I wish I could say my facial hair is a style choice, some hipster aesthetic. But my beard, which I've worn for 10 years, exists only to provide a semblance of a jawline on my naturally chubby cheeks.
On this bulbous visage of mine, there is a very small gap on my right cheek, where the hair doesn't grow as full as everywhere else. Years ago I asked my Sicilian barber, Nick, if I should shave that area to help it grow faster. I thought shaving would make the hair grow back quicker and thicker, a fact I accepted as gospel since it was passed down to me in seventh-grade gym class.
"Why you want to do that?" Nick asked. "If that worked," he said, nodding toward a bald colleague one chair over, "he'd need a comb."
As much as I love my barber, I had to check the science. I mean, this is something that most people believe to be self-evident. There must be some truth behind it, right?
Well, Nick was spot-on. According to scores of studies like this Nature.com story and one from Anatomical Record, human hair, whether on the face, head, back, legs, arms, eyebrows, or hands, does not grow any faster or thicker after shaving.
The thickness myth, many doctors and researchers believe, stems from the fact that new hair hasn't been affected by sunlight yet, so it can actually be darker and appear thicker by comparison. The confusion about growth rate may be related to how we perceive our bodies during puberty, a time when facial hair is coming in fast and furious. This, then, allows for the illusion that the act of employing a razor affects how quickly whiskers grow back. Simply put: It doesn't.
—Mike Dawson is a magazine writer and editor and a regular contributor to Details.
• • •