Sometimes a beard is just a beard - (1/24/2023)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro 

The delivery guy swaggered into the pharmacy carrying the day’s provisions. The pharmacist was always in awe of the man’s full beard – glorious in its length and sheen. “How long is that bush of yours now, Clem?” he asked the delivery man. “Four inches now,” he replied, proudly giving his whiskers a five-finger stroke.

Beards are those creatures that males sport for specific reasons or for no good reason. Both good men and bad men have had beards: Santa vs. Satan, Jesus vs. Pontius Pilate, Papa Smurf vs. Bluto. Beards have gone in and out of style since antiquity. During the Renaissance, beards were synonymous with masculinity. By the 18th century, beards were deemed unfashionable. Hello, 19th century! Men wanted to look fresh and have the luxury of shaving at home instead of having to visit a barber. By the 20th century, beards went in and out of style as often as world wars. 

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, beards – including goatees and moustaches – were linked to subcultures such as the Beat Generation. Young men would sport a beard to exhibit their individuality and creativity. And, Buddha forbid, one should never look like the Aqua-Velva-soaked Ward Cleaver or Ozzie Nelson models set by their parents. By the 1990s reared their ugly heads once more as young men emulated the grunge look, a la Kurt Cobain, by growing a goatee, a soul patch or by simply wearing scruff. Beards did not make a major rebirth until 2007 with the hipster style and the ‘lumbersexual’ style. Men seemed to lose interest in growing facial hair for a while until the current beard trend made its debut over the last decade. As always, queer men lead the way with fashion, and once straight bald men realized they could counter their cueballs with a heavy and lengthy crop of chin fur, the Walmart-class followed. 

Where do females factor into the beard craze? Some hate them. Some give their wearers an ultimatum. Others think they are the essence of maturity (until the whiskers turn grey). Often, the clothes a bearded man wears do not matter if he has a terrific crop (and piercing blue eyes to match do not hurt his cause). 

Beards can mask facial flaws in some guys. A guy with a pointed or weak chin can conceal it with a beard. A beard can hide acne scars and wrinkles. Neck hair can obscure double chins. Other men grow beards because they believe their clean-shaven faces are too feminine or pretty.

OK, let’s get down to the hygiene factor. Are beards dirty? According to Tania Elliott, MD, who specializes in infectious diseases at New York University, a well-kept beard has about the same number of germs as a clean-shaven chin. However, beards can potentially harbor infectious bacteria like staphylococcus and enterococcus, which can make you sick if they enter the bloodstream through a cut or other opening. To keep your beard clean, wash it two to three times a week with shampoo, and brush it regularly. The marketplace is replete with all sorts of beard combs and conditioning products if you want to spend the bucks. Women certainly indulge themselves on their hair products. 

While psychiatrists, historians, and even politicians can debate forever whether or not a beard means something other than what it is or whether it can turn your world upside down or even right side up, think as Sigmund Freud once (supposedly) said about cigars: Sometimes a beard is just a beard. 

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a recovering pharmacist and writer-in-residence at Rx-Press.


The content contained in this article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice. Reliance on any information provided in this article is solely at your own risk.

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