I've been wondering about head hair, facial hair in particular. Human males can grow very extensive beards should they choose to not shave - however you do not really see this in our chimpanzee cousins! Yes, they have little pseudo-beards, but the difference being that they do not shave, that is just the length they reach. Whereas in humans we can grow to our hearts content (*this may not be the case, see this question).

I can't really see why this would have been selected, unless it's simply that (evolutionarily speaking) women like men with long beards?

So my question is: why can humans perpetually grow head hair, yet we have lost the majority of our body hair, in comparison to chimpanzees and other ape family members?

  • $\begingroup$ This is closely related to this question - perhaps not an exact duplicate though? $\endgroup$
    – Rory M
    Commented May 17, 2012 at 10:40
  • $\begingroup$ @RoryM thanks for pointing out that question - it certainly goes some way to helping answer this one. I have differentiated my question a bit further so that it's definitely not a duplicate. $\endgroup$
    – Luke
    Commented May 17, 2012 at 12:22

2 Answers 2


Wheeler (1992; and previous) discusses the evolutionary loss of "non-functional" hair in hominids from the perspective of water balance.

Wheeler's hypothesis is that naked, bipedal hominids could have tolerated higher ambient temperatures as well as elevated metabolic heat production. Naked skin would confer higher levels of evaporative cooling, but would have entailed more water loss.

Wheeler argues that bipedalism necessarily would have preceded loss of hair, which seems to agree with Carrier's (1984) hypothesis that early hominids were distinguished not by large brains but by upright, bipedal postures with striding gaits. Humans are unique among similarly sized mammals in their capacity for endurance running.

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    $\begingroup$ Interesting! May we have kept hair on our heads to keep the sun from directly heating our brains? Bit off topic, but do you suppose the increased endurance running is simply that running on 2 legs is more efficient than using all 4? $\endgroup$
    – Luke
    Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 14:11

Hair on the head is an excellent built-in sun protection at minimal resource cost. If we didn't have hair on our heads then we would have to apply sunscreen on the scalp or take cover more often (often impossible for hunter-gatherers).

No sun protection = sunburns and risk of skin cancer.


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