Should You Shave Your 'Quarantine Beard'?

Apr 9, 2020
Originally published on April 9, 2020 5:27 pm

During the coronavirus pandemic, people have jettisoned all manner of routines, and grooming is no exception.

On social media, many men are leaning into self-isolation with the #QuarantineBeard. Comedian Jim Carrey, for one, is putting down the razor until "we all go back to work," encouraging his Twitter followers to join him in his "meaningless transformation," using the hashtag #letsgrowtogether.

But as the public rethinks previously ordinary things like take-out food and mail delivery, facial hair is also under inspection.

However, the bearded needn't bristle: The mere presence of facial hair won't put you or others at risk, says Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease specialist.

"There's no evidence that having a beard per se makes you more or less vulnerable to the coronavirus," says Adalja, a senior scholar with Johns Hopkins University's Center for Health Security.

Still, beard wearers aren't totally in the clear. A hairy face can play host to germs. If you're sick, Adalja warns, a beard could trap debris from coughs and sneezes, potentially infecting other people in close contact.

In a study published last year, researchers in Europe found that men's beards harbor more harmful bacteria than the fur on dogs' necks.

"If you're someone in the general public, I would say you need to be really meticulous about the hygiene of your beard," Adalja says.

Facial hair also can pose a challenge when it comes to wearing a mask.

Adalja notes that there is debate among infectious disease specialists over whether the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation to wear masks is an effective measure.

If face coverings do provide protection, Adalja says, "a beard could make a mask less effective."

"I would probably advise them to trim it as close to their face as they could, if they're going to be one of those individuals who wants to wear a mask in public," he says.

A 2017 infographic from CDC offers guidance on a wide assortment of facial hair style options (from "Anchor" to "Zorro") that can safely fit under a mask or a respirator. While that information was not specifically designed with COVID-19 risks in mind, the agency recommends any style that doesn't cross the seal of the mask.

All told, as long as bearded folk maintain the recommended 6 feet of separation from other people, it appears safe to stay distanced from their razors.

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Early on in the U.S. coronavirus outbreak, an infographic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made the rounds on social media. It depicts an impressive taxonomy of facial hairstyles from the French fork to the chin curtain, the Zappa to the walrus, each with a red X or a green checkmark underneath.


Now, contrary to some reporting, it was not coronavirus grooming advice for the general public. It was a 2017 graphic meant to advise medical workers on fitting N95 respirator masks. But the idea that beards spread disease has a long history in the U.S. Take this 1902 editorial headline.

MICHAEL WATERS: "Shave The Microbe-Infested Beard."

KELLY: That is Michael Waters, who wrote about this history for Vox. He says, for most of the 1800s, beards were thought to be a benefit to health.

WATERS: The idea back then was that beards would act as this kind of air filter to protect people.

KELLY: But then scientists discovered that germs spread disease. Tuberculosis was of particular concern. And facial hair found itself in the crosshairs.

SHAPIRO: By 1916, doctors were writing screeds like this...

WATERS: Quote, "there is no way of computing the number of bacteria and noxious germs that may lurk in the Amazonian jungles of a well-whiskered face, but their numbers must be legion."

SHAPIRO: New York state even recommended that dairy men shave their faces.

WATERS: As the main doctor at the New York Health Department put it, bearded men were a, quote, "menace to the milk."

KELLY: OK. This bad rap is unwarranted. With the exception of lice, there is no evidence that beards play a major role in the transmission of disease.

SHAPIRO: But when it comes to the coronavirus, beard wearers are not totally off the hook. Dr. Amesh Adalja is an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins University. And he says, if you're sick, a beard could catch debris from coughs or sneezes and make it more difficult to wear a mask as well.

KELLY: So what would he do if he had a beard?

AMESH ADALJA: I would never have a beard.

KELLY: OK. OK, but for people who do?

ADALJA: If you're someone in the general public, I would say that you need to be really meticulous about the hygiene of your beard. I would probably try and trim it - advise them to trim it as close to their face as they could if they're going to be one of those individuals who wants to wear a mask in public.

SHAPIRO: And as long as you keep your 6-foot separation, there is no reason your beard should be a menace to milk or to anyone else. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.