Helen Fisher, PhD

Why do most men love facial hair, and most women hate it?

I don’t know how women feel in other cultures, particularly those where almost all men have beards.  (You might write in and tell me.)  But the American women I know don’t like facial hair on a man.  I’m among them.  Years ago, I had a boyfriend who loved his beard.  He looked fashionable, I suppose; but I looked like a pumpkin.  My raw face tingled in the shower; and after a particularly sexy evening together, I was embarrassed to show up at work.  Even worse, his beard was a walking menu; it retained the smells of former meals. But men like beards. They think beards are manly. And they’re right.  In a famous experiment, a young lighthouse keeper on an isolated island measured his shaving trimmings daily.  On Fridays, in anticipation of his trip to the mainland to spend the weekend with his girlfriend, his noticed that his beard hair had grown substantially over night.  Testosterone fuels the growth of men’s facial hair—probably an evolutionary tactic to signal sexual availability.   Beards also signal sexual maturity.    Like women’s breasts that develop at puberty and shrink with menopause, little boys can’t grow beards while older men’s gray beards confirm that the height of their virility has passed.   But on the more conscious level, men also grow beards to accentuate their jawline.   Male jawlines turn women on!   Take a look at almost any male actor’s chin: it’s rugged—because it has been build by testosterone.   Indeed, ovulating women regard a man’s rugged jawline as particularly attractive; while they are more likely to choose a “baby faced” man at other times of the menstrual cycle.  And to further accentuate this facial advertisement of testosterone, men stroke their jaw or beard when they get nervous–a primordial gesture to show off their masculinity.  

Like the lion’s mane: facial hair signals testosterone, lots of it, along with youth, virility, assertiveness and readiness.  So I’m not surprised that some women love a beard.   Beneath this smelly, itchy hair is a primal hunter and provider—something men want to be and women want to have.