Don't let the prospect of microbial nastiness scare you away: According to researchers from the University of Southern Queensland, a thick, rugged beard also offers benefits that make the person they’re attached to healthier and handsomer.

In their 2012 study, researchers left a group of mannequins, some bearded and some bare-faced, under the harsh sun of the Australian outback. When they compared the amount of radiation absorbed by each subject, they found that the beards blocked 90 to 95 percent of the harmful UV rays from the faces of the mannequins. This level of built-in protection in human beard-owners would successfully slow the aging process and reduce the risk of one day developing skin cancer.

"Facial hair has an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) of anywhere from 2 to 21," one scientist on the study, Alfio Parisi, told Men's Journal. "The percentage of UV blocked to the skin depends on the thickness and angle of the sun. ... Provided the beard is of reasonable thickness, I do not think there is a need to slather sunscreen over the beard due to the protection it provides." Though the adequate thickness of a beard can be hard to quantify, Parisi told Men's Journal that "it has to be a thick bushy beard and not just stubble."

Beards are also good at capturing dust and pollen, which sounds like bad news for people with asthma or hay fever. Instead, they work like fuzzy fortresses, protecting your nose, eyes, and mouth from irritants. What's more, an impressive coat of facial hair retains moisture and acts as a barrier against harsh wind, keeping the skin underneath fresh and youthful.

For men who sport their beards with pride, the fact that their appeal is supported by science may come as no surprise. For those who feel pressured to bare all, it’s just one more reason to toss the razor and embrace the beard.

[h/t: Lost at E Minor]