4 Questions To A Psychiatrist About Facial Hair And Shaving


Psychiatrist and facial hair expert Dr. Allan Peterkin, is known for his 3 bestselling books on facial hair, “One Thousand Beards: A Cultural History of Facial Hair“, “The Bearded Gentleman: The Style Guide to Shaving Face” (co-written with Nick Burns) and “One Thousand Mustaches: A Cultural History of the Mo.” These books have become references for  information on the history of men’s grooming, shaving and facial hair styles and fads over time.

Through the courtesy of Dove Men+Care I had an opportunity to ask Dr. Peterkin a few questions about facial hair and shaving (with the help of a few folks on some of the shaving forums!):

1.       Why do some men enjoy the ritual of shaving and others hate it?

o   Shaving is one of the rare rituals handed down from fathers to sons these days. Some guys have good associations with the process and enjoy their morning encounter with the blade. Other men dislike shaving because it feels as though they are torturing their faces – for many men shaving causes all sorts of discomfort from razor burn and ingrown hairs, to nicks and cuts. This is often the result of poor shaving techniques and the absence of quality products made specifically for men’s needs.

o   I’ve found that shaving can be much more enjoyable when men follow three simple steps – cleanse, shave, finish:

 Cleanse – if you wash your face thoroughly with a moisturizing cleanser like the Hydrate+ Face Wash from Dove Men+Care and  warm water (preferably in the shower) before shaving you will soften the hair and skin, allowing the blade to glide across your face with ease, minimizing irritation.

 Shave –  Use a thick layer of protective shave gel (I’d recommend the Dove Men+Care Sensitive+ or Hydrate+ shave gels), make just one pass with the razor, and shave in the direction of your hair growth, not against it.

 Finish – Use a moisturizer or an alcohol free, moisturizing post shave balm after shaving as it will soothe the skin and help to relieve irritation. Regularly moisturizing your skin will also keep it soft and help the whiskers grow more easily.


2.       Are bearded men perceived as more intimidating or masculine, even if the beard is neatly groomed and kept short? 

o   In most studies where subjects have to rate photos of bearded vs. clean-shaven men with respect to masculinity, bearded men win out in the virility department (although female subjects are often divided on whether they would want to date or kiss a furry fellow). Growing facial hair is one of the few remaining things men can do that women can’t!

o   I do think bearded men can be perceived as more masculine and more aggressive than clean shaven men in today’s society, and recent research from the Journal Evolution and Human Behavior has supported this.  In the study, masculinity ratings increased as the fullness of facial hair increased. Additionally, the findings confirm that beardedness affects judgments of male socio-sexual attributes and suggest that an intermediate level of beardedness is most attractive while full-bearded men may be perceived as better fathers who could protect and invest in offspring!


3.       Are there psychological benefits to shaving and staying well-groomed? Is this why members of the armed forces (although sometimes not the Navy) are required to stay clean-shaven, even when deployed?

o   North American culture since both world wars has tended to favor the clean-cut, all-American look.  The military had strict rules on appearance and codes of conduct and shaving was one of them.

o    There were pockets of exceptions like hippies in the 60’s and swinger staches in the 70’s but these men tended to be marginalized. Things changed in the 90’s when men of all ages started growing goatees, soul-patches and sideburns and this unleashed the most furry era since Victorian times.  Nowadays men are freer to express themselves in personal style and grooming than ever before. I think that’s what’s psychologically healthy-not whether you shave or have a beard. It’s that we have choices that our fathers and grandfathers did not because of arbitrary rules tied to the workplace and social standing.

4.       In today’s society, can one associate certain patterns of facial grooming (i.e. clean shaven vs goatee vs full beard,etc.) with certain personality types, or is there no correlation?

o   People project all kinds of meaning onto a furry face-you’re either Santa or you’re Satan depending on who is looking at you!  That’s why most politicians and bankers won’t take the risk of being misread and stay clean-shaven.  I don’t think you can really know what a guy’s motivation for growing facial hair is until you ask him. Men used to take cues from authority figures like kings and clergy, now we take cues from popular culture and athletes, actors, musicians. New looks spread like wildfire because of social media. Today a man can grow one season and shave the next-he generally isn’t wed to a single look. I do think facial hair can be a sexy, playful, slightly rebellious expression for many guys because of all the historical baggage and societal judgments tied to beards.

o   As examples, it’s still a part of the hipster uniform. And guys with mustaches expect them to be a conversation starter.


In addition to his work as a facial hair and cultural history expert, Peterkin teaches at the medical school at the University of Toronto, where he heads the Health, Arts and Humanities Program (www.health-humanities.com). He is also a founding editor of ARS MEDICA: A Journal of Medicine, The Arts and Humanities (www.ars-medica.ca) and is the author/editor of 14 books for adults and children (see www.adpeterkin.com).


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