Wondering why your beard hair is a different color to the hair on your head?
It's one of life's biggest mysteries so let’s put this quandary to bed once and for all. To shed light on this phenomenon, we must turn to science.
It begins with the the melanocortin 1 receptor gene. Otherwise known as MC1R, it's a key protein and regulator of pigmentation in hair. And this is where we'll find answers.
Now it's time to get your lab coats on and let's find out why your beard is red (even if your head hair isn't)!
The Science Behind Red Beards
A mutation in the inherited MC1R gene causes a red beard. Two mutated MC1R genes produce red hair all over.
A singular mutated MC1R gene causes partial red hair. This creates reddish hues in unpredictable places like the chin or sideburns.
Even if you’re not a redhead, you could still have the red hair gene present.
Why Is My Beard Turning Red?
A healthy beard is the ultimate sign of manliness, so it's no wonder many men experiment with growing one out. In every man's life, we'll grow at very least a bit of stubble.
It often comes as a bit of a shock to see ginger hairs grow out of your face. This wasn't the plan!? After all, your head hair may be a different color....
So why is your beard turning red?
It's likely someone in your family tree is a redhead. This could be from your immediate family but also could be an ancestor living in a bygone era. Perhaps long before you could take a selfie of your beautiful whiskers.
Petra Haak-Bloem, a genetic specialist explained to Vice's Motherboard:
"Generally speaking, people inherit hair color not only from their parents, but also from their grandparents and earlier ancestors. So it's entirely possible that one distant ancestor had a hair color that suddenly appears again through a certain combination of genes—and that can be quite unexpected for parents."
Diving deeper, it's the MC1R gene that causes ginger beard hairs.
The MC1R gene provides instructions for making a protein. This protein transforms pheomelanin (red pigment) into eumelanin (black pigment).
It's possible a mutation can occur in one or both strands of the gene. As Haak-Bloem states:
“When someone inherits two mutated versions of the MC1R-gene (one from each parent), less pheomelanin is converted into eumelanin. The pheomelanin accumulates in the pigment cells and the person ends up with red hair and fair skin.”
So that’s what happens when there are two mutated genes. But what about one mutation?
You’ve got it. Having a single mutated MC1R can give a person red hair in sporadic places. This is how you get a full red beard even if your hair is a different color. It may also cause red beard strands in specific areas such as mustache, sideburns, or chin.
So that’s the science. Clear as mud? If so, you can likely blame your red hues on your great, great, great grandad. Or be thankful for them as many of us are!
Are Red Beards Rare?
Red hair is rare. A minuscule 1% to 2% of humans have natural ginger hair.
It's an amazing stat that may lead you to think your red-hued beard is a genetic marvel. Not meaning to put a dampener on this, but a red beard is much more common.
You know the MC1R we were talking of? To have red hair, you'll need two copies of that. One from your Mum and the other from your Dad.
To get a hint of auburn in your beard, you'll only need one copy of MC1R. So the possibility of inheriting a single gene from either of your parents is more plausible. And thus, red beards aren't too rare.
Do Red Beards Turn Grey?
A pigment called melanin determines hair color. As we age levels of melanin decrease. This causes our natural hair color to fade and hair strands turn grey.
If you have high levels of testosterone beard hair grows faster than head hair. If this is the case, a beard will show signs of grey before your locks.
Baldness, grey hairs, bad backs, and the list goes on. Growing old isn't for wimps, is it?
But here is the good news...
Red hair will keep natural pigment longer than other colors.
Natural red hair fades through a range of colors. Starting auburn, you're likely to fade to copper and a rose blond before the grey hairs appear.
So the red-bearded gent will fend off the greys for longer. But that doesn't mean you're immune to the aging process.
The chances are you'll experience grey at some point. A worldwide survey showed that at 50 years old, 50% of the population is 50% grey.
But remember, wearing a salt and pepper beard oozes confidence. Some reports even suggest that the greys in your beard are attractive to the opposite sex.
What Nationality Has Red Beards?
The ginger beard conjures up Viking imagery. We're always thinking of fearless red-bearded Scandinavian warriors raiding through Europe.
Or maybe you associate red beards with Ireland. Auburn fuzzed jawlines sipping stout in one of Dublin's finest pubs.
Are these just casual stereotypes? What nation's really have red beards?
In an age of globalization and years of migration. The ginger beard is no longer confined to a small corner of the globe and is now common amongst men all over the world.
While there hasn't been a study on the geography of beard color. There have been studies to pinpoint the redhead capital of the world. This should give us a powerful indicator of the roots of red beards.
If it was on number alone, the USA likely has the highest number of red-bearded gents. If only 1% of the American population had red hair, you're talking approximately 3,000,000 people.
But to get an accurate idea of the origins we need to work with percentages.
A study by Eupedia suggests The British Isles have the highest number of red-heads per capita. In particular, it's the Celtic nations of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales with the highest redhead population.
With approx 10% of these nations sporting red locks, the chances are they are the proud epicenter of red beards.
So if you see those red hues, it's a good chance one of your ancestors was from a Celtic country.
To wrap this up we can confirm that your red beard is down to genetics and specifically a gene called MCR1.
You don't need us to tell you that genetics are near impossible to change.
A red contrasting beard to the color of your head hair can give a very sharp, distinctive look. So it’s time to be proud of your red-hued whiskers! You shouldn't wish it any other way!
What's your take on your red beard? We'd love to hear your stories. Drop them in the comments below!