Beards are pretty common these days, and increasingly so as the style becomes more widely accepted (again). In fact, you won’t have to go very far to find a pretty impressive beard. That certain beard styles become notorious markers of specific time periods, social strata, and groups, like hipsters or mountain men, is a great indicator of the staying power and impression they make.
Over the centuries, beards have taken many forms with many different meanings. Their long history has given ample time for a huge array of odd, interesting, or otherwise cool astonishing facts about beards to happen.
Your Beard Will Keep Your Skin Healthy (and Young-Looking)
Beards have a surprising amount of positive health effects, as skin health is pretty high among them.
Your beard helps to keep your skin moist since it keeps it from drying out. This keeps your skin healthier and leads to slower development of wrinkles, making you look younger for a longer period. Your beard will also protect your face in the winter, keeping it warm and preventing the cold from drying your face out.
One of the biggest ways your beard keeps your skin healthy is by protecting it from the sun. Extended sun exposure does a lot of bad to our skin. It can cause spots to form, the texture to become leather, and increases your risk of skin cancer. However, your beard, if grown thick enough, can block up to 95% of the sun’s UV rays. Facial hair will reflect the sun’s UV rays, offering more protection than just absorbing the light before it reaches your skin.
Your Beard Will Make You Seem More Confident, But Also More Aggressive
Men grow beards because they want to look good and feel good about themselves. However, the effect beards have is often a long, varied one. For instance, men with beards come off as more competent and more confident, which is why they’re found widely among managerial and executive-level roles.
Looking good makes you feel good, but also the act of maintaining a beard is both an act of self-care (which increases self-esteem) and a point of pride among men.
That said, beards also make men seem more aggressive. In studies, cleanly shaven men are seen as less threatening when they scowl compared to their bearded counterparts. This has some somewhat surprising side-effects.
For one, beards have become less popular amongst politicians because women voters trust men with beards less in leadership roles. There’s also a trend where men will shave when they’re single and starting to date again because it’s assumed it makes women feel safer.
As a counterpart to that, men are more likely to grow beards when happily married. Having a beard gives the perception that the man is a better provider and a better father.
The Longest Beard On Record was Over 17-feet Long
The current record for the longest beard on a living person belongs to Shamsher Singh, who lives in Punjab, India. His beard received that record in 1997 when it was measured at 6-feet long.
The longest beard ever recorded was that of Hans Langseth, a Norwegian man who lived from 1846 to 1927. At the time of his death, his beard was 17-feet 6-inches long. To put that in perspective, that’s about the length of 3 adult men lying head to foot.
To make that more absurd, his beard is at the Smithsonian Museum to this day. Mr. Langseth emigrated from Norway to the United States, eventually settling in North Dakota amongst the wave of Scandinavian immigration during the late 1800s. One of his dying wishes left to his children was to save his beard.
After Mr. Langseth’s funeral, his son cut off his beard and stored it in his attic before eventually donating it to the Smithsonian Institute.
What’s truly fascinating, and also a somewhat disgusting fact about his beard is that there are still traces of corn and grain within his beard. The beard also shows the story of the man’s life, since the tip of the beard is a dark brown color, and you can see where it lightens to grey as he aged.
Beard Taxes Were Common in Medieval Europe
Under the rule of Queen Elizabeth I and Henry V, beards were deemed undesirable traits. The Monarchic ruling class encouraged peasant men to shave by enforcing a beard tax. Other European rulers throughout that time, like the Frankish Kings and Peter the Great of Russia, enforced similar things.
It’s worth noting that the ruling class was spared from this. The Kings and Aristocrats wore beards as a sign of their social strata.
Beards Can Help You Breathe Better (and Were Once Prescribed)
Having a large beard can act as a filter around your mouth. If you suffer from asthma or even just seasonal allergies, your beard can help you breathe better. Granted, you need to wash your beard regularly for this to be effective. The beard hair will prevent pollen and dust particulate from settling or reaching your nose and mouth.
