New research shows facial hair offers surprising health benefits to men – providing a natural sunscreen, and preventing allergic reactions and asthma attacks.
A recent Australian study found that a fuzzy face is nearly as effective as sunblock in protecting the skin from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays, slowing the aging process, and cutting the risk of deadly melanoma.
“The research found beards can block anywhere from 50 [percent] to 95 percent of UV rays reaching the skin under beards, helping to decrease the skin photo-aging process that comes with UV rays and reduce the risk of skin cancer,” says Alfio Parisia, associate dean and a professor of radiation physics at the University of Southern Queensland.
Parisia, whose research was published in the journal Radiation Protection Dosimetry, tells Newsmax Health a full beard and moustache blocks about 95 percent of the sun.
“The percentage of the UV blocked depends on the size, thickness, and angle of the sun,” Parisia says. “While beards will never be as sun-safe as sunscreen, they certainly are a factor in blocking UV rays.”
Here’s a look at what the experts have to say about other health advantages of a beard or mustache:
Infection Protection: Shaving can increase the risk of a variety of skin conditions – from infections, razor burn, ingrown hairs, and folliculitis (infection of the hair follicles that can cause spots on the face and neck). It can also aggravate dermatological problems, such as eczema and acne. Having a full beard and mustache obviously eliminates razor-related risks.
“I think the benefits [of beards] are mostly derived from the avoidance of shaving,” says Kenneth Beer, M.D., a Palm Beach, Fla., dermatologist and dermatology instructor at the University of Miami. “Frequently, patients come to my office with irritation of their skin, infections of their hair follicles, or exacerbation of underlying eczema from shaving.”
Dr. Beer says some skin treatments can minimize the irritation from shaving and he recommends using a sharp razor to minimize skin damage.
“If you get an itchy rash in an area that has been shaved, see a dermatologist,” he adds. “If it is a folliculitis, it should be treated promptly to avoid spread.”
Dermatologist Seemal R. Desai, M.D. adds that proper shaving is key to preventing skin infections. “I don't agree that beards reduce the risk of skin infections entirely,” he says.
“Rather, poor shaving techniques can lead to superficial skin infections via ingrown hairs and bacterial buildup. For example, some patients have a condition called pseudofolliculitis barbae which can be due to chronic ingrown hairs.”
Slows Signs of Aging: A beard and mustache can lessen signs of aging by limiting sun exposure, which promotes wrinkles and skin damage. Facial hair also keeps the skin moisturized and protects the face from wind and cold air that dry the skin.
Hair stops water from evaporating or being rubbed off of the skin, which keeps it moisturized . Sebaceous glands in the skin coat the hair in protective oils that help keep skin healthy and thicker – making it more resistant to damage and aging.
Asthma and Allergy Filter: For men with allergies or asthma, facial hair – particularly a bushy mustache – can act as natural filter for pollen, dust, and other allergens that trigger reactions and attacks, several experts have suggested.
Despite the case that can be made for the health benefits of beards, Dr. Beer believes it’s “unlikely” that the findings of scientific research will make them more culturally or socially acceptable.
“It is not science that dictates the acceptability but rather fashion and evolution,” he notes. “I think that irrespective of what science says, people are not going to unwind thousands of years of evolution that decides what is and is not attractive.”
© 2014 NewsmaxHealth. All rights reserved.