When we were underage in high school, we always got our prematurely hirsute classmates to buy beer because their five o’clock shadows made them look older. Stubble made an 18 year old less likely to get asked for I.D. (or at least made a fake I.D. more believable). For adults, I think the same principle applies.

From two-day shadow to carefully sculpted goatees to full beards, whiskers and their myriad of iterations are having quite a moment. The last time beards were this popular, Don Johnson was busting drug lords in Miami and George Michael was telling us to have faith. Manly man face fuzz was no longer exclusive to hippies, derelicts and dirtbags. Scruff was now legit.

A nice growth pattern of facial hair can inject a extra shot of masculinity to one’s look, despite its contrast to the confusing epidemic of manscaping, waxing and ball shaving with so many men (who also have beards). Facial hair can also create a nice natural shade and contour to the face, which is particularly helpful in downplaying puffiness or a few extra pounds. It’s also a harmless expression of rebellion against traditional grooming and an amusing flex of virility in the face of more assertive, confident, powerful women. Beard growth is nature’s makeup for men, and can be manipulated to great effect when done well.

When not done well, which happens most often when guys shave the Bruce Wayne jawline they wish they had as opposed to the one they actually have, the result can have an adverse effect. The fantasy jawline technique actually pronounces any heft under the chin, whereas not shaving under the jaw adds a shadow where you want it.

As I look around and observe both clean-shaven and bearded men, I think the same principle that applied to the underage beards-for-beer in high school is generally true of adults of any decade: Men look younger when they shave. Whenever I wear any stubble, it’s out of laziness. I’ll not shave one day, allowing it to snowball for at least a few more days until I can’t stand it. To complicate matters, the first place I started showing gray several years ago was in the chin of my beard. When I took a good look in the mirror, gray or not, I had to be rigorously honest: I looked younger with a clean shave.

I don’t mind aging. I embrace the gray coming in and the little lines appearing around my eyes. I earned them. Though I don’t have plans to undergo any needle or knife procedures that slow the losing battle with gravity, I do take measures to look the best I can for my age, like getting plenty of sleep, drinking plenty of water, eating well and moisturizing daily. I realize not all men fight the good fight even on a topical level, but I’m confident that no man over 21 wants to look older than he is. And a beard doesn’t help.