Photos: Famous men and their beards

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  1. Boston Red Sox

    Mike Napoli of the Boston Red Sox has his beard tugged by teammate David Ross at Fenway Park in Boston. The men of the 2013 Boston Red Sox own some of the gnarliest beards in baseball. (Elise Amendola / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Duck Dynasty

    Phil Robertson, Jase Robertson, Si Robertson and Willie Robertson from, "Duck Dynasty." The family tradition was to grow their beards out during hunting season but it became the show's signature. (A&E via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Brian Wilson

    Relief pitcher Brian Wilson of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws to first after fielding a ground ball by Hunter Pence of the San Francisco Giants. Wilson's beard is said to match his flamboyant personality. (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. George Clooney

    Actor George Clooney, seen here arriving at the Oscars on Sunday Feb. 24, 2013, in Los Angeles told US Weekly that his salt-and-pepper beard makes him look and feel older. (John Shearer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Zach Galifianakis

    Zach Galifianakis of "The Hangover" movie series recently shaved his trademark beard, but has kept a handlebar mustache for an upcoming movie. (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Ben Affleck

    Ben Affleck shaved his beard after winning the Best Picture Oscar for "Argo." (Jason Merritt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Al Gore

    Former US Vice President Al Gore grew a beard after losing the 2000 presidential election.. (Jacob Silberberg / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Ben Bernanke

    Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board Ben Bernanke reportedly gets his beard shaved at a barber shop in the Federal Reserve building. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Joaquin Phoenix

    Actor Joaquin Phoenix grew his scruffy beard when he claimed he was quitting acting to become a rapper a few years ago. (Michael Loccisano / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. ZZ Top

    Bassist Dusty Hill, drummer Frank Beard and guitarist Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top. Their beards are in a class by themselves. (C Flanigan / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Jerry Garcia

    Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead performs on November 11, 1978. His grizzly beard could be called "hippie classic." (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. John Lennon

    In 1969 Beatle John Lennon and Yoko Ono held Bed-Ins for Peace. The weeklong event seen here took place in Amsterdam. A well-known Lennon quote, "The establishment will irritate you – pull your beard, flick your face – to make you fight," was recirculated in 2011 during the Occupy Wall Street movement. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Ernest Hemingway

    Ernest Hemingway. The man and the beard were one. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Fidel Castro

    The iconic beard of Cuban President Fidel Castro. (Stig Nilsson / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Abraham Lincoln

    Abraham Lincoln wore a chin curtain beard, possibly the most famous facial whiskers in history. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. William Shakespeare

    A painting of William Shakespeare which is believed to be the only authentic image of Shakespeare made during his life. The recently discovered painting, which is believed to date from around 1610, depicts Shakespeare in his mid-forties, with a well-trimmed beard. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Mike Napoli, David Ross
    Elise Amendola / AP
    Above: Slideshow (16) Famous men and their beards
  2. Image: Mike Napoli, David Ross
    Elise Amendola / AP
    Slideshow (16) Famous men and their beards
NBC News
updated 6/28/2013 8:17:05 PM ET 2013-06-29T00:17:05

Maybe Ben Affleck shouldn't have shaved his burly beard after winning the Oscar for "Argo." A beard and bushy mustache is the preferred look of Hollywood hunks, hipsters and lumberjacks. They may also protect a man’s face from some of the ravages of the sun.

Researchers in Australia – the continent with the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world – looked at how much UV protection men’s facial hair offered and found that it actually did help -- a little.

For a man with full-on facial scruff the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) can range from 2 to 21 out of a max of UPF 50, according to Alfio Parisi, a professor of radiation physics at the University of Southern Queensland in Toowoomba, Australia. “This is a reduction in the UV of 50 to 95 percent,” he says. As a comparison, the sun protection factor (SPF) provided by correctly applied sunscreen is about 30.

Parisi and his team tested for erythemal or “sunburning UV” which has been linked to increased of non-melanoma skin cancer.

“This has a higher effectiveness in the UVB and it extends with a much lower effectiveness into the UVA,” he says. Exposure to UVA is linked to skin cancer and aging, while exposure to UVB is associated with burning.

The research involved three mannequin heads. Tiny ultraviolet “dosimeters” (instruments that measure the amount of X-rays or radiation absorbed in a given period) were attached to the mannequins’ faces in several spots: the upper lip, upper jaw, middle jaw, lower jaw and chin. Then the mannequins were given beards.

One was decked out with a big beard (let’s call it the Joaquin Phoenix); one was given a shorter beard (think Justin Timberlake). The third “control” mannequin (Justin Bieber, anyone?) remained clean-shaven.

The three heads were then mounted on a rotating platform and placed outside on the campus of the University of Southern Queensland. Measurements of ultraviolet radiation were taken on each facial site after an hour’s exposure. Data was gathered over the course of a year.

Results showed that facial hair did reduce the amount of ultraviolet radiation exposure to the “skin” under the beards and mustaches, although the protection depended on the length and density of the facial hair, the angle of the sun in the sky and the “facial site” (the upper lip, for instance, received the highest exposure to ultraviolet rays).

The study doesn’t mean hirsute types can skimp on the sunscreen.

“Although there is protection provided by beards and moustaches, the presence of facial hair should not be taken as a reason to spend extended periods of time in sunlight,”Parisi says.

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Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical offer for the American Cancer Society says the study – with its bearded mannequins mounted on what appears to be the world’s strangest merry-go-round -- may sound funny, but it’s actually quite important.

“There’s a very real question being raised here,” he says. “People do ask this question a lot and this is providing an answer. Unfortunately, the research doesn’t show that facial hair has much benefit. There’s some protection offered by facial hair but it’s not significant.”

Slideshow: Famous men and their beards (on this page)

If anything, Lichtenfeld says the study confirms that hair – whether it’s on your face or your head – is not really an effective sunscreen.

“If you go outside to mow the lawn and you don’t have protection, you can get burned very quickly on the scalp, even with a full head of hair,” he says. “Don’t believe that because you have hair on your head, you’re protecting yourself from the potential impact of ultraviolet radiation. You can still develop sunburn and even skin cancers later in life.”

According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common of all cancers, with melanoma – the most serious type of skin cancer – accounting for more than 75,000 skin cancer cases and 9,000 skin cancer deaths in 2012. “Unprotected and/or excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight or tanning booths” as the number one risk factor for skin cancer, the ACS website says.

Bald guys -- or those rocking a shaved Bruce Willis look-- need to be particularly careful when it comes to the sun’s rays, says Lichtenfeld.

“They definitely need to be concerned,” he says. “They need to be cautious. People tend to forget the scalp is at risk.”

Both Lichtenfeld and Parisi recommend the use of sunscreen on any exposed skin. 

Lichtenfeld also suggests a much healthier -- albeit a little less manly --  trend than a big burly beard for outdoorsy types: a wide-brimmed hat.


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