Do Beards Absorb Punches Important Facts You Need To Know

A bearded boxer stands in a boxing ring.

For many years the question has been asked as to whether or not beards affected how well a fighter could take a punch? How much of an effect does having a beard have and do beards really absorb punches?

According to a study by Integrative Organismal Biology that looked at the effectiveness of facial hair dissipating the force from a punch. It would seem to be the case that beards do absorb punches. Is the study truly an accurate representation or is the cause and effect somewhat more complicated.

Sure if you develop an experiment that determines whether beards will help cushion the human skull from impact. Creating a specific set of conditions, where a specific weight repeatedly hits and static object. Then change the makeup of that static object to try best to replicate the human skull both bearded and shaven.

The experiment involved creating a replica of a human jaw from epoxy composite. Using actual bearded facial hair from human bodies used in science was not considered a practical approach. And instead, the decision was made to use sheepskin in three specific.

Firstly they chose to use it unsheared with wool, then secondly to shave the sample, mimicking that of a shaved face. Then finally to pluck the follicles to represent a hairless face.

What The Beard Impact Study Tells Us

The result of the findings showed that the hair did indeed lessen the blow from blunt force trauma. Managing to disperse the impact on the mimicked human jaw, reducing the force and helping to minimize the overall damage.

And while not taken into account during the test, the scientists involved also hypothesised that the facial hair would also aid in the deflection of the blow on the face. Implying that the beard could be an advantage during an altercation or in the case of combat sports during a fight.

Acknowledging that facial hair varies widely amongst human populations. The scientists did plan to include these variations in further experiments to get a more accurate picture. But it did not end there!

So what did the experiment actually show? Well, it proved that when fully bearded, what they were using to perform the function of a human skull could take 37% more impact than when the face is shaved. Stating that;

“The greatest advantage offered by the hair is that it distributes the force of impact over a longer time frame.”

Pugilism Hypothesis for the Evolution of Human Facial Hair study.

But the actual experiments which were undertaken were not truly realistic. Because as anyone will tell you that has competed, no one stands still like a statue when they get hit. This is seen as a flaw in the study as it does not allow the head to move with the impact of the punch.

Do Beards Absorb Punches Important Facts You Need To Know
A boxer with a red beard and green boxing gloves

The next issue is that the results themselves are interpreted as a reason for the evolution argument. Beards absorb blows, therefore males over time evolved to grow beards to protect their faces from impacts. Now while Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary theory had surmised that lions main developed in order to help protect them from attack.

While a human male beard was simply for ornamental purposes and served no other purpose than attracting females. But this latest study claimed very much the opposite and that the male beard also developed for the same reasons.

Wait Just A Minute

However evolutionary biologist JV Chamary believes this test was very much flawed. And that the result from the test proving the reasoning for male beards was scientifically nicknamed the “just-so” theory. This is like that for this reason, just so! Resulting in what has become known as pugilism hypostasis.

“Absolute bollocks”

Adam Rutherford, geneticist, on the pugilism hypostasis.

Offering as an example the story of how giraffes came to have long necks. Some believe the stretching of the neck to get to higher leaves over time resulted in longer neck animals.

But in reality, there were animals with varying degrees of neck length. And when leaves became scared at power heights, this leads to those animals dying off, while the ones with longer necks lived on and passed on those genes.

In much the same way if you tested using fake giraffes with shorter necks and hung meat from them. Put them in with lions and later find out that those shorter animals had more injuries. Hey presto, Giraffes evolved to have longer necks so they could avoid lions biting them on the jugular.

In much the same way the idea that beards evolved to protect humans from blows. Simply because a beard will help dissipate the impact from a strike does not prove this is the case.

Charles Darwin believed that the beard was the result of what is called sexual dimorphism. A consequence of natural selection in the mating of humans, the theory of sexual selection.

Will A Beard Really Help

So growing a nice big thick beard won’t necessarily help you win a fight, but it may help in ways that are not easily measurable. And besides the fact that in most combat sports excessive beard growth is not allowed. With some sanctioning bodies forcing fighters to trim their beard right down before a match.

While the Ontario Athletic Commission does state that fighters must be “cleanly shaven immediately prior to competition,” only allowing a closely cropped moustache. The UFC has seemed to relax its approach to the issue somewhat.

And while there have been instances of some fighters being asked to shave off some excess hair. Generally speaking, as long as the beard is not too excessive it is allowed.

Also in boxing, there have been several changes in recent years. Welsh amateur boxing overturned a long-standing rule of no beards in July 2019. This followed a campaign by an amateur Sikh boxer whose religion dictates that he has to have a beard.

Prior to this Canada had removed the ban on beards in amateur boxing as early as 2000. While England also lifted their ban on June 1st 2018. So the move away from not allowing beards in combat sports has been in the works for some time.

Conclusion

So we can see from the study undertaken that static objects covered in human-like skin and hair can absorb more impact. However, the results of the study do not prove that we as humans evolved to have beards so that we could absorb more punishment, like cause and effect.

The study does not also take into account the fact that fighters will turn away from punches. Not standing still like a statue in a fixed position. And so the results don’t have all that much significance when it comes to living fight situations and is inconclusive at best.

Grow and beard and see how it works for you. Let someone hot you square in the jaw, bearded, while you stand there and do nothing. Then repeat the process to see the effects! So what I am really saying is take the idea that beards can absorb more punishment with a pinch of salt.

We have all seen plenty of fighters with heavy facial hair get knocked out cold. Would the KO have been any worse had they been clean-shaven? It’s really all still up for debate and until an experiment is done to prove conclusively that beards do absorb more punishment on living breathing human beings. I for one won’t be allowing someone free shots just to find out.

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