To grow or not to grow? This is the question that many men face when it comes to deciding whether to cultivate a mustache and/or beard.

While the answer is a very personal one, Jessica Krant, MD, MPH, a board-certified dermatologist who is the founder of Art of Dermatology in New York City, and assistant clinical professor of Dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, weighs in on the pros and cons of having facial hair and offers some detailed explanations of each one.

The Benefits of Facial Hair

1. Facial hair protects the skin from the sun's harmful rays, reducing the risk of skin cancer. "We know that when a long-standing beard or moustache is shaved clean, the skin that was underneath looks paler than the rest of the face," Krant explains. "A full head of hair on the scalp also performs a similar protective function, which is why when hair starts thinning, dermatologists recommend extra vigilance in terms of hats and sunscreen."

2. Facial hair reduces irritation on sensitive skin caused by frequent shaving. "Extra sensitive skin can have a hard time handling the regular scraping that comes with a daily shave," Krant says. "Trimmers help, but leave a shadow and don't entirely reduce the risk of problems. Additionally, anyone with extra curly beard hair runs the risk of constant ingrown hairs leading to a condition called pseudofolliculitis barbae that can create a self-perpetuating cycle of difficulty keeping the skin clear."

3. Facial hair eliminates shaving cuts that could get infected. "Everyone knows the risk of razor burn and small shaving cuts," Krant points out. "With extra sensitive skin or ingrown hairs, this risk increases. Though the risk of actual bacterial infection is low, when it happens it can be deceivingly subtle and cause a problem that can't be fixed by moisturizers or avoiding shaving alone. In this case, a trip to the dermatologist for a skin culture and topical or oral antibiotics can be helpful."

4. Facial hair shelters the skin from windburn. "Thick enough facial hair growth will act as a buffering layer around the face," Krant says. "This traps warm, moist air close to the skin and deflects colder, dryer air away."

5. Facial hair provides symmetry for the face and/or makes especially prominent features less noticeable. "Noticeable facial hair growth not only can be just a plain distraction from certain facial features or physically hide them, but it can fill out unevenness as well," Krant says, with one caveat:  "That is, of course, if one can grow a full, even beard and/or moustache."

The Draw Back of Facial Hair

1. Facial hair requires regular cleanings, which can stress your skin. "The rule with cleansing is always to keep it simple," Krant says. "Over washing and harsh cleansing or exfoliating puts too much stress on skin and can cause it to end up on a roller coaster of irritation, dryness, excessive oiliness, and breaking out."

2. Facial hair can itch. "Some men find that carrying facial hair makes them feel itchy, especially during a new growth phase after shaving," says Krant. "For these guys, staying clean shaven may ultimately be the most comfortable."

3. Facial hair can trigger or worsen allergies. "This is because the hair can capture particles from the environment, including dust, pollen, and other allergens including pet dander," says Krant.  Having these triggers trapped right on your face also seems to be a big cause for eye allergies, adds Kevin McGrath, MD, fellow and spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI). Both doctors agree that this means that people with allergies should go facial hair-free.

4. Facial hair can put you at risk for certain skin and hair conditions.  "Lice and scabies are a risk, as well as fungal "ringworm" of the beard area itself, known specifically as tinea barbae," Krant says. "Of course scratching open skin with dirty fingernails can add insult to injury and add a bacterial infection on top of everything else."

5. In rare cases, men with facial hair can experience an autoimmune condition called alopecia areata. "The skin's natural immune system mistakenly attacks hair roots under the surface of the skin, causing rounded patches of hair to just fall out and leaving smooth skin in the area that has no rash or redness," Krant points out. "It most often corrects itself but can sometimes be associated with thyroid conditions or other health issues." If you suspect you could be affected, be sure to see your dermatologist.

The Bottom Line

"Of course to hair or not to hair is an individual choice influenced by current style trends, weather conditions, job requirements, and personal preference," Krant says. "There is no overall yea or nay to it." Therefore, when deciding whether or not to shave, remember that there's no right or wrong answer.

Jessica Krant, MD, MPH, reviewed this article.




Jessica J. Krant, MD, MPH, Founder, Art of Dermatology LLC, NYC, and Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology, SUNY Downstate Medical Center, NYC. Email interview. 19 Nov. 2012.

Kevin McGrath, MD, Fellow and Spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). Email interview. 18 Nov. 2012.