Doctors in Victorian England noticed this and took it a step further, prescribing beards as preventative measures against illnesses. Doctors believed that a full beard could lower the risk of contracting tuberculosis. While that extent of effectiveness isn’t really believed nowadays, your beard can still help you combat allergies.
Testosterone is What Makes Beards Grow
Specifically, it’s DHT or dihydrotestosterone, that causes beards to grow. It activates the skin on men’s faces and causes hair to grow. It develops later in the stages of male puberty, which is why beard growth occurs later in the teenage years and can take a while to fully grow in. Another fun beard fact is that summer causes men to have higher testosterone levels, so their beards are bushier in the summer.
Unfortunately, DHT is also associated with male-pattern baldness. That means that if your beard grows in well, you’re also at greater risk of going bald. DHT affects the sweat glands on the head and face and will activate the facial hair follicles while weakening those on the scalp.
The CIA Tried to Make Fidel Castro Lose His Beard
The CIA during the 1960s tried a lot of things to make Cuba regret going communist. For the most part, these were silly, pretty, and ridiculous. However, one of their more absurd plans was to make Castro lose his beard by lacing his clothing with thallium salts.
Thallium is a poison that can kill you if you eat it, but at lower levels, it causes hair loss and stomach issues. Agatha Christie wrote it in some of her books, where characters were poisoned to death with the compound.
The CIA didn’t want to kill Castro (likely they did but know it was a bad look), so instead they took to shaming him. Their plan didn’t work and Castro didn’t lose his beard.
Soldiers Have Often Not Been Allowed to Grow Beards
The U.S. and British militaries don’t allow their soldiers to grow beards. While that policy has been under review and shifted periodically throughout the recent 20th Century, that’s still overwhelmingly the norm.
Nowadays, that is largely a stylistic decision, though that hasn’t always been the case.
In World War I, soldiers weren’t allowed to have facial hair because it interfered with their gas masks. Facial hair prevented the mask from forming a proper seal on the face, which was life-threatening during a gas attack.
Going further back, Alexander the Great required his men to shave before going into battle because beards were a liability in the close-contact fighting of ancient warfare. A long beard could easily be grabbed by the enemy, making the soldier vulnerable. However, that policy eventually led to soldiers growing beards as a sign of their bravery. It showed their fearlessness in battle and was meant to strike fear in the opposing army.
Side note: There’s a special rank in the British Military, the Pioneer Sergeant, that is allowed (and encouraged) to grow a beard. This is a unique privilege to that rank. However, their role is more supplemental, as they are the carpenters and blacksmiths of infantry regiments.
Growing a Beard Was a Sign of Mourning in Ancient Rome
The Romans were famously clean-shaven (to set themselves apart from their Greek counterparts). Men were socially expected to shave regularly, and a man’s first-shave was a key rite of passage and cause for celebration.
However, in times of mourning, Roman men would let their beards grow out their beards in honor of the deceased. Oddly enough, the Greeks had the opposite practice. Beards were revered in Greek culture, and men would shave their beards in mourning instead.
Beards are Unique Evolutionary Traits to Humans
It might be easy to assume that beards remained among men as a leftover trait from our earlier, prehistoric counterparts, but that’s pretty far from the case. Modern humans (meaning the group that’s about 200,000 years old now) evolved to grow beards as secondary sexual characteristics.
That’s right, beards evolved in humans because they were selected for amongst our ancestors. Having a beard was a sign of strength and masculinity amongst early humans. Having a large beard was an indication that the man was a good mate, allowing beards to remain while humans otherwise became hairless as they began their migration through open pastures.
Our closest animal relatives, the chimpanzees, and bonobos have bare faces when it comes to hair. This indicates that our human ancestors likely did, as well. While it’s likely that beards also had other positive side-effects, like sun protection and warmth in cold climates, their persistence is almost solely due to natural selection.
Notably, not all humans and all cultures are capable of growing beards. Native Americans and many Asian populations have notably less facial hair, indicating it was not seen as a desirable trait amongst those groups.