Some guys go for the backlash beard — ungroomed growth meant to defy the fussy scrubs and sprays of yesterday’s metrosexual. Others sport recession stubble: 5, 6 and 7 o’clock shadow in desperate need of a time clock. There are beards grown on bets, mustaches that raise money and whiskers worn simply (and sensibly) for winter warmth.
And then there are your ’stachinistas.
“I’ve had sideburns, a handlebar mustache, mutton chops, a goatee, the Abe Lincoln look and that thing where your mustache goes up into your sideburns,” says Brian Parkhill, a 25-year-old artist from Long Beach, Calif. “It’s just a fun way to play with your looks. Facial hair is always evolving.”
Beards are back
These days, the hirsute pursuit has evolved into a full-blown, full-grown trend. According to the marketing research company The NPD Group, sales of electric shavers and men’s facial trimmers have dipped 12 percent just in the last year while beard-related activities are, well, bristling.
Beard Team USA, a division of the World Beard and Moustache Championships, boasts 36 chapters in the U.S. alone, many in urban hotspots such as Los Angeles, Dallas, St. Louis and New York. There are beard contests and beard blogs, mustache movies and facial hair fundraisers.
Indeed, the month-long mustache-growing event Movember (a “mo” is Australian slang for mustache) has raised $29 million for men’s health since it got its start in 2004. Similar events — No Shave November, Mustache-a-Thon, the Super Macho Tuff Man Charity Beard Competition — have brought in bucks for everything from food banks to the fight against testicular cancer.
“For some it’s a trend, but for others it’s a way of life and simply self-expression,” he says. “At the heart of the revival, I think, is the ‘reclaiming of masculinity.’ Beards are a direct backlash against metrosexuality and the feminization of modern man. But beards are also the only accessory route that men have — the only way men can change their looks.”
Facial hair is a way for men to bond, he says, the male rendition of the shoes-and-purse love you often see in women. Beard clubs and bulletin boards act as a sort of fraternity, offering camaraderie, community involvement and support — not to mention a steady supply of beer buddies.
But while beards and mustaches are popping up everywhere from the board room to the Obama White House to Brad Pitt’s upper lip, their popularity and prevalence does raise one prickly question: What impact do all these whiskers have on women’s skin?
Amanda Denton, a 24-year-old public relations account executive from Raleigh, N.C., says she was skeptical when her fiancé announced he was going to grow a beard two years ago.
“I thought it would feel weird on my face, that it would feel rough, but it’s actually very soft,” she says. “And I find the masculinity of a beard very attractive. I’m in full support of the beard movement. Although mustaches not so much — they’re kind of sleazy, like a ‘70s cop show.”
“His beard became quite long and bushy and I hated it,” she says. “Whenever I kissed him, I felt like I was getting a mouthful of hair.”
Lewis’ husband has since gone back to his normal trimmed style (as a birthday gift to her), but others have come to loathe the lumberjack look as well.
“My husband didn’t have a beard early on, but started growing one during the winter in the last five years,” says Tara Moore, a 36-year-old risk specialist from Dallas, Texas. “And I don’t like it. It makes me feel like I’m kissing fur, like a dog or something. I always pull away.”
Even more problematic is the painful growing-in period.
“When it first grows in, it hurts,” says Moore of her husband’s stubble. “He’ll give me a kiss on the cheek and I’m like ‘Ow!’ Even our daughter, who’s 2½, will say, ‘Daddy hurt me!’ Early on, the whiskers are very sharp.”
So sharp they can sometimes do real damage, says Tanya Stone, a 30-year-old floral designer from Kenmore, Wash., who recently started dating a “very hairy guy.”
“He had a thick 5 o’clock shadow during our first good make-out session and I woke up in the morning and was like, ‘Oh my god, what happened to my face?’ ” says Stone. “It was like one big blister. And then it started to scab over. People were like, ‘Did you fall down?’ I just said ‘Nope, new man.’ It was very embarrassing.”
While whisker burn can often be a factor in a blossoming relationship (one that usually settles down, along with the hormones, after a time), stubble can be an ongoing issue for those who suffer from acne.
