I have on multiple occasions been rather perturbed when one of my male friends decides to grow a beard. This isn’t due to them looking terrible with a beard, well not in all cases, but because sometimes their beard will be a completely different colour from the hair on their head… that is, ginger.
Now, I have nothing against ginger people whatsoever, but you have to admit that it’s weird that someone with dark brown hair can grow a beard that is ginger. And I’ve been witnessing this more and more in recent years as beards have become quite the trend in male grooming.
I finally decided that it would be a good time to uncover the mystery of why exactly beards can turn out to be this colour and to little surprise I discovered that it had a lot to do with genetics and a little something called science. So if you’re always left a bit weirded out when Movember, Decembeard and Januhairy come around, I’ve got some answers…
If you’ve ever questioned whether your father really sired you on account of his fiery red moustache, rest assured that beard hair is quite a bit different to the hair on top of your head. It’s curlier, coarser, doesn’t tend to fall out and whilst it is still subject to the same genetic rules that determine overall hair colour, there are some exceptions.
Petra Haak Bloem of Erfocentrum, a Dutch organization that studies genetics elaborates on this age-old conundrum. Bloem states that the gene coding for hair colour is called “incomplete dominant hereditary traits” which means that your resulting hair colour isn’t just made up of one gene coding. So genes can be expressed differently in regards to hair colour on different parts of your body, including your head, beard, eyebrows and pubic hair.
She says that in order to have ginger hair all over, you must be a carrier for two copies of the recessive MC1R-gene on chromosome 16. But with just one copy of this recessive gene you will have ginger hair popping up in sporadic places, like your beard but not your hair – which will remain brown or auburn.
So bases covered, let’s get into the nitty-gritty science of it all. Hair colour is dependent of two pigments of melanin in your hair – there is eumelanin, a black pigment and pheomelanin, a red pigment. The MC1R-gene is tasked with making a protein called melanocortin 1 which plays a role in converting pheolmelanine into eumelanine.
So two things happen to result in varying levels of ginger-ness. If you have inherited two mutations of the MC1R-gene, less pheomelanine (red pigment) is converted into eumelanine (black pigment) so you end up with ginger hair, and the accompanying fair skin. But if you’ve only inherited one of the mutated MC1R-genes, you start growing ginger hair in the random places we mentioned earlier on.
Well, that’s that. If you’re still not keen on your ginger beard you could always douse it in glitter as some hipsters have been doing recently, otherwise I’m sure that it’ll grow on you.