If you've ever had to kiss a dude while they were growing out a beard for the first time, you may not be too impressed by the idea that having a beard is good for your health. (It certainly doesn't do our skin many favors in the bristly stage.) However, it turns out that the act of throwing away the razor and going full He-Man hipster may actually garner benefits beyond just looking decent in a flannel while holding an axe. And no, the benefits don't include "being able to tickle people with your face".
Beards are actually extremely varied beasts. They grow at different rates in response to seasonal variations in hormone levels, peaking in summer, when they'll be at their most gloriously hairy. And the common phenomenon of red beards on decidedly non-redheaded men has recently been explained as a partially mutated gene response: inheriting two of them gets you red hair all over your body, while only inheriting one means ginger streaks pop up in unexpected places, like beards.
In general, science says, we view heavily bearded men as more "masculine," because they're so flamboyant and extroverted as signals of hormones. But what benefits do beards have for the beard-holder aside from just attracting testosterone-chasers? It turns out that possession of a beard gives you protection from bacteria and viruses, skin-related diseases, wind exposure and facial infection — and that's just the start.
1. They Provide Sun & Bug Bite Protection
If you grow seriously patchy beard-parts, this is not going to apply to you. But if you're the proud owner of a lustrous man-mane occupied by bluebirds and traveling squirrels, congratulations: you've grown a sun hat on your face. A 2012 study in Australia, where UV rays are notoriously harsh, found that a heavy beard on the lower half of a face blocks out 90 to 95 percent of all sunlight.
The downside to this? If you shave, you look like an idiot who dipped the top half of his head in tanning oil. But the real benefits are worth it: if you live in a hot country or travel somewhere very sun-exposed, it's probably sensible to grow yourself a beard to prevent sun-related skin conditions, particularly melanomas and other skin cancers. (Yes, it will sweat. Yes, you can deal.)
Interestingly, beards also protect owners from chin and neck-based bites from insects, so a tropical beard seems like a very sound investment as well.
2. They Prevent The Many Shaving Side Effects
One of the main benefits of growing a beard is that it stops people from shaving. That may sound like a ridiculous statement, but consider this: abrasions on the skin left by shaving are linked to all kinds of fun skin conditions, from acne to folliculitis. You're constantly running a blade over the top of unprotected follicles; the results are never going to be particularly fun.
You can also develop ingrown hairs and get infections in your shaving cuts, neither of which are charming conditions to have. If you want to keep your facial skin healthy, here's the rub: get a beard, throw away the razor, and escape the tyranny of cuts, irritated follicles, and bacterial infections.
3. They Help Prevent Illness
Charmingly, the facial warmth that beards provide isn't just a nice way of keeping a high body temperature when you're skiing or having a snowball fight. It turns out that it may also be a way of fighting off illness.
Keeping your neck warm is a particularly good heat trap, raising your body temperature and lowering the chance that you'll be caught short and left to shiver on a freezing night. It's basically a protective shield against influences that might lower your immune system and leave you vulnerable to viruses.
4. They Keep Your Face Moisturized
The natural moisturizing talents of your facial skin are thanks to the sebaceous glands, which excrete oils that keep the skin happy and moisturized. The trick for beard-owners is one of protection: beards prevent these oils from being dried by sun or wind, keeping the skin moist and preventing skin conditions related to dryness. This is why it's important not to use harsh soaps on a beard: stripping it of its natural oils leaves the skin underneath vulnerable to dryness.
This natural, beard-boosted gift also means a reduction in aging signs, from wrinkles to liver spots: the sheer level of moisture produced by the sebaceous glands keeps skin plump, reducing the signs of aging underneath. It is entirely possible that if you have a beard, your forehead will age like Methuselah and your chin will be happily continuing its late-twenties enthusiasm.
5. They Might Prevent Allergies
When it comes to pollen and other allergens, the idea that a beard acts as a "natural barrier" may be a bit of a fallacy, but beards do seem to protect their owners from pollen and other nasties — by collecting them from the air in the first place. A small amount of allergen material in a beard may be linked to better immune response through exposure. So yes, that Instagram flowers-in-beards trend was actually doing hay fever sufferers a favor, by making them more immune to the pollen over time.
There have been scare stories about the sheer quantity of bacteria living in beards. If you've ever read Roald Dahl's The Twits, where one Twit keeps fragments of disgusting breakfast in his facial hair, you'll read about that possibility and cringe. (OK, you'll probably cringe anyway.) But Medical Daily points out that, while beards naturally probably do collect more bacteria than un-bearded faces, it shouldn't be the cause of too much concern, as long as the beard-owner is hygienic, washes his hands before running his hands through his lustrous facial locks, and washes the beard itself regularly.
Images: Bustle, Giphy