“My ex-boyfriend always had this scruff on his face,” says Jennifer Hersman, a 29-year-old massage therapist from Seattle. “I liked the way it looked but it was really abrasive along my jawline where I was already prone to acne. It was this ongoing cycle. He was always around and we’d be kissing and then I’d break out. My skin was much better after we split up — although that’s not the reason I got rid of him.”
Feel the burn
Chafing, eczema or acne brought on by beards isn’t that uncommon, says Dr. Hema Sundaram, a Washington, D.C., dermatologist.
“Patients generally don’t come in and say, ‘My boyfriend’s facial hair is ruining my skin,’ ” says Sundaram. “What happens is that patients will come in complaining about a rash on their face and I’ll take their medical history and ask if there’s anything new that could be causing this. And then it will come out that their new boyfriend has a beard or their husband has just grown a goatee.”
What do you do if a beard or mustache has left you red in the face? Sundaram says the first thing to do is tell your lover to kiss off — literally.
“You want to avoid further irritation, avoid the activity that caused it until it heals over,” she says.
Women (or men) with an extensive case of whisker burn — i.e., the skin is bleeding and/or not healing within three days — should see a dermatologist, she says, to avoid infection. Minor face burn can be treated with an over-the-counter or prescription antibiotic ointment. And while makeup can be used to mask the area, Sundaram recommends medical grade mineral makeup (not the stuff you get at the department store).
As for softening scratchy whiskers (some have a coarser texture than others), Suki Duggan, owner of Donsuki Townhouse Salon in Manhattan, says it’s all about grooming.
Combing is also key, says Duggan.
“Some men just wash their beard and go, but you can’t do that,” she says. “You need to comb it just like hair, from top to bottom. That will make it soft.”
For many people, of course, it’s not about the way it feels, it’s about the way it looks.
“I think beards are gross,” says Kate Jacobus, a 23-year-old marketing associate from Atlanta, Ga. ”Especially when men don’t have thick hair, like Spencer Pratt on ‘The Hills.’ His beard just looks like fuzz. Not to be gross, but it looks like pubic hair.”
Patchy or sideways hair is a big topic on sites such as BeardCommunity.com and Beards.org, where wannabeardees seek advice on everything from neck beards to uneven growth to appropriate terminology (soul patches, chin curtains, fus, friendly mutton chops — there’s a name for every speck of hair that grows on a man’s face).
Another common topic among the hirsute set is beard fear, a phenomenon Long Beach artist Brian Parkhill decided to document as part of a year-and-a-half-long art project.
“Girls were a little bit nicer to me at first, but as I let the beard grow out, people began to gravitate away. Although at work, people seemed to trust the guy with a beard more. I was working in the lumber department at Home Depot and customers would seek me out.”
Beards not only seem to have a “place,” they have a tipping point, says Jeremy Bridgman, a 26-year-old financial account manager from Manhattan who for the past three years has stopped using his razor during January — or, as he calls it, Manuary — as a way to celebrate all things masculine.
“Last year I didn’t shave the entire month and for the first couple of weeks, people were supportive and liked the novelty,” he says. “But by the end of the month, I resembled Tom Hanks in ‘Cast Away’ and the comments turned negative. This year, I kept it ‘trimmed and respectable.’ ”
Styling and profiling
Sociologist Paul Roof, who runs the Holy City Beard & Moustache Society of Charleston, S.C., says that while there are certainly purists who believe beards should never be trimmed or shaved, most beard buffs try to keep up a “clean, professional appearance.”
“If you’re going to have a beard and do it right, you’ve got to keep it clean and groomed and shampooed and conditioned,” he says. “It actually takes more work than shaving.”
And while the recent bumper crop of handlebars and hulihees and chin puffs and French forks may be a manly response to the ebbing tide of metrosexuality, there are some who’ve discovered their rugged beard can be an awful lot of fun to style, too.
“Just as women use makeup to define and reshape their eyes, cheeks and lips, men can bring a whole new dimension to their looks with a moustache and beard,” says Tim Palla, a 45-year-old pastor from McDermott, Ohio, who grew a Van Dyke four years ago. “Who knew hair could be this fun!”