More Than Just Manly, Mustaches Guard Against Cancer

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           If you’re one of those men who wear a mustache just for looks, a new study shows it can also guard against lip cancer. "Mustaches seem to protect the lip the same way that hair protects the scalp," says Dr. Daniel Aires, director of dermatology with The University of Kansas Health System and the study’s author. "While this makes intuitive sense, it had not been tested before."

In the video, Dr. Aires explains he and his team examined 200 male patients who had already been diagnosed with a precancerous condition known as actinic keratosis on the head or face. "Actinic keratosis is a scaly spot on the skin that can develop into a dangerous cancer called squamous cell carcinoma," Aires explained. "Since lip skin is so thin, lip actinic keratoses can invade and become deadly faster than actinic keratoses elsewhere on the skin." Roughly 3 million Americans are diagnosed with actinic keratosis each year, he noted, accounting for one of every seven dermatology visits.

Nearly 60 of the men in the study had worn substantial, bushy mustaches for years. Dr. Aires determined that those men were 16 times less likely to develop actinic keratosis on their lower lip, compared with mustache-free men. "The patients in our study had mustaches since their teens or early 20s, so we don't know if a later-life mustache will be as protective," said Aires. "However, studies have shown that using sunscreen in later life can reduce actinic keratosis, so the same logic could apply to later-life mustaches. It may help, and it almost certainly won't hurt."

The findings of the study, which received no external funding, will be published this month in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.