Mon, Nov 11, 2013 - Page 12 News List

Let it grow

It’s Movember, when men cultivate moustaches to raise money for men’s health. But growing facial hair might have year-round benefits

By Matthew Jenkin  /  The Guardian

A man competes in the World Beard and Moustache Championships in Leinfelden-Echterdingen, Germany, earlier this month.

Photo: Reuters

Does a moustache maketh the man? Movember co-founder Justin Coghlan — JC for short — reckons so. “I have seen it bring on a great new persona in guys so many times,” he explains. “It’s almost like Clark Kent turning into Superman.”

JC, an Australian who helped to pioneer the global charity campaign that asks men to grow a moustache during November to raise funds for men’s health, says the confidence that a little facial fuzz gives most men is infectious. “They have this out-of-this-world experience for 30 days where they challenge themselves,” he says. “It gets everyone in a really good mood which is awesome to see and, more importantly, gets a conversation going about Movember.”

But while the aim is to raise money for — and awareness of — men’s health issues such as testicular cancer, could cultivating face furniture possibly be healthy as well as hip and altruistic?

Research from Australia suggests there is indeed more to men’s facial hair than fashion and a lackadaisical attitude to personal grooming. A study by professors Barnaby Dixson and Robert Brooks of the University of New South Wales, published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior in April 2013, found that beards may be seen as a sign of physical fitness. Their research showed that while women perceived men with heavy stubble as the most attractive, men with full, bristling beards were considered healthier and better potential parents, despite (or perhaps because of) being seen as more aggressive.

One explanation for this could be that facial hair may indicate a better immune system. In a paper in Behavioral Ecology by Dixson and Paul Vasey in 2012, the authors point to a connection between beards and immunity. Because, as the paper put it: “Hair on the face and body are potential localized breeding sites for disease-carrying ectoparasites,” it is argued that any man able to grow and maintain a beard must be more resilient to illnesses — “advertising their superior immune system.”

Of course, the power of facial hair to attract or repulse the opposite sex may come as no surprise to the moustachioed hipster, but other than finding a potential partner with a fetish for fuzz, are there other tangible health benefits? Yes, say scientists at the University of Southern Queensland. They claim beards can help to block out the sun’s harmful rays. The study published in the journal Radiation Protection Dosimetry found that a full bushy beard offered protection levels similar to factor 21 sunscreen — a reduction in the UV of 50 percent to 95 percent.

But before you throw out the Ambre Solaire and the razor, professor Alfio Parisi, a member of the team that conducted the study in the scorching Australian outback using mannequins and fake beards, admits that, while a hairy face provides more protection from the sun’s UVB rays, its effectiveness against the dangerous, cancer-causing UVA is “much lower.”

Dr Bav Shergill of the British Association of Dermatologists also warns against growing a beard as a substitute for proper sun protection, but the skin cancer specialist does admit that for some people facial hair can be extremely beneficial. Folliculitis barbae, a type of skin rash, is a common condition in Afro-Caribbean men, Dr Shergill says. He claims many of today’s black pop stars have grown carefully shaped beards, precisely to stop them having to shave around their chins.

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