Men, think twice before you reach for the razor — a fuzzy face can provide you with extra sunscreen protection against harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. A study conducted at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia, published in the journal Radiation Protection Dosimetry, examined the effectiveness of facial hair in protecting against UV rays through dosimetry — the measurement and calculation of the absorbed amount of radiation using both direct and indirect exposure. Researchers used mannequins as the participants for the study — some had stick-on beards that ranged in one and a half to three and half inches in length and the rest were clean-shaven. The results of the study showed that beards can prevent skin cancer with an estimated 90 to 95 percent of protection against harmful UVs.

Protection from UV rays is heavily contingent on the length and angle of the facial hair. The findings of the study confirm that the longer the hair, the better coverage, which means higher protection. Dr. De Fiori, dermatologist at the Rosacea Treatment Clinic in Melbourne, AU, told Medical Daily, "A beard protects against skin cancer by blocking and absorbing UV light in the same manner as a physical sunscreen ingredient (i.e., zinc oxide or titanium dioxide)." However, men should not skimp on the sunscreen because they have facial scruff; the benefits of a beard alone against sun protection tend to be on the lower end.

Professor of radiation physics at the University of Southern Queensland and researcher of the study, Alfio Parisi, said beards are "...a reduction in the UV of 50 to 95 percent," reported Men's Journal. An ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) system is used for apparel; UPF rating of 15 is good, and 50+ provides the most extensive protection. Facial hair can have a UPF anywhere from two to 21, confirmed Parisi.

Beards have higher effectiveness in protecting against UVB rays rather than UVA rays. UVB rays are responsible for skin reddening and sunburn and can increase the risk of developing non-melanoma skin cancer, says the Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF), as more than 1,000,000 individuals were diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer in 2007. Furthermore, the majority of non-melanoma skin cancers develop on sun-exposed areas of the body. "In terms of burning it can decrease the chance of burning by anywhere from 50 to 95 percent," said New York dermatologist and assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Debra Jaliman, M.D., to Medical Daily. "Men with beards still need to wear an SPF daily to prevent skin cancer."

Unexposed facial areas such as the nose, cheeks, eyes, and forehead require protection to reduce the risk of developing skin cancer. These areas are considered to be high-risk and where skin cancer has tended to be aggressive. To prevent the formation of malignant skin lesions, adequate use of sunblock is advised. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends for those who are outdoors to wear a hat with a wide brim to shade the face, head, ears, and neck.

Whether you opt to have a beard a la Ryan Gosling or go clean-shaven a la Leonardo DiCaprio, always remember to have in handy a sunscreen with sun protection factor (SPF) that can provide broad spectrum, or protection against both UVB and UVA rays, says the Food and Drug Administration.