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In the 1800s, Doctors Recommended Beards as a Means to Ward off Illness

Field Marshal Sir Henry Evelyn Wood, a highly accomplished British Army officer, lived to the ripe old age of 81. And it's no wonder--he had a beard! Bearded men understand this, of course. Besides attracting ladies, shielding the face from harm, and serving as an effective weapon and survival tool, a beard improves bodily health. This was the understanding of many British physicans in the Nineteenth Century. Dr. Alun Withey, a medical historian, writes:

By 1850, however, doctors were beginning to encourage men to wear beards as a means of warding off illness. As Oldstone-Moore points out, the Victorian obsession with air quality saw the beard promoted as a sort of filter. A thick beard, it was reasoned, would capture the impurities before they could get inside the body. Others saw it as a means of relaxing the throat, especially for those whose work involved public speaking. Some doctors were even recommending that men grew beards to avoid sore throats. Clergymen who shaved, according to one correspondent in the Hampshire Advertiser in 1861, invited all sorts of ‘thoracic and pectoral woes’!

This was a great advance in medical knowledge. Previously, people commonly held many silly, unscientific beliefs about beards:

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, facial hair had been viewed as a form of bodily waste. It was regarded as resulting from heat in the liver and reins, and was partly a signifier of a man’s virility. Equally though, as a waste product, shaving it off might be seen as healthy as it was another way of ridding the body of something potentially harmful.

-via The Hairpin


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