Like a lot of young men today, and like my father before me, I have a beard. My beard is full and awesome, and it has really become a part of my identity over the last decade. A few years ago, I had an unfortunate shaving accident that left me without a proper beard for a couple of weeks, and my whole world changed - my dog treated me like a stranger, my friends and co-workers joked that I’d been replaced with a giant 12-year-old, and my wife threw away my razor to make sure I didn’t have any more shaving accidents in the future. My beard is an important part of who I am.
So, when I came across this article espousing some tangible benefits of facial hair on health and, my curiosity was piqued, and I did some more digging. I didn’t expect to find much, and so I was pleasantly surprised to discover a handful of peer-reviewed articles about beards and mustaches. Some of the findings were pretty intuitive, bordering on obvious. For instance, facial hair can help protect against harmful UV rays, and longer facial hair offers better protection than shorter hair (though neither do a very good job compared to real sunscreen). Another study reported that women judge men with beards to be older and have higher social status than men without beards, though beards didn’t affect attractiveness ratings.
One of the papers stood out from the crowd, in that it tried to explain why men might grow beards in the first place from an evolutionary perspective. Lots of other animals grow facial hair, and one of the most well-known cases is the lion’s mane. Only male lions grow manes, and males without manes are treated very differently than males with manes - they’re attacked more often, have less success with females, among other negative consequences. This suggests that there are survival and reproductive benefits to facial hair. The author proposes that beards might convey similar benefits to people, and specifically suggests that beards might act as a kind of camouflage to protect us from attacks to the fragile parts of our jaw. If you’re a boxer, this should make a lot of sense: one shot to the jaw can quickly incapacitate a person, so there’s a real benefit to making the jaw a little harder for an attacker to target. Of course, these kinds of theories are very tricky to test and disprove, so we may never know if there are survival benefits to facial hair, but it is an interesting idea.
Does this mean that all men should grow beards? Of course not. But if you do have a beard, and if your employer or significant other is giving you a hard time about it, now you can answer their complaints with, “Science says it’s good for me!” Please keep in mind, that none of this research applies to people with handlebar mustaches. I would argue that a handlebar mustache actually increases your chances of injury - in fact, if you have a handlebar mustache, please shave it immediately. I’m just looking out for your safety here.