11/15/2012 06:21 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why Men Wear Beards

In 1860, Abraham Lincoln grew a beard following advice from an 11-year-old New York girl who wrote, "You would look a great deal better, for your face is so thin."

Alexander the Great (July 356 to June 323 BC) banned his soldiers from wearing beards, in order to ensure the enemy would not use it as a "handle" to hold a soldier down in combat.

In the late 17th century, Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia, ordered men to shave in order to bring Russia closer to modern Europe, and went so far as to collect a tax on beards.

There is no shortage of opinion on beards today (and November is National Beard Month). A March 2012 Men's Health article titled "How Your Facial Hair Can Earn You a Promotion" tied them to career growth: "Ladies hate them, guys fear them." Another study found that while women are typically more attracted to a clean-shaven face, other men see beards as projecting masculinity and strength. Some say it makes them look older and commands more respect.

The real reason men wear beards is to combat either a deficient chin or mandible. As I have pointed out here before, a well-defined chin is associated with masculinity.

The facial skeleton is the fundamental determinant of facial appearance. The shape of men and women's skulls have differences (referred to as sexual dimorphism).There are three basic skeletal traits that distinguish men's and women's facial skeletons and, hence, facial appearance. As demonstrated by the specimens shown below, this sexual dimorphism includes:

1. Overall size. Men have larger skulls.
2. Shape of the forehead. Women's foreheads tend to be more vertical, while men have foreheads that have a bulge directly over the brow bone (due to larger underlying frontal sinuses) and then a slope towards the top of the head.
3. Lower jaw. Men have proportionately larger lower jaws than women. They are wider from angle to angle, they are longer, and their chins project more.



Right: male, left: female

(Note: these images have been provided by my colleague, Dr. Douglas Ousterhout. Images from the S.R. Atkinson Collection of Human Skulls, University of the Pacific School of Dentistry, Webster Street, San Francisco, California).

The particular "style" might explain why some beards are worn (how else can one explain the chin goatee worn by many professional baseball players)? However, most men wear beards to camouflage a small chin and lower jaw or to make an average size chin and lower jaw more robust -- and more masculine.

As noted by recent American Society of Plastic Surgery statistics, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of chin implant procedures performed in the last year. I suspect that many men have gladly undergone this procedure in trade for the inconvenience -- and sometimes stigma -- of their goatee or beard.

A less well-known procedure, but one gaining in popularity, is the augmentation of the posterior mandible. These implants increase the width of the lower face and improve the definition of the mandibular angles. They can be used alone for those with adequate chin size or together with chin implants in men whose entire lower jaw is small.

Below (on the left) is an example of a patient who was wearing a goatee for camouflage, thinking his chin was the problem. Accenting his chin with a goatee actually emphasized the relative deficiency in his posterior mandible. Augmenting his posterior mandible strengthened his lower jaw and put his entire face in a stronger, more masculine balance.


The impact of the lower jaw on male appearance is emphasized by the celebrities below.