Why Do So Many Men Have Red Beards But Not Red Hair?

Above: Christian Bale and his infamous ginger beard

Being able to grow the perfect beard is a source of pride for a lot of men. Facial hair goes through trends just like haircuts and hair colour do, and right now it’s all about the full beard. But have you ever wondered why guys with dark hair will often grow a completely ginger beard?

The joke is that people with red hair have no soul, but what if it’s just your beard? Does that mean you have half a soul? Or you’re just really good at hiding your soul-less status. All jokes aside, there actually is a scientific reason why a lot of men end up with red beards, and it has everything to do with genetics. It’s just a little more complicated than having a gene for brown hair, and therefore all your hair is brown.

The gene that determines hair colour is called an “incomplete dominant hereditary trait”. With incomplete dominance, there isn’t one single gene that’s dominant over the rest, so all genes influence each other and are expressed by blending together. Even then, there’s no way to predict how those genes will be expressed in comparison to someone else who has the same genes.

We inherit hair colour genes not only from our parents, but from all relatives. That means, even if there isn’t a single red hair to be found on your parents or grandparents, you could still end up with a surprise ginger beard.

The shade of your hair depends on what kind of pigment you have and also how much of that pigment, both of which are determined by your DNA. There are two sorts of melanin that blend to create you unique hair colour. Eumelanine is black pigment, and pheomelanine is red pigment.

One specific gene called MC1R plays a big part in giving people red hair. The function of MC1R is to make a protein called melanocortin 1, which converts pheolmelanine into eumelanine. If someone inherits two mutated MC1R genes (one from each parent), less of the red pigment is converted into the black pigment, leaving them with red hair and most likely, fair skin.

The surprise red beard occurs because of that same mutation in the MC1R gene. If you only inherited one mutated gene instead of two, there’s a higher chance you’ll have red hair in unexpected places, like your beard, and not on your head. So, it’s totally possible (and pretty common) to have a red beard when no one else in your family has red hair. You can relax, there’s no reason to suspect your mom might have cheated on your dad with the ginger mailman.

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