Men, you may not want to shave that quarantine beard just yet. Yes, the mutton chops or Hollywoodian you’ve been working on, even that yeard (which takes a full year to grow) may help absorb, or at least better distribute, a blow to the face.
University of Utah researchers set out to prove that beards may actually serve the same function as a lion’s mane—protection.
“We hypothesized that beards protect the skin and bones of the face when human males fight by absorbing and dispersing the energy of a blunt impact,” they wrote in the journal Integrative Organismal Biology.
The researchers acknowledged their theory differs from other perspectives, including Charles Darwin’s; while suggesting some animals’ manes protected them in fights, he argued the human beard was just for show.
The study wasn’t entirely representative though. Rather than having bearded subjects stand toe-to-toe in the ring, the researchers built simulated human bone using fibers and epoxy. They attached sheepskin to replicate facial hear with some models getting a full beard, some a trimmed beard and others being clean-shaven. Then all were hit by a mechanical “stricker.”
The results? “Total energy absorbed was 37% greater in the furred compared to the plucked samples. … These data support the hypothesis that human beards protect vulnerable regions of the facial skeleton from damaging strikes.”
While the researchers can’t say for certain that men started growing facial hair for self-defense, they argue the evidence supports the notion that “specialization for male fighting has played a significant role in the evolution of the musculoskeletal system of humans.”