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Hairy Situation

Jun 21, 2021

These days, a well-kempt beard is all about style according to It's the best way for hipster bros to assert their dominance at their local craft brewery or record store. Of course, the beard isn't just a trend; it's a legacy as old as humanity itself.
Beards Galore
Facial hair detractors may claim that beards make their wearers "look like a caveman," but that's exactly how the style started out. In a prehistoric age where our species struggled to survive, beards were everywhere.
First Men
We know that much from preserved remains, plus the fact that homo sapiens lacked the tools to properly shave. That led biologists Ethan Beseris, Steven Naleway and David Carrier to wonder if this hair actually helped men survive this fraught period.
A Proud Legacy
At the very least, historical trends supported this theory. In civilizations from ancient Greece to India, beards signified leadership and strength. A wiseman or general wasn't complete without a decent set of whiskers. But this symbolism didn't last forever.
A Close Shave
The Romans popularized shaving in the Western world, as beards went out of fashion and often proved to be a very grabbable liability on the battlefield. While this transition didn't mark the permanent decline of the facial hair, it may have taken us further from the style's origins.
Gentlemanly Whiskers
As the average joe became more entrenched in respectable society, the beard survived, though it morphed into various forms that didn't project the same raw testosterone as those of the Spartan warriors. But this team of biologists believed facial hair has uses that we've completely forgotten.
Possible Protection
What if, they asked themselves, beards could somehow protect the men who grew them? On the surface, this does seem like a far-fetched hypothesis. A few bristles on your cheeks won't exactly stop a Floyd Mayweather strike, after all.
Look in the Mirror
Even so, the scientists wouldn't be deterred. They began their investigation by revisiting the writings of one of the greatest minds of their field, who believed that facial hair might have helped move humans to the top of the food chain.
Darwin's Observations
This was none other than Charles Darwin, who, in his observations that formed the bedrock of evolution, noted that male primates have more facial hair and more aggression than their female counterparts. He deduced that there had to be a correlation.
Like a Lion
Similarly, Darwin viewed the lion's mane as a natural barrier around the vulnerable areas of the neck and head — plus a sign of male virility. Beseris, Naleway, and Carrier guessed that a man's beard could function the same way. But they needed proof.
Relic of the Past?
To prove that facial hair wasn't just another vestigial organ — a part of the body that no longer has any biological use, like the appendix or projections of skin that cause goosebumps — the biologists looked for ways that whiskers could be handy in a fight.
Slap Happy
So they devised an experiment to see if facial hair really could absorb or shield its owner from damage. Naturally, their study took a more scholarly route than simply punching guys with and without chinstraps, and then asking them to fill out a survey.
Realistic Models
Luckily for all of us, the experts passed on their initial idea to use samples from human corpses and instead tested out damage on highly realistic models. But to simulate facial hair, they did gather some tissue from the animal kingdom.
Baa Baa Black Sheep
Beseris, Naleway, and Carrier wrapped their models in sheepskin — sheared to three different lengths — to test out the usefulness of various beard thicknesses. From there, all they had to do was get a little bit destructive.
Take This!
Placing samples of sheepskin-wrapped "bone" inside a chute, they pummeled their models with a metal rod. As some models broke to smithereens and others held fast, they noticed an interesting pattern emerge in their force sensor.
Damage Control
The "bearded" samples fared far better than those covered in sheepskin that was completely plucked or shaved. These fibers amazingly absorbed about 30% of the impact! Additionally, an amount of force that broke nearly all the shaved models broke under half of the hairier subjects.
Bubble Wrap
While a beard wouldn't make a man invulnerable, the scientists determined that it did partially protect against damage — particularly blunt force trauma, like that from a fist. Facial hair, though it comes in many forms, basically functions as a layer of bubble wrap, except manlier.
Face Fighters
The biologists also tied their findings to the historical associations that the beard has "with high masculinity, social dominance, and behavioural aggressiveness, as it may function as a true indicator of level of invulnerability to facial injury."
Delicate Region
Moreover, the beard's location is particularly strategic as the jawbone is "one of the most commonly fractured facial bones in interpersonal violence." Facial hair essentially protects the mandible by cushioning a blow and spreading the force across a broader area.
Other Variables
The experimenters did concede that this effect could fluctuate quite a bit depending on beard length, density, and texture. So while you might be better off fighting bearded, you might not want to pick a fight right away. The one thing we know for sure is that the human body is full of mysteries.

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