The skin-ny on bacteria

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: January 6th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Keep this in mind the next time someone shakes your hand: A new study shows the average palm is home to more than one-hundred-and-fifty different kinds of bacteria, far more than scientists expected to find.

The study also contained this surprising fact: Women have more bacteria than men on their hands. And there are significant differences in the type and number of bacteria on different individuals, and even individual hands.

Researchers aren’t sure why women have more bacteria, but it may be due to the acidity of their hands. Men tend to have more acidic skin than women. Other possibilities include differences in oil and sweat gland production between men and women; the number and frequency of moisturizer and cosmetic applications; skin thickness; and hormone production.

Women may also have more bacteria under the surface of their skin, where washing won’t help.

For the study, researchers took samples from the palms of fifty-one college students and tested them using a new, highly detailed system for detecting bacterial D-N-A. In all, the study identified more than four-thousand-seven-hundred different types of bacteria.

The study also showed the average person shared only seventeen percent of the same bacteria on their left and right hands.

While this news may make you a little squeamish, don’t get upset. Most of the bacteria are completely harmless. And don’t bother scrubbing your hands. Doctors and scientists say that while hand-washing is very beneficial, it won’t eliminate many different types of bacteria.