What women really think of beards
Claims that the male facial hair trend is dead have been dealt a blow by new research which shows women generally rate bearded faces as more attractive than clean-shaven ones.
Researchers from the University of Queensland and the University of Stirling in Scotland asked almost a thousand women to gauge the attractiveness of faces of men who were being proposed as possible candidates for a short-term or long-term relationship.
The respondents judged the photos of bearded men more attractive than their clean-shaven counterparts in both short-term and long-term relationship contexts.
Women who said they were considering having children tended to rate bearded men as more attractive, whether or not they (the women) were single or married.
Researchers used composite pictures of men when they were both bearded and clean shaven which they then digitally altered to appear more or less masculine - so it's not as if the respondents were comparing a bearded David Beckham with a clean-shaven Wayne Rooney, for example.
Head researcher Dr Barnaby Dixson from the University of Queensland said previous studies had shown beards were most popular among men in larger, more urban cities - and these were also the places where women gave them the highest attractiveness ratings.
Previous UK research tracking the popularity of beards between 1824 and 1971 showed men tended to sport facial hair at times when there was a greater proportion of single men competing for fewer women.
"Research is pretty consistent that men judge other men with beards as looking more masculine, more socially dominant and even more aggressive than clean shaven men," Dr Dixson said.
"But as far as how beards communicate sexual attractiveness to women the results are completely mixed and there are a whole host of hypotheses out there as to what might be explaining why they're so mixed - and so that was the reason for doing this study."
But not all women find beards attractive, of course.
The new research found women who were particularly squeamish about ticks, pubic lice and other hair-borne pests found bearded men less attractive.
"We had the participants rate how disgusting they found images of hair lice and burrowing ticks and things like that," Dr Dixson said. "They're pretty disgusting, right, unpleasant to look at, but you get variation; some people found them really disgusting and some people find them a little bit disgusting."
Researchers have speculated that there could be an evolutionary basis for some women's distaste for beards, which they term an "ectoparasite avoidance hypothesis".
But could there also be an evolutionary basis for why some women prefer men with beards?
"Some women like them, some women don't," Dr Dixson said. "I've speculated that it could just be that (men with beards) look more mature and more likely to stick around. That's what this current study suggests."
Have your say. Do you think the following men look better when they are bearded, or clean-shaven?