvation have experienced extreme irritability, unbearably itchy skin rashes, unceasing diarrhea, painful swallowing, and edema.

In most cases, death comes when the organs begin to shut down after six to nine weeks. Usually the heart simply stops.

(Here is a detailed medical report of the longest known fast: 382 days.)

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

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