Sunday 5 November 2006

MO-vember - the science of moustaches

This month on Mr Science, we are celebrating November, or more particularly, Mo-vember. That is, for a good cause, I am growing a moustache, or a Mo. You can sponsor me to do this, and check out our work team's progress and varying states of scruffiness here (Well done Adrian!) Mo-vember, my moustache, and the science of hair and men's health was the subject of a panel discussion between myself and the other members of Diffusion Science Radio, and can be picked up as an mp3 on my podcast here.

The cause is male health, and research into depression, testicular cancer and prostate cancer. Men's health is an often overlooked topic, however when you look at it, men are far less healthy than women. The average life expectancy for men is six years less than females (presently 75 compared to 81). Men access health services 30-40% less than women, thereby denying themselves the chance for prevention and early detection of common diseases.

Money raised through this event go into the following areas:

Prostate Cancer in partnership with the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia ( because every year in Australia 2,700 men die of prostate cancer - more than the number of women who die from breast cancer. Find out more

Male Depression in partnership with Beyond Blue ( because one in six men suffer from depression at any given time but most don't seek help. Find out more

Testicular Cancer because it's the second most common cancer in young men aged 18 to 35. Find out more

Seeing my face is going to covered in an ugly growth for the next month, this week we are going to take a look at the science of hair. Facial hair is a secondary sex characteristic in human males. Most men develop facial hair in the latter years of puberty, whilst many women also have some facial hair, but generally after menopause and generally less than men.

Male pogonotrophy (beardedness) is often culturally associated with wisdom and virility. Excessive hairiness in women however is known as hirsutism, and is usually an indication of abnormal hormonal variation.

The amount of facial hair varies from individual to individual, and also between ethnic groups. For example, men from many East Asian, West African or Native American backgrounds typically have much less facial hair than those of European, Middle Eastern or South Asian descent.

But what is hair and why does it grow out of the side of our faces? Hair is a growth of dead cells protruding from the skin, and occurs in many animals, mainly mammals. However, in contrast to most mammals, humans do not have thick hair all over their bodies. While other great apes have relatively thin body hair and some bare areas, in comparison humans have very little. Theories about why humans, in comparison to apes, have less hair range from the idea that it was because early humans lived on African savannas and lost their hair in order to more easily control their body temperature, to the idea of neoteny, a form of sexual selection where one mate chooses another because of their youthful – that is, less hairy – looks. A more recent theory suggests that we lost our hair to reduce our vulnerability to fur-loving parasites.

There is a myth out there that hair and nails continue growing for several days after death. Often people have thought that others, previously thought dead, were still alive because of this. Sadly, this is untrue. The appearance of growth is actually caused by the retraction of skin as the surrounding tissue dehydrates, making it look like the nails and hair were growing. The skin was just shrinking.

As we age, hair becomes greyer as the pigment in the hair is lost and the hair becomes colourless. In general men tend to become grey at younger ages than women. I’m starting to get the odd grey hair and it scares me, I’m only 27!

But an interesting fact is that grey hair in itself is not actually grey – it is either white or dark –the head of hair appears grey because of these two colours mixing. As such, people who have blond hair when young usually develop white hair instead of grey hair when aging. Red hair usually goes sandy colour and then white.

But that’s only for the lucky ones who keep their hair. It is estimated that half of all men are affected by male pattern baldness by the time they are 50. This can also be seen in other primates and apparently has an evolutionary benefit – I wonder what that could be….

Hair thinkness ranges from 17 to 181 ┬Ám, and different parts of the human body feature different types of hair. From childhood onward, vellus hair covers nearly the entire human body. Rising levels of male hormones (androgens) during puberty causes a transformation process of vellus hair into terminal hair on several parts of the male body. Hair follicles respond to androgens, primarily testosterone, and this causes males to start growing thicker and denser body hair. Body hair grows for about 3 to 6 months before being pushed out by a following hair, whilst head hair grows at the rate of about 1.25 cm a month.

Check out for more information about this moustache growing spectucular, and if you feel like sponsoring me, go here or type “Marc West” into the sponsorship page and use your credit card. Its all for charity. Happy to do moustache requests, if it grows long enough, or to wear particularly stupid or outlanding clothes to the gala party, if sponsored the right amount!

Mo-vember, my moustache, and the science of hair and men's health was the subject of a panel discussion on Diffusion Science Radio on 2SER. You can listen here


  1. This is a fantastic cause, my workplace is involved as well as a good friend of mine who has bravely donned a handlebar moustache for the remainder of this month. My team leader at work shaved for the first time in fifteen years to participate in this. Big props to everyone involved in this, and best of luck to you too.

  2. Thanks Mish!

    There are a few hairy looking gentleman walking around this place at the moment, but we've raised some good money. I've recently found out that one member of my family has died from prostate cancer, and another person close to me has it, so I think it is a really important cause.

  3. So sweet guy!!!!:) But I wanted to speak about mustaches. We are talking about men, but not women.I hate when women have mustaches. Is it so difficult to remove them? There are a lot of ways to do that now, not shaving, but hair waxing,lazer epilation...And they don't do that!