Scientists warn we've hit 'peak beard': The more people grow facial hair, the less attractive it is

Hipster beards meet evolutionary biology: Researchers say 'negative frequency-dependent selection' is making beards less attractive

After years in the cultural ascendancy, covering all manner of faces from Hollywood to hipster-ville, it seems that the beard’s day in the sun might finally be over. 

A new study published in the journal Biology Letters suggests that we might have reached ‘peak beard’, with the overwhelming popularity of facial hair meaning that the beard is no longer unusual enough to be attractive.

Researchers from the University of New South Wales found that when test subjects were shown a succession of clean-shaven men followed by individuals sporting anything from light stubble to Charles Darwin-style face-clouds, it was the second group that rated more attractive.

However, the opposite was also true, and when the test subjects (comprising of 1,453 heterosexual or bisexual women and 213 heterosexual men) were shown a succession of photos of men with facial hear, it was the un-bearded individuals that were deemed better looking.  Novelty, it seems, is a key determinant in the attractiveness of beards.

Studies of historical beard-wear support this thesis, with different styles waxing and waning in popularity. In 1853 the most popular form of facial hair was a pair of sideburns, but this was superseded by the sideburns-and-moustache look in 1877. By 1892 full beards were most popular, with moustaches then peaking between 1917 and 1919.

This phenomenon is also known as “negative frequency-dependent selection” and can explain how populations maintain a certain amount of diversity despite natural selection constantly filtering out characteristic to find the most apt set of traits.

For example, when non-poisonous butterflies adopt colour patterns to look like their poisonous brethren, birds will avoid the mimics because of their previous experience with the poisonous ones. However, when the non-poisonous butterflies become more prevalent, birds are less likely to have had a ‘bad experience’ with that colouring and the advantage is lost.

The researchers from New South Wales found that the same mechanism was in place with beard attractiveness – although in this case the traits are not sexually selected, but behavioural instead.

Speaking to the Guardian, researcher Robert Brooks said “It appears that beards gain an advantage when rare, but when they are in fashion and common, they are declared trendy and that attractiveness is over.”

“These trends usually move in 30-year cycles from when they are first noticed but, with the internet, things are moving a lot faster,” said Brooks. “If guys aren’t getting any joy with their beards, they will quickly change.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Content and PR

£35000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Mid / Senior

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing digital agenc...

Recruitment Genius: E-commerce Partnerships Manager

£50000 - £100000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a newly-created partne...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor