Why Can't I Grow A Full Beard?

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I can't grow anything like a full beard. There are just not enough hairs on my face and they do not grow very quickly, and basically reach a point when they just give up. That point seems to be about the same time that they are at their most itchy stage. So, even trying to grow a beard, which never happens even if I wait 6 months, becomes quite uncomfortable.

My inability to grow a beard doesn't bother me, because I think beards are disgusting and most guys wearing beards look ridiculous. I object to this newfound hipster fascination with looking like an urban lumberjack in some misguided mission to appear manly because you just don't feel manly enough inside. The manly thing to do, my friends, is to grow or not grow a beard, as you like, regardless of mine or anyone else's feelings on the subject.

There is a reason, though, why men, including all the U.S. presidents, became mostly clean-shaven after the invention of the safety razor. It's cleaner to go beardless. Beards are hosts for bacteria and creepy-crawlies. I kid you. There is no evidence that your beard is as dirty as a toilet, and beards have gone in and out of fashion many times throughout history. That means the current beard movement is not special. Clean-shaven will come back around. It always does, which will be a good time for some of those macho hipsters whose facial hairs probably match their basement hairs. Good look, that.

If you want to be like the presidents of yesteryear you may want to try an old-fashioned safety razor. If you've been using disposable cartridge shavers, this will save you a LOT of money. I've been very happy with my VIKINGS BLADE The Chieftain Safety Razor. I didn't say I had no whiskers to shave! The ones I have are a bugger to cut.

But enough of my hair follicles (get it? I said follicles instead of follies). The question is why can't I grow a beard? Why can some dudes grow hairs out of their face like bread grows mold, and others just have a sparse and sad little whisker patch? The video above, from Seeker, explains the reasons.

It's Not Testosterone

I suspect the fascination with testosterone levels and how it makes you an "alpha male" that some post post-adolescent males have is a big reason for the grow-a-beard-out-of-high-school movement. Growing a thick beard means you have lots of testosterone in you! And, if you can't grow a beard, you don't have enough of that man juice.

But although testosterone is responsible for secondary sex characteristics in men, such as a deep voice, muscle mass, and face and body hair, lack of testosterone is not the reason why some men can't grow full beards. I myself have no problem building muscle, even though I can't grow a full beard (although I can rock a goatee and look meaner than you), and I'm close to 50.


It turns out it's not your testosterone levels alone which predict how much hair you'll grow on your face, but the levels of a specific, and very powerful type of testosterone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). You may have heard of it, as it's the one that is associated with hair loss. In other words, the more you have of this stuff, the more likely you'll lose your hair. But don't worry, it will grow out your face. Yep, this stuff is associated with hair loss on the scalp and hair growth on the face.

Incidentally, testosterone is responsible for axillary and pubic hair growth, or underarm and pubic hair. So, I'm manly after all.

But it's not that simple. DHT needs things to bind to before it can do its stuff. These things are called androgen receptors. The more androgen receptors you have in the skin on your face, the more DHT will bind to them, and the more hair will grow on your face. On the other hand, the more receptors you have in the skin of your scalp, the more will fall out. The skin on the top of the head has more receptors than the skin of the sides and back, so this is why men lose the hair on the top, but not the sides and back of their head.

Phases of Hair Growth

Before we move on, we need to understand how the hair grows on our head. The hair has a growth cycle consisting of three stages, the anagen phase, catagen phase, and telogen phase.

The anagen phase is the growth phase. During this time, which lasts three to five years, your hair grows about half an inch a month, but maybe a bit faster in the summer (weird, huh?). Typically, hair will grow from around 18 to 30 inches before the anagen phase ends. Asians tend to have a longer anagen phase, and can grow their hair to around 39 inches (about one meter).

The catagen phase is not very interesting. After the hair stops growing, it enters this phase, which is just a transition period i which nothing much happens. But, it only lasts for 10 days.

Then, during the telogen phase, the hair falls out. The hair follicle itself takes a rest for three months before the whole cycle begins again.

All your hair is in a different phase at any one time because they are all independent. So, some of your hair is growing while other hairs are falling out. And, yes, as you can see, for the most part, your hair is either growing or falling out. It spends very little time just sitting there on your head. There are always exceptions, of course, so there are folks, usually women, with extremely long anagen phases. These women can grow Rapnuzel style hair, sometimes down almost to their feet. If you want very long hair (I wear my hair long because I hate haircuts), and you thought there was some special trick; there is not. Your hair will only grow so long and no longer.

How Can DHT Make Hair Grow AND Fall Out?

The above probably makes no sense. Why would dihydrotestosterone cause more hair to grow on your face while also causing you to lose the hair on your scalp?

DHT binds to receptors in the hair follicles. For the follicles of the scalp, this results in progressive shortening of the anagen cycle, meaning there is less time for hair growth. The hair becomes thin and almost colorless and the telogen cycle time increases. The result is that there is less and less hair on the scalp and eventually, the follicles simply die and stop producing hair. Now, when they transplant hair follicles from other parts of the scalps, the parts with few DHT receptors, these follicles are not susceptible to the problem, which is termed androgenic alopecia.

Beard Hair is Different than Scalp Hair

You already knew that beard hair wasn't quite the same as head hair, I know. But it's important. The hair on your face starts out as vellus hair. This is the short, thick and light colored hair that grows on most of your body as a child including the face, underarms and pubic area.


Image by Kubek15/Slave via wikimediaImage Credit


Image by Kubek15/Slave via wikimediaImage Credit

During puberty, androgen hormones cause a some of this vellus hair to turn into terminal hair, which is the thicker, longer, more darkly colored hair that grows on the pubic region, armpits, and legs. In men, this also occurs on other parts of the body, usually the chest, but sometimes on other areas of the torso, depending on the prevalence of androgen receptors. Many women shave their legs, so yes, they have vellus hair on their legs which has become terminal hair, but men typically have hairier legs than women, resulting, again, from the availability of androgen receptors. Some of your vellus hair never become terminal or androgenic hairs. This hair is what we call peach fuzz.

Androgens are responsible for converting vellus hairs on the face into terminal hairs, DHT being the most important determinant of beard growth. Those of us who have fewer androgen receptors in our face, experience less beard growth.

Scalp Products do NOT Grow Beard Hair!

Some men are being led to believe the same products promoted to promote hair growth on the scalp will help them grow a thick beard. If these products are meant to block the action of DHT, as most are, then you can see that they will absolutely not help you grow a beard. Some beard oils are sold with anti-androgens. If these work at all, they will work to make a beard thinner, not thicker. Chances are very good they will only make your beard oily, though.

Beards and Baldness Do Not Mean Higher Testosterone

I've already said that having a beard does not mean you have higher testosterone, or that the beardless have lower test. Both relate to the number of androgen receptors present. But there is also a prevalent myth, because of the association with DHT, that balding men have higher levels of circulating testosterone. Obviously, this is not true, and there is no morphological difference between balding and non-balding men, generally speaking. In fact, one study found that the absolute serum androgen concentrations in men with a disposition to balding is lower than in men with no reduction of scalp hair. So, no Virginia, your bald pate and hairy face do not correlate with manliness. But a combover does.

Posted on 05 Apr 2018 17:10

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