published Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Beefing up the beard: Facial hair is so popular some men are opting for beard transplants

Poll
Do you prefer men with beards?

Tim Shults says he's got a beard for just one reason — he hates to shave.

"Having a beard is much easier to maintain than shaving daily," says Shults, 41, a software developer with a short boxed beard. "Shaving daily is a hassle and sometimes painful if you have sensitive skin."

Unlike Shults, who started shaving as a teenager, some men can't grow a full beard. And because of that, some are paying as much as $8,500 for a beard transplant. And such things are growing considerably more trendy, especially in high-hip areas like New York and London.

According to the International Society of Hair Restoration, the number of facial hair transplants in the Middle East went up 263 percent between 2010 and 2012. The same group said facial hair transplants were up 13 percent in Britain in 2013, making them three times more popular than nose jobs.

During the surgery, doctors remove hair from other body parts, including the head and chest, before implanting it in the face.

Why? Some say it's a way to beef up your manliness when your own hair and hormones aren't cooperating; others say men are drawn to the virile looks of celebs such as Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Christian Bale, whose beards go from full and fluffy to scraggly and scruffy.

Shults thinks it's crazy.

"What happens when the fad fades?" he asks.

Dr. Jeffrey Epstein, a plastic surgeon in New York, told the New York Post that he performs two or three beard implants per week -- up from just a handful each year a couple of years ago.

"It's the hipster 'look' guys want," Epstein told the newspaper. "If you have a spotty beard, and you let it grow out, it looks sloppy. [Clients] want full beards because it's a masculine look. Beards are an important male identifier."

Dr. James White, a surgeon with Advanced Surgical Concepts in Chattanooga, says he has not performed a facial hair transplant, he has had a couple of inquiries about the procedure.

"Though I haven't done a full beard, we've done hair transplants for eyebrows, sideburns and scars," he says.

Some men only need hair transplants on small patches on their faces where hair won't grow, he says, so a full beard transplant is not necessary.

"It's a lot less expensive than a full beard because the cost is based on the number of (hair) grafts," he says. "Most people would not want to spend a lot of money for a full beard."

Shults trims his beard every couple of weeks using an electric beard trimmer. "It's a great tool to have especially if you don't want to go with the wild mountain look. My barber helps when I go in for a hair cut by trimming it up a bit better and shaping it better than I can."

Married and the father of two children, Shults admits that if his wife didn't like beards, he would shave.

Celeste Williams, 34, of Chattanooga, says her husband, Sam Williams, has had a full, thick beard for about a decade, and she loves it.

"Beards have always been attractive," Williams says. "They seem to exude masculinity and imply a certain degree of maturity and security. They're also soft and cuddly."

Despite her affection for beards, Williams says she's curious about how her husband, 33, would look clean shaven.

"I would love to see Sam's face for awhile," she says. "I've nearly forgotten what a face with no beard is like to smooch on. He won't shave because he uses his beard to hide a perceived flaw, psoriasis. So while others are growing beards for fashion, trends or to appear more masculine and mature, his has become something he feels he must endure."

Like Shults, she also laughed at the idea of paying for a beard implant.

"The grass is always greener on the other side, but people should learn to appreciate what they've got or, in this case, what they don't," she says.

Local musician Travis Kilgore has sported beards off and on since he was a teenager.

"I've had this particular beard for just under a year," he says, explaining that it's low maintenance. "Once upon a time I used to trim the upper and lower edges -- which was much less work than maintaining a clean-shaven face or any other style of facial hair, which requires trimming and shaving -- but once it got to a certain length, I quit doing both."

He's fortunate, he says, that his long, full beard stops at the line between his jaw and throat. "Nobody likes a neck beard."

And he's not surprised that beards are considered hip.

"I think the trend of 'beardliness' itself is absolutely wonderful. Beards are cool for so many reasons: they keep your face warm in the winter and cool in the summer -- believe it or not, they do. They wick sweat away from your face and keep you cool; they look great; they can be the basis of instant friendships when two bearded men meet -- that has happened to me more than once, and let's just face it, they look awesome."

He is surprised, though, that some men are willing to spend thousands of dollars for beard transplants.

"It's their money and their faces, but I just can't see it," he says. "If you've got the better part of $10,000 to spend on what is essentially an accessory, then there are much, much better ways that money could be spent.

"Nobility is a virtue that is very becoming in a man, and these men should take that disposable income and put it to good and noble use. True, they would not be able to walk around with their manliness proudly displayed on their faces like we bearded ones do, but they'd probably sleep better at night."

Kilgore, 39, says he's the first man in his family to sport a beard.

"My dad had a righteous mustache and some sideburns, but I was the first man on either side of my family to sport a full beard, with my brother being the second," he says.

Like Williams, Kilgore says his wife loves his beard.

"She would be perfectly happy if I were to develop a fatal allergy to clippers and razors, thereby losing the ability to ever shave again," he jokes.

Contact Karen Nazor Hill at khill@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6396.

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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