July 18, 2022

For many beardsters who don’t have red hair, the ginger beard thing can be a mystery as difficult to understand as dark matter or string theory. It seems to make no sense that their beard color is different from their hair color.

To make things even stranger, some guys develop a ginger beard without having any redheads in their immediate family.

And to top off the confusion, some beards can grow ginger all around, while others are only ginger/auburn in certain patches. What the heck gives?

While science is still working on squaring the great mysteries of the universe, it’s already provided the simple answers for why a ginger beard sprouts from a brown or black-haired bro.

The simplest answer is genetics. It comes down to a specific gene and levels of stuff called melanin.

It’s in your genes (not your jeans)

Your ginger beard is not the result of your Mom having an affair – at least, not as far as we know!

It comes down to a gene you carry called MC1R – the melanocortin 1 receptor gene that makes a specific protein. This gene, located on chromosome 16, regulates melanin levels in your body and it can vary and change a great deal over generations.

Melanin determines the color of your skin, your hair and your eyes. But here’s where it gets a little tricky… There’s more than one kind of melanin. An abundance of eumelanin causes brown/black hair, while a redhead has a lot of pheomelanin and very little eumelanin. 

There are many variations that can happen in the MC1R gene. If you carry two copies of the “red hair” variant, you’re pretty likely (but not guaranteed) to have red hair and pale skin that burns easily and develops tons of freckles. How would you get two copies of that gene? One from your fathers side and one from your mothers side. 

If you carry only one copy of the red hair MC1R variant, you’re pretty much gonna have some ginger or auburn chin hairs and/or sideburns – without being a redhead. And, as you’ve seen, there are plenty of bros out there who carry this single copy.

Beard hair and head hair are not the same

Your beard hair is more coarse and “wiry” than your head hair. It usually has more curl or wave to it, too. You don’t grow a beard until you get well into adolescence. Why? Unlike the hair on your head, beard hair is governed by the hormone testosterone. More testosterone means a thicker beard with coarser hairs that can (but not necessarily) vary slightly in color from scalp hairs.

Add one copy of the red hair MC1R variant, and you’ll see wiry red whiskers that don’t match your head hair. Simple as that, man.

Red is hereditary – even if it skips a generation or two

Your father doesn’t need to have a ginger beard for you to develop one. The MC1R genetic variant can skip a generation, or even several. 

Having red hair or a red beard isn’t necessarily because red genetic mutations are “dominant”. Your genes all work together and produce many variations and combinations. And sometimes those combos reactivate redness. That’s why you might be the first person for several generations to sprout ginger or auburn whiskers.

Simply put, if your beard turns reddish when you grow it out, it means you have at least one redheaded ancestor in your past.

Celtic or Viking background?

It’s pretty well known that Caucasian Irishmen and Scotsmen (Celts) have a reputation for red hair and ginger beards. The same goes for the typical image of Vikings.

If you have a family tree that features Celts and/or Vikings, there’s a good chance you carry at least one red genetic variation.

Watch your lifestyle habits

While genetics are the key factor in your beard color, some lifestyle and environmental factors can cause some whiskers to change their shade.

For instance, if you smoke, your beard can develop a yellow or reddish tinge. Even repeated use of a lighter/match near your bristles can result in the heat morphing their color. 

Then there are some beard care products that are too harsh and give your facial hairs a shade that doesn’t match your head. For instance, many beard balms are yellow due to their beeswax contents. This can tinge a gray or white beard and give it a yellowish hue.

So watch your health and lifestyle and be sure to use premium-quality beard grooming products regularly in order to keep your whiskers’ natural color intact.

Ginger beard perk: They turn gray later

Yep, red hair retains its natural pigmentation longer than black, brown or blond hair. 

Eventually it turns gray later in life, but it won’t change as quickly as other colors do. You may see hairs morph through a cool coppery phase, followed by a blondish/rose phase, before finally giving you the silver fox look.

Don’t see red when you see red

If you sprout a ginger beard beneath your brown or black head hair, don’t despair. It’s totally normal and just a genetic thing.

Some brunette bros love their red beard hairs! We sure do. We love all beards and all the variations that can crop up. Variety is the spice of life. A beard that contrasts in color with head hair is distinctive and special. It’s also totally natural!

If you really feel self-conscious because of your ginger beard, then by all means talk to your professional barber about coloring it. Always get expert advice because (1) getting the right shade to match your head is very challenging, (2) it’s a messy and finicky thing to do, and (3) once you start coloring, you’ll need to keep it up as your beard keeps growing out in its original hue.

Otherwise, embrace your natural ginger beard! Red is a dope vibe and we dig it.

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