Beards have sure changed a lot in recent years. Your parents or grandparents may have considered a beard a sign of bad manners or bad hygiene, but that’s no longer the case. Far from being simply bits of hair on your manly face, a beard can be a symbol of status, or a way to show that you’re hip or manly or whatever else.
There are different types of beards and different cultural preferences, but overall, research has pointed to some trends. So, here’s what the science says on whether women like beards or not.
Why women like beards
There’s a surprising amount of studies on the topic of beards, which presumably has a lot to do with men’s interest in attracting partners. However, most studies are relatively small-sized and results may be influenced by things like culture and familiarity, as one study found.
In 2008, researchers from the UK set out to find what effect various face shifts have on female perception of the male face. The study (carried out on a small sample size of 60 women) found that males displaying a full beard were considered the most masculine, aggressive, and tended to be considered older.
Women in the study also tended to consider men with a light beard the most dominant, and those with a light stubble as the most attractive — both for short term and for long term relationships.
The findings were confirmed by another study by Dixson and Brooks (2013). This study claimed that previous research may have been influenced by women’s menstrual cycles, and that women’s preference also varies based on the type of relationship they are looking for.
Essentially, the more beard someone had, the more masculine they were perceived as — an effect that was more pronounced “in women in the fertile phase of the menstrual cycle,” the researchers note. However, the men rated as most attractive were not always the most masculine, and an intermediate level of beard was found the most attractive
“Our findings confirm that beardedness affects judgments of male socio-sexual attributes and suggest that an intermediate level of beardedness is most attractive while full-bearded men may be perceived as better fathers who could protect and invest in offspring,” the researchers note.
Studies seem to suggest that men with a small stubble (something you’d grow in a week or so) are often found most attractive, while one study found that men with larger beards tend to be perceived as more dominant (and aggressive).
It also depends on familiarity and people’s sexual orientation. A joint study carried out in Brazil and the Czech Republic found that homosexual men had a stronger preference for beards (and masculine traits, in general) than heterosexual women. The study also found that Brazilians tend to like beards more than those in the Czech Republic, though that could also be a familiarity effect (since more people in Brazil reported having beards than those in the Czech Republic). Research has consistently shown that cultural trends are very important when it comes to rating beards.
The preference can also vary depending on the frequency of beards. Women tend to prefer beards when they are less common, one study reported in 2014.
“Likewise, clean-shaven faces were least attractive when clean-shaven faces were most common and more attractive when rare. This pattern in preferences is consistent with negative frequency-dependent selection,” the researchers write.
Why women dislike beards
At first glance, it would seem that being considered more masculine also equals being more attractive — but that’s not really the case. Manly faces are sometimes seen as more aggressive and threatening. But that’s not the only reason why many women dislike big beards.
Dislike of beards is often associated with feelings of dirtiness. Consciously or not, beards are sometimes seen as homes for parasites and bacteria.
“We found women’s disgust towards ectoparasites – such as fleas that live on the skin – negatively affects preferences for men with beards,” says Barnaby Dixson, who oversaw the research (and has a beard).
There is some truth to that. It’s true that beards (especially if not cleaned every day) can contain faeces particles and parasites. Around 60% of men don’t wash their hands after using the toilet, and, as we’ve learned in the pandemic, we all touch our faces way too much — which could be how these unwanted particles can make their way into beards.
But research has also shown that beards may actually be good for your health, reducing the likelihood of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. There are mixed results on this one, but it seems that for some women, at least, beards are a hygiene turn-off.
The bottom line
Let’s make one thing clear: the evidence on this one is incomplete and culturally biased. The vast majority of evidence comes from western countries and is focused on white men. This isn’t just something about beards — around 96% of all psychology studies suffer from this problem. This being said…
It seems that beards are indeed associated with manliness. Too much manliness can be a bad thing, but some manliness is generally attractive. Several studies found men with a short stubble as the most attractive.
If you do have a beard, it’s important to clean it and care for it carefully. No one likes a dirty or grotty beard — despite what your local ale aficionado may claim — and the bigger the beard, the more care you need to put into it.
However, the most attractive level of beardedness is the one you’re most comfortable in. Women love men who are confident and comfortable in their own skin more than any level of facial hair. Do what works for you and be the best human being you can — it matters more than your beard.
Andrei's background is in geophysics, and he's been fascinated by it ever since he was a child. Feeling that there is a gap between scientists and the general audience, he started ZME Science -- and the results are what you see today.