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Men: Your Beard or Mustache May Reduce Skin Cancer Risk

men's health, skin cancer, skin cancer protection

Facial hair styles are one way that men can express their individuality, but did you know that it may also provide health benefits as well? A study from Australia finds that it may provide a little protection from the sun, thus helping to prevent skin cancer.

Alfio V. Parisi of the University of Southern Queensland and colleagues used dosimetric techniques to learn about the effectiveness of facial hair in protection against ultraviolet (UV) rays. Dosimetry is the measurement and calculation of the absorbed amount of radiation resulting from both direct and indirect exposure.

The team found that facial hair could reduce the skin’s exposure to UV rays from the sun by an average of one-third. The findings were dependent upon facial hair length (longer hair provided slightly better coverage and was therefore more protective) and the angle to which the skin was exposed to sunlight.

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However, says Parisi, don’t grow out your beard or mustache and think that you can skip the sunscreen. The benefits were definitely there, but on the lower end of the protection scale. Using the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating system, facial hair would only block around 90 to 95% at the most - a protection category of “good”.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends these guidelines for protection against UV rays to help prevent skin cancer:

• Seek shade, especially during midday hours between 10 am and 4 pm DST (9 am to 3 pm standard time).
• Wear clothing to protect exposed skin. Loose-fitting long-sleeved shirts and long pants offer the best protection, but with shorter sleeves and short pants, darker colors offer more protection than lighter colors.
• Wear a hat with a wide brim to shade the face, head, ears, and neck.
• Wear sunglasses that wrap around and block as close to 100% of both UVA and UVB rays as possible.
• Use sunscreen with sun protective factor (SPF) 15 or higher, and both UVA and UVB protection. Reapply every two hours that you are in the sun. Remember to check the expiration date. Sunscreen without an expiration date has a shelf life of no more than three years (less if stored at high temperatures).
• Avoid indoor tanning (ie: tanning beds or sunlamps)

Journal Reference:
A.V. Parisi1, D. J. Turnbull, N. Downs and D. Smith. Dosimetric investigation of the solar erythemal UV radiation protection provided by beards and moustaches. Radiat Prot Dosimetry (2012) 150(3): 278-282.doi: 10.1093/rpd/ncr418

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons