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London - From Ben Affleck and George Clooney to Hugh Jackman, Sam Mendes and Joaquin Phoenix, it seemed every celebrity male has joined the beard brigade.
The look that was first spotted on hipster twentysomethings has been taken on by their dads’ generation.
Many women won’t want to put up with a scratchy-faced partner. But think twice before you tell your man to reach for a razor, because beards and moustaches might be beneficial for men’s health.
This is still, it has to be said, an emerging field of thinking - but here, with tongue half in bearded cheek, we reveal the health upside of men’s facial hair...
PROTECTS AGAINST THE SUN
A fuzzy face offers significant protection against sun damage and skin cancer, according to a recent study from the University of Southern Queensland published in the journal Radiation Protection Dosimetry.
The researchers found that the parts of the face covered by beards and moustaches on average had a third less exposure to harmful UV rays compared with hair-free areas.
The study was conducted in the Outback sun with mannequins and stick-on beards (1.5in and 3.5 in long), with a clean-shaven mannequin used as a comparison.
The researchers used dosimetric techniques, which measure the amount of rays or radiation absorbed in a given time. Their results showed the beards appeared to offer 90 to 95 percent protection against the sun, depending on length of hair.
Generally hair offers good protection against the sun, says Dr Nick Lowe, a leading London-based dermatologist.
That’s why women have much less sun damage if their hair covers the back of their necks and the sides of their faces.
“It’s also a question of the thickness of hair,” he says. “It’s similar to an SPF factor - the higher the hair density and thickness, the higher the SPF.
“I frequently see the classic example of this when I work in southern California.
“A balding, bearded surfer will have more sun damage and pre-cancers on their heads than they will on the top of their faces.”
Another theory is that coarse, curly beard hair breaks up the sun’s rays, says Iain Sallis, a consultant trichologist.
“Light travels in straight lines, but when it hits curly hair the light waves refract, or break up, so they hardly ever reach the skin underneath.”
It also depends on how long the beard has been growing.
Sun damage can also occur when it reflects off surfaces below the face - such as pale sand or water - so hair growth on men’s faces will add to the protection under the chin and neck.
However, Dr Lowe recommends men with facial hair use a thin sun lotion or spray that isn’t too greasy over the hair because a lot of beards are not very dense.
MAY PREVENT ASTHMA ATTACKS
Men whose asthma is triggered by pollen and dust could find facial hair - or more specifically, a big moustache - helps reduce their asthma symptoms.
Moustaches that reach the nasal area may stop allergens going up the nose and being inhaled by the lungs, says Carol Walker, hair medical expert andowner of Birmingham Trichology Centre.
Dr Rob Hicks, a London-based GP, thinks it’s only pollen - which is sticky - that might be trapped this way, preventing it getting into the airways. “Dust particles are microscopic,” he says.
Even if moustaches did trap dust, then a downside, according to Dr Hicks, is that it can build up and it just takes one wipe or knock before it goes into the nose.
“In theory, a moustache could stop things that trigger asthma entering the airways, but it would have to be a big one,” says Dr Felix Chua, a consultant respiratory physician at the London Clinic, Harley Street.
SLOWS DOWN AGEING
Over time, facial hair can help keep the skin young and in a good condition.
The hair stops water leaving the skin - keeping it moisturised - by protecting it from the wind, which dries the skin and disturbs the protective skin barrier, says Dr Lowe.
“Also, if you put a moisturiser on then it will stay put under a beard or moustache much better than on an exposed or shaven skin where it can be more easily rubbed off.”
The simple presence of hair follicles on the face also helps, as do the sebaceous glands in the skin that coat the hair in protective oils.
Anywhere hair follicles and oil glands are present - including the chin, lower face and sides of the - makes the skin thicker (and men have more hair follicles in this area than women do).
“Thicker skin is more resistant to damage, even if the man doesn’t have a beard, compared with women, whose skin tends to be thinner and have fewer hair follicles,” says Dr Lowe.
HELPS FIGHT OFF COUGHS
Thick beards that have grown under the chin and neck will raise the temperature of the neck and may help battle colds, says Carol Walker.
“Hair is an insulator that keeps you warm. Long, full beards that trap the cold air and raise the temperature of the neck are going to be an added bonus when you’re under the weather,” says Carol.
“When you have a sore throat, the body builds up temperature to kill the virus. It has to run its course, but the warmer you keep yourself and the more fluids you drink equip you to fight it better.
“Hair around the chin and neck adds another layer of protection.”
Facial hair can act as a physical barrier to cold temperature, says Dr Chua.
“A higher body temperature can help a cough, though you need to look at the underlying causes to treat it, too.
“I’ve had patients who have said that if they wrap up by using something like a scarf their cough gets a bit better. It’s possible that a beard could also do this.”
PREVENTS NASTY SKIN RASHES
Not shaving means no more nasty rashes. Shaving is usually the main cause of bacterial infections in the beard area, says Dr Martin Wade, consultant dermatologist at the London Skin and Hair Clinic.
“It can lead to razor rash, ingrown hairs and conditions such as folliculitis (infection of the hair follicles that causes spots), so men would benefit from growing a beard,” he says.
THE BAD NEWS...
Scientific evidence shows that beards can spread infections, says Dr Ron Cutler, microbiologist at Queen Mary, University of London.
That’s why it’s important for fuzzy-faced men to wash and groom their facial hair regularly and ensure the area under the hair hasn’t become sore from ingrown hairs. “Men need to wash and trim their beards and moustaches regularly and make sure debris from food isn’t left around,” adds Carol Walker.
“Also be careful about your choice of barber, because you can get bad infections if they haven’t cleaned their tools properly.” - Daily Mail