Is nose hair essential to fighting off colds and other viral illnesses? I ask this as a woman who, before the pandemic, used to get my eyebrows waxed. The person performing the wax would always recommend waxing my nose hair.
A medical “truism” holds that nose hair filters the air we breathe and therefore protects us from infection by airborne viruses, bacteria and other pathogens. But, as is often the case with truisms, its history may be more venerable than verified.
The idea that our nose hairs, known medically as vibrissae, might offer protection against infectious germs goes back more than a century. In 1896, a pair of English doctors, writing in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, noted that:
The interior of the great majority of normal nasal cavities is perfectly aseptic [sterile]. On the other hand, the vestibules of the nares [nostrils], the vibrissae lining them, and all crusts formed there are generally swarming with bacteria. These two facts seem to demonstrate that the vibrissae act as a filter and that a large number of microbes meet their fate in the moist meshes of the hair which fringes the vestibule.
The English doctors’ conclusion might sound logical, but at that point, nobody had actually studied whether trimming nose hairs might make it easier for germs to penetrate deeper into the respiratory tract.
It was not until 2011 that the density of nose hair was rigorously studied as a possible correlate of disease. In a study of 233 patients published in the International Archives of Allergy and Immunology, a team of researchers from Turkey found that people with denser nose hair were less likely to have asthma. The researchers attributed this finding to the filtration function of nose hair.