No, Your Beard Is Not Actually Spreading Disease

The age of coronavirus does not mean you need to be clean-shaven

lumberjack beard
FYI: Your beard is probably not spreading COVID-19.
Abby Savage/Unsplash

At a moment when face masks are becoming ubiquitous and the CDC has issued guidelines for which beard styles will work with respirators — yes to Zorro, no to mutton chops — it might be the right time to talk about beards and disease. If you have facial hair, you may well have wondered if it’s the appropriate time to go clean-shaven for reasons of health and safety. Alternately, is your carefully-groomed beard or mustache actually a hotspot for the coronavirus?

The answer to that last question is a firm and resounding “no.” At Vox, Michael Waters explores the ways facial hair has become associated with disease in the minds of many. Waters’s article begins with the alarming tale of Dr. William H. Park of the New York Board of Health, who raised the alarm over facial hair during a tuberculosis panic in 1901. Park banned milkmen from having beards, stating that “there is real menace to the milk if the dairyman is bearded.”

This is not, in fact, the case. Waters explores the different permutations of the conflation of beards and disease over the years, including during the influenza of 1918-19. What prompted this? The recent discovery of germs; Waters notes that during, say, the bubonic plague, beards were not placed under scrutiny.

Conflating facial hair and disease led to some truly surreal moments, as Waters writes:

The new skepticism for facial hair spread so rapidly that it reshaped industries well outside of medicine. In France, restaurants became convinced that clean-shaven waiters were less likely to contaminate the food they served, and a 1907 bill to ban mustaches led to a general strike among the Parisian server class.

Unless you’re someone who will be making use of a respirator in the coming weeks or months — a first responder, for instance — the coronavirus should not necessitate the shaving of your beard. While germs won’t get stuck in your beard, homebrewers take note: you might well be able to make some beer with what you do find there.

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