Victorian Doctors (Wrongly) Thought Beards Could Prevent Diseases

For a brief period in the 1850s, some people believed that beards could act as masks to keep germs out.
Victorian Doctors (Wrongly) Thought Beards Could Prevent Diseases

If you see a dude with a long beard today, it’s probably just an annoying dude who will talk way too much about his beard if given a chance. If a man in the mid-19th century had a beard, though, he might have been focused on his health. In one of many poorly-aged medical takes from the era, Victorian doctors recommended beards to prevent illness. 

Before the rise of Victorian beards, it was a rough few centuries for facial hair. People in the 16th and 17th centuries believed it to be bodily waste, and in the 18th century, the clean-shaven look was all the rage. Looking young was the trend, and having a beard made someone look old and out of touch.

Luckily for beard aficionados, the 19th century became a big time for beards. Every guy wanted to look like a manly man, and a magnificent beard proved to be the perfect accessory. Gentlemen in Victorian England didn’t need an excuse to sport the best beard they could, but in 1850, doctors gave them the most practical reason for facial hair possible. Beards were good for health.

Woodward, Henry/Wiki Commons

A great beard like this was considered dignified AND healthy!

Concerns over problems in the air were abundant in mid-19th century England. Following the Industrial Revolution, frequent coal burning caused major issues with air quality, and this was responsible for numerous health issues and even deaths. Added to these worries was the growing (albeit still very young) understanding of how germs worked and traveled. Because physicians knew that health concerns were airborne, they thought that a beard could act as a filter for bad air.  

Also, some doctors claimed beards could somehow prevent sore throats. Just roll with it because they didn’t elaborate further.

For a few years, doctor-prescribed beards were a great excuse to wear glorious facial hair. Was there any validity to what they could do, though? Well, no. No, there wasn’t. The idea of filtering air kind of sounds like a mask, but beards didn’t actually filter anything at all. Actually, they could increase the risk of health problems. Bacteria can sick in a beard and thrive, essentially having the opposite effect of what some hoped. 

Because they didn’t do anything to prevent illness, medical beards fell out of style. Beards themselves never fully went away, though, and their popularity has been in a constant up and down cycle of popularity. 

Top Image: Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

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