Like many others, my favorite quarantine soap opera stars are Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, who have spent the Los Angeles lockdown bravely letting paparazzi document their every Starbucks run or dog walk. (Last I checked, the two are now sharing the same green button-up shirt.) It is comforting to watch such mundane, shameless photo ops occur amid the backdrop of our current dystopia.
But I remain greatly disturbed by one aspect of the new lovers’ quarantine routine: the way Affleck’s beard peeks out from his face mask. It looks coiled and rough and, well, not unlike pubic hair peeking out from a bikini line.
I should explain: I love beards. I came of age during the era of the lumbersexual, a generally confusing time for aesthetics but one that cemented the sexiness of scruff. In precedented times, my taste in guys could be described as, “potentially murderous Appalachian trail thru-hiker.” I have nothing against some good, hearty stubble.
But the face mask, this summer’s most important accessory, has made me reconsider. During my daily walks, I have started to notice plenty of bearded men appear strangled by their coverings, as bits of their beards jut out in every direction. The lower halves of their faces look trapped, constricted, like someone shoved an entire raccoon into Dr. Hannibal Lecter’s mouth before slapping on that mask.
I don’t fault anyone for letting their body hair hang loose. After the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic shuttered businesses, laid off workers, and generally drop-kicked Americans’ sense of safety and agency into the far-off world of January 2021 (at the earliest), hair changes felt like a way for many to take back control.
People bleached their hair, buzzed it all off, or as with the case of quarantine beards (and my leg stubble) just let it grow. Pauly D from Jersey Shore documents his beard on Instagram. He thinks it is coming in “quite nicely..”
“It’s a marker of the moment,” a colleague described his beard. “Once barber shops reopen, I’ll go and stop looking like the Unabomber but for the time being, it’s given people a little laugh.”
But as the case may be, quarantine beards have also given people a long, loud groan.
Janel Comeau has not seen her boyfriend in two months. She left her New York apartment for the safety of her Nova Scotia hometown right before the U.S./Canada border shut down. Like anyone missing a lover right now, she dreams of reuniting with Raphael, who works as a software engineer. One thing Comeau is less excited to see IRL: the beard he’s grown in isolation.
“He’s just completely unsupervised,” Comeau, 27, told The Daily Beast. “He looks like Jesus at the best of times. It’s not good.”
Comeau said her boyfriend will “consider” trimming his beard if it gets so long he has to tuck it into his face mask. “Until then, he’s content to let it go,” she said. “I just have to watch powerlessly from a distance. His mom is giving him the same [criticism] too, and she’s in France. He’s getting nagged about it in two different languages.”
Gabriel Pinto, a 23-year-old former waiter from Chicago, said he grew his out after getting laid off, but shaved after discovering it was nearly impossible to layer underneath his mask.
“It was pretty uncomfortable, itchy at times, and I definitely felt hairs going into my mouth,” Pinto said. “That’s not a great feeling.”
His covering kept falling off during walks outside with his dog. “I couldn’t get the bands over my ears,” Pinto said. “The thing would slip off.” So he hacked down his bristles using scissors and a razor.
All that remains is a mustache, which plays better with a mask—slightly. “It’s 55 degrees here, and it definitely felt a little musty underneath my mask,” Pinto said. “My face definitely gets a little sweaty around my upper lip.”
James Middleton, brother of Kate, also shaved his beard off to surprise his fiancée, Alizee Thevenet. His many watched on in approval.
Devin Toth, a stylist at Salon SCK in New York, said that beards are prickliest at the “mid length” between stubble and substantial. Combing or rubbing in a beard oil can help “soften” hair.
IGK Salon colorist Stephanie Brown said that in the past she has used a hair mask made to moisturize her own color-treated strands on an ex-boyfriend to soothe his beard. She has also put Olaplex, a popular treatment that keeps platinum blonde hair healthy, on a male client’s beard.
So Brown suggests those products could be used by partners to alleviate so-called “stache rash” or beard burn, caused by the friction of rubbing your face against someone with a beard while kissing.
What would Brown say to anyone losing their mind over their partner’s facial hair? “You’ve got super issues in your relationship, that is what I would say in my head,” she said. “To them, I would just say, ‘Have you talked to him about this?’ Try a hair mask.”
Allison Grinberg-Funes blames Netflix for inspiring her boyfriend, Eric, to grow his facial hair. “At the start of the pandemic, he’d been binge-watching Narcos,” she said. “He joked that if she didn’t shave, he too could have an iconic mustache. And so he stopped shaving and before you know it, I was dating a mustached man.”
Eric eventually shaved when the mustache became too unwieldy. “He knows I’d put up with the mustache, but that I preferred him without,” Grinberg-Funes said. “In fact, I’m so used to seeing him with a mask now that I almost didn’t realize when I saw him without the mustache for the first time in weeks.”