The science of beards –


As World Beard Day (September 3) returns and the planet prepares to celebrate fabulous facial hair, here are some discoveries scientists have made about beards.

Beards are undeniably manly

Several studies[1] have[2] found[3] that men look more masculine, dominant, aggressive and strong when they wear beards. Indeed, men also report feeling[4] more masculine when they have facial hair.

Research has also shown that men who choose to be bearded[5] tend to have higher testosterone levels than those who choose to be clean-shaven, and they are more likely to be hostile sexists,[6] in other words, fostering patriarchy and male dominance, and thinking that women belong in the kitchen. These men can use beards (and muscles) to reinforce gender roles.

Barbs can be used to intimidate rivals

In his 1970s book, “Evolution of Human Threat Display Organs”, Professor R.D. Guthrie speculated that beards could be used to intimidate male rivals by increasing perception of jaw size. and improving aggressive and threatening jaw-thrusting behaviors. What’s more, research has found that people can recognize angry expressions more quickly.[7] on a bearded face than on a clean-shaven face, but are slower to recognize expressions such as joy or sadness.

Knowing that a beard serves as a signal of formidable ability may help explain why men like a beard on themselves, but not on other men.[8] They don’t have to worry. Although some researchers[9] have suggested that the beard evolved to protect a man’s face by absorbing and dispersing the force of any blows he might receive to the chin, others[10] found that bearded men are no more likely to win a fight than their clean-shaven peers.

Beards add maturity (and employability)

Beards often make men look older, more mature,[11] of higher social status,[12] and more believable.[13] This can be especially useful for male job seekers who look young for their age.[14] In fact, while previous research[15] found that bearded men are less likely to be offered jobs than their clean-shaven counterparts, times are changing and more recent research[16] shows that bearded men are perceived to have more expertise than clean-shaven men and, as such, are more likely to be interviewed.

Beards are especially useful for those working in advisory roles. In 2020, Assistant Professor of Marketing Dr. Sarah Mittal was inspired to look into[17] beards by her husband, the boyish-faced co-owner of an IT company who didn’t think his customers took him seriously without mustaches. In one experiment, she and fellow marketer David Silvera asked 127 people to imagine they were buying a tablet or laptop. Each person was shown a randomly chosen picture of a “salesperson” with one of four types of facial hair – clean-shaven, standard mustache, handlebar mustache, or full beard – and told asked to assess the man’s expertise and reliability. The bearded version has always been rated the best: 11.6% more for reliability than the clean-shaven version and 10.6% more for expertise.

In another experiment, researchers placed an ad on Facebook for a real business and used a photo of a bearded or clean-shaven salesperson. The bearded representative produced a much higher click-through rate – 2.66% – than the clean-shaven version. Above, in fact, the industry averages of around 1.04% (technology) and 0.71% (industrial services). The study also found that customers view bearded salespeople as more expert and trustworthy than their stubble, mustachioed or clean-shaven counterparts, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, attractiveness or the sympathy of the seller.

Beards can add sex appeal

The beard not only covers the signs of aging, but it also slows down the aging process of the skin by protecting the wearer from the sun.[18] In addition to protecting men against wrinkles, age spots, and shaving-induced acne, beards can mask signs of disease.[19] and improve the sex appeal of men with small, weak jaws.[20]

Like most of our optional accessories, facial hair is in and out of style. Although beards may have been incredibly unpopular[21] in the past, they are much more appreciated now. However, research on whether women find bearded men attractive is mixed. Some studies[22] to suggest[11] that women find a face displaying the ability to grow facial hair more attractive than a face with a full beard, but men with a full beard are preferred for long-term relationships.[23] Some research[24] finds that women prefer men whose beards match their father’s (and gay men prefer men whose beards match theirs). In the end, what appeals to one person is not to another.[25]

Demographic trends in facial hair have been shown to increase when there are more single men than single women, suggesting that beards are used to display masculinity[26] to future companions. Some people[28] also believe that the recent increase in beards may be due to difficult financial conditions: men looking to attract partners in today’s tough economy may dial their masculinity up to 11. However, research[27] also found that the more beards, the less attractive they become. The scientific term for this is “negative frequency dependent sexual selection”, which, in simple terms, means that we tend to prefer rare or unique mates because they are considered to have a genetic advantage. In a society that has reached the pinnacle of beards, one more man with facial hair is nothing out of the ordinary.

Beards are not popular with young children

Although research has found that people think men with full beards look trustworthy[29] well,[30] and that women think they would make better fathers[22] than clean-shaven men, especially when they themselves have children,[31] children as young as 21 months old seem to think bearded men look strong but very unattractive,[32] and their aversion only increases with age. However, around the age of puberty, their opinions have changed and they begin to like them more. Personal experience also counts: children whose fathers are bearded generally judge facial hair more positively.

However, for a child, a man with a beard is not trustworthy. Other research has shown that children are more likely to choose a bearded man to help them perform feats of strength, such as fighting a dragon,[33] but prefer a clean-shaven ally when they need someone reliable to help them hide a treasure map.

Beard is good for health

A well-groomed beard can provide a man with several health benefits. For starters, beards can fight allergies.[34] They also keep the wearer warm. So effectively, in fact, that there is a theory[35] that male pattern baldness developed in humans in an effort to compensate for the growth of a beard by promoting heat loss through the scalp.

That said, beards tend to get a bad rap when it comes to cleanliness. According to a small 2019 study,[36] you can find more germs in a beard than in a dog’s coat. It is useful to remember, however, that the vast majority of bacteria are not harmful and many of them are actually beneficial. In fact, research has shown that beard bacteria can be turned into antibiotics,[37] something that would actually be very handy since our current stock is rapidly becoming inefficient.

Moreover, research[38] also found that clean-shaven men are more than 10% more likely to harbor colonies of Staphylococcus aureus – a bacteria that causes skin infections, respiratory infections and food poisoning – on their faces than their mustachioed counterparts, and more than three times likely to carry MRSA on their freshly shaved cheeks.

A recent study[39] out of 919 women found that those repelled by critters like lice and fleas were less likely to find bearded men attractive. Interestingly, however, those who feared contracting harmful bacteria or viruses were more likely to find bearded men attractive. The researchers speculated that facial hair was either used as a marker of health by these women or covered areas of the face that could communicate poor health.

According to American psychologist Robert Pellegrini, “inside every clean-shaven man is a beard that cries out to be let out.”[1] Men who choose to listen to their inner beard can certainly expect an increased feeling of masculinity and less facial bacteria.



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