A scroll through Instagram will prove that facial hair is certainly in style, but do potential partners find beards and scruff attractive? In partnership with Wahl, we endeavor to find out.
The answer isn’t straightforward, says Barnaby Dixson, who has been studying facial hair and attractiveness for more than a decade.
Dixson, a researcher at the University of Queensland in Australia, has coauthored numerous studies on the subject and has found mixed results.
Recent research suggests, however, that beards are indeed appealing, perhaps because of their growing popularity and prevalence in media.
What’s definitely clear, Dixson says, is that facial hair makes men look more mature, masculine, socially dominant and aggressive.
“Facial hair enhances masculine facial features,” he says. “It gives the appearance of having a longer face and a bigger jawline, and it frames the mouth and emphasizes the eyes.”
Ann-Marrie Zakkak, a stylist and co-owner of Starks Barber Company in Toronto, says well-groomed beards can shape the face and hide or highlight certain features.
For example, a man with chubby cheeks can grow a beard to make his face appear narrower and someone will hallow cheeks can fill them in with some fuzz.
“With a beard, you can mask things that you aren’t confident about. It’s like makeup,” says Zakkak, a Wahl super user. “Beards make men look great and definitely adds sex appeal.”
But whether you swipe right or left on a dude with scruff depends on what you’re looking for in a mate.
In a study published in 2016 in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, Dixson and his colleagues showed 8,520 women faces of men at various stages of hair growth: clean shaven, light stubble, heavy stubble and full beards.
The women then rated the men on attractiveness in general terms, for a short-term relationship or for a long-term relationship.
The study found that women’s preferences changed depending on what kind of relationship they were looking for.
Women who were interested in a fling liked the scruffy look, showing a high preference for men with light and heavy stubble and little interest in the clean-shaved baby-faced look.
But for women searching for someone to settle down with, the longer the beard the better. This group rated men with heavy stubble or full beards the highest.
Overall, women found men with heavy stubble the sexiest and clean-shaven men the least desirable.
So what is it about a beard that says a man is going to settle down?
“There are other traits that are ascribed to full beardedness that are actually quite positive, but don’t necessarily scream aesthetic sexual attraction,” Dixson explains. Sincerity, competence, courageousness, self-confidence and social maturity are just some examples.
Gay men also find beards attractive. In a study published in the Journal Evolution and Human Behavior last year, Dixson and his coauthors surveyed 1,577 men and women from Brazil and the Czech Republic and found that gay men preferred “hairier stimuli” more than straight women.
The study also found that gay men preferred men with beards similar to their own.
But you can certainly have too much of a good thing.
In a 2013 paper also published in Evolution and Human Behavior, Dixson and his coauthor found that ratings of masculinity and social dominance rise linearly with facial hair, but attractiveness makes a U shape, indicating a cutoff at which you can have too much beard and it becomes unattractive.
“It reaches a threshold at which point it just looks too dominant, too masculine and is unappealing aesthetically,” Dixson says. “You get a Goldilocks effect somewhere in the middle.”
But what about the guys who want a beard but don’t think they can grow one? According to the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery, a growing number of men are seeking hair transplants to create a beard, with nearly 200 men in Canada undergoing the procedure in 2016. But that may be an extreme and unnecessary step.
“Guys aren’t patient enough, so they don’t let everything grow out. It doesn’t have to be perfect,” says Zakkak, adding that diligent grooming is essential to achieving a desirable look.
Whether or not you choose to embrace the beard, the WAHL Lithium Ion Trimmer ensures every man is as sharp as he can be. Learn more here.