The problem with beards

China slaps official health warning on beards

(from The Guardian, Wednesday May 18, 1994)

The nation that brought us the one-child policy and the fly-swatting campaign has turned its social zeal to beards.

An official Chinese newspaper, Disaster Reduction Press has warned that "beards violate the requirements of hygiene and are not desirable".

According to scientists, facial hair traps chemical pollutants in the air, such as benzene and ammonia. This increases the units of pollution taken into the body from one for a clean-shaven man to 1.9 for those with a beard and up to 4.2 for those with with moustaches.

"Those with both moustaches and beards may breathe in as much as 6.1 units," the article says.

The science may be questionable, but the warning is well aimed. The World Bank says air pollution has reached chronic levels in many Chinese cities.

Beards are traditionally worn in China only by revered older men. But the custom could be under threat if the official line sticks.

The article also says facial hair causes baldness. It refers to an unidentified as having found that beards inhibit the body's natural ability to radiate heat. "This makes the scalp too hot and affects the functions of the brain. To compensate, the body drops hair from the head."

The idea is not wholly far-fetched. The male hormone androgen is responsible both for creating beards and for scalp hair loss.

But endocrinologists are sceptical about a link. Stephen Nussey of London's St George's hospital said: "It sounds pretty dubious to me."

Edward Pilkington
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