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5 Scientific Things That Happen to Men When They Grow Beards

To beard or not to beard? The science is prickly.

Beards have been accused of being filthy trojan horses of disgusting bacteria that women are disgusted by. So why do men grow beards? Research shows that men with beards are seen as more attractive, are protected from certain diseases, and convey a quiet yet confident sense of masculinity. However, that doesn’t mean all men should grow beards — it just means facial hair is a mixed bristled bag.

Here’s what scientists have discovered about crumb-catchers so far:

Your Beard Probably Doesn’t Have Poop in It (But It Still Might Be Pretty Dirty)

Past reports that most beards probably have fecal matter in them were based on a local news report and not exactly scientific in nature. Although a spokesperson from Quest Diagnostics lab in Albuquerque did tell a reporter that a few bearded volunteers did have trace amounts of fecal matter in their beards, these observations were not a part of any rigorous academic study. Just because a couple of guys in New Mexico have poop in their beards doesn’t mean you do. More recent research found that beards have more bacteria than dogs, which might explain why they’re also a man’s best friend.

Beards Are a Symbol of Manliness

Men with beards may be seen as more mature and as having higher social status, one study found. There’s also evidence that men with beards exhibit more dominance, and some controversial research suggesting that bearded men are prone to sexist behaviors. Although that final study has since been disputed, beards sure seem to embody masculinity.

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Beards May Protect Men From Skin Cancer

Beards can protect men from exposure to about 90 percent of harmful ultraviolet rays, according to research out of the University of Queensland in Australia. As a result, bearded guys may be less prone to skin cancer — at least on a very specific patch of their face and neck. “While beards will never be as sun-safe as sunscreen, they certainly are a factor in blocking UV rays,” study author Alfio Parisi, the associate dean for the school of Health, Engineering and Sciences, told The Independent. Think of it as the opposite of a sunburned bald spot.

Beards Could Make Some Men More Attractive

Bearded men may be more attractive to women, studies suggest, but this depends on whether that woman’s father had a beard. Scientists suspect this may have something to do with sexual imprinting or the theory that future mate preferences are formed at a young age and modeled after parents. It sounds creepy, but it can actually make buying beard balm in bulk more fun for the whole family.

But Beards Have Been Linked With Dying Younger

It’s not all roses for bearded folk. One study found that infrequent shaving of facial hair was linked with early deaths from all causes, but most notably cardiovascular disease. Researchers suspect that this increased death risk is mainly due to lifestyle differences, because bearded men were more likely to be shorter, less likely to be married, had fewer orgasms, and were more prone to smoking. Still, there may be hormonal factors at play. So live it up while you can, bearded guys.