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Why clean-shaven men are about to get sexier than bearded men

Actor Jared Leto.

DANNY MOLOSHOK/REUTERS

Hipsters, be warned: Scientists say we may have reached "peak beard." And evolution might be guiding a trend towards ditching beards in favour of going clean shaven.

What does that even mean, you ask, as you stroke that furry chin of yours?

Although Darwin might not have been happy to hear it given his own prodigious facial hair, researchers at the University of New South Wales, in Australia, say that men who are clean shaven or have only a bit of stubble are deemed more attractive when a majority of other men have richer, more bushy facial hair.

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The preference is likely due to an evolutionary phenomenon called "negative frequency-dependent sexual selection," Bob Brooks, one of the study's authors, told the BBC.

"Big thick beards are back with an absolute vengeance and so we thought underlying this fashion, one of the dynamics that might be important is this idea of negative frequency dependence," he said. "The idea is that perhaps people start copying the George Clooneys and the Joaquin Phoenixs and start wearing those beards, but then when more and more people get onto the bandwagon the value of being on the bandwagon diminishes, so that might be why we've hit 'peak beard.'"

In layman's terms, the more rare a trait is, the more attractive it becomes. When every guy in a bar treats his face like he's pretending to be a lumber jack, the smooth skinned gentlemen has an advantage attracting a woman's attention. Even another man's for that matter, the study shows.

Following the same reasoning, it's also true that if you have thick beard, but only are seen with clean-shaven men, you'll have an advantage over them, according to the study, published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

Researchers recruited 1,453 women and 213 men who were asked to rate the attractiveness of different images of men's faces.

Some of the participants were shown mostly "full" beards, while others were shown images of mostly clean shaven men. A third group was shown a mixture of several types of facial hair, from none to bushy beards.

The more rare a facial hair type, the more attractive it was to both men and women.

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The overall lesson: It's not necessary for scene-sters to shave their beards in order to have an evolutionary advantage when it comes to prospective mates. Instead, just don't hang out with so many other hipsters.

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About the Author

Dave McGinn writes about fitness trends for the Life section and also reports for Globe Arts. Prior to joining the Globe, he was a freelance journalist, covering topics from trying to eat Michael Phelps' diet to why the Joker is the best villain in comics history. He's working on improving his 10k time. More

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