Is growing a beard bad for your skin?

There's the bearded fireworm, native to the tropical Atlantic Ocean; the bearded dragon, a reptile found in Australia; and even a bearded vulture, which lives almost entirely on bone. But what about the bearded human? It's reported that Alexander the Great forbade the growing of beards by his troops, lest the hair provide a handhold for enemy soldiers. But hand-to-hand combat aside, surely there's a reason why most men in the United States shave their faces nearly every day, and sometimes more often. You'd think that a beard would be more of a bacteria sanctuary, and the longer, the better for bacteria. Shaving must be healthy.

Not necessarily. According to the BBC, recent studies have examined the health aspects of letting facial hair have its way. It seems that scraping away hair with a sharp-edged tool might also cause micro-abrasions on the skin which, in turn, can provide ideal spots for "bacterial colonization and proliferation," including methicillin-resistant staph aureus, or MRSA, a particularly nasty bug often found in hospitals and extremely resistant to treatment by antibiotics. The researchers also found that some beards provide ideal circumstances for a bacteria-killing microbe — "possibly," since further testing is required.

To beard or not to beard: that is the question

Part of the to-beard-or-not-to-beard decision depends on the individual. Some skin finds the presence of unshaved facial hair irritating, especially as the beard first grows out. It can itch, which can lead it its own problems with rashes or other kinds of outbreaks. Aesthetics play a part; while simple stubble has a certain fashion appeal to it, there's also the risk of looking like Shaggy on Scooby-Doo. But for most, a beard can offer protection from sun damage as well as generally help the body keep warm. It also lessens the irritation intrinsic to shaving. Not shaving reduces the frequency of acne flareups, as well as the potential for skin damage from ingrown hairs and, depending on the shaving method in use, from cuts and scrapes and the resultant potential infections. Finally, some studies indicate that men with beards, or even stubble, are seen as more desirable romantic partners. Surely that will impart a rosy glow to your unshaven cheeks, all by itself.