Reasons Why Some Men Can't Grow Beards Even If Their Lives Depended On It
Since the days of yore, growing a beard has been a sign of masculinity, virility and wisdom.
By accentuating the jawline, beards help present a more formidable image, signifying ruggedness and strength. Or at least, some people apparently think they do. Unfortunately, for some beard-growers, it’s harder to grow out their chin sweater than for others, and the reason why some men can’t grow beards is pretty clear.
While self-described beardy lumbersexuals (not a real thing) have brought beards back into fashion in these last years of the 2010s, historically, a fuzzy chin has gone in and out of style. Different people may have different reasons to grow out their beards — President Abraham Lincoln, for example, famously grew his beard before running for president when a young supporter suggested it would win him votes. (Apparently, it worked.) But the reasons someone might not be able to grow a beard are a little more specific.
“The largest factor that determines beard growth is really genetics,” says Dr. Amy McMichael, a dermatologist at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina who works with conditions like alopecia and hirsutism. “Some men simply have genetics such that hair follicles are sparse or hair growth is slow,” she tells Elite Daily.
Basically, some people just can't grow beards, no matter how hard they try.
When it comes to hair growth, you might have heard a sparse beard blamed on a lack of testosterone, but in general, testosterone gets a little too much credit. “Testosterone does play a role in the signaling of hair growth, but the system does have limits,” says McMichael.
Dr. Kristen Irene Lo Sicco, a dermatologist with New York City’s NYU Langone Health and the associate director of the NYU Skin & Cancer Unit, explains a little further. “In regards to facial hair, testosterone stimulates its growth and estrogens slow it,” she tells Elite Daily. In general, adult cisgender men have an average range of testosterone depending on their age. But as The New York Times highlighted in 2012, people with thick beards may be more sensitive to testosterone than their baby-faced peers.
The most prominent effects of testosterone on beard growth, though, would probably be seen by trans men taking supplemental testosterone. “Transgender men see the effects of [external] testosterone,” which may be taken in several forms, per Lo Sicco. But there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to grow a beard either, as effects may vary from person to person. “Hair follicle sensitivity to androgens [including testosterone] varies with facial hair follicles enlarging first above the lips and on the chin,” she says.
In general, McMichael calls low testosterone a “rare” cause of beardlessness. “Poor beard growth alone is rarely a signal of low testosterone,” she says. Moreover, if that is the cause, you’ll see a lot more signs. “Because testosterone has a role in many other process[es], it is likely that other symptoms would be noticed as well if it were low,” she notes.
In other words, the capacity to grow a beard has nothing to do with manliness, virility, or testosterone levels, and everything to do with genetics. So blame Mom and Dad if you can't.
There are also a few conditions that could affect your beard growth. Both dermatologists bring up a condition called alopecia areata, an autoimmune form of hair loss characterized by patchy hair loss in an area that — importantly — previously had full hair growth. It most commonly presents as round and distinct patches of baldness, and can affect any part of your body that grows hair. There’s also the possibility of physical trauma to your beard area or even scarring from severe acne, which can affect the hair follicles in a beard. “If a certain disease process is causing hair loss, it is important to seek help from a dermatologist who can tailor a therapy regimen that's right for you,” advises Lo Sicco.
Overall, though, not being able to grow a beard isn't a medical issue, and there's not much you can or should do about it. “The idea that someone can change the number of hair follicles or diameter and density of hair shafts is a myth,” says McMichael. Another myth? That shaving will help. “Shaving does not increase hair growth and this is a long held myth that should be dispelled.”
While some topical treatments are over the counter, a lot of the more “potent” treatments, like steroid injections, are done in a doctor’s care, Lo Sicco notes. But there is one very important thing you can do — take care of yourself. “We should care for beards with the same delicacy that we do our scalp hair,” says Lo Sicco. She recommends shampooing and conditioning your beard (with extra attention to curly hair, which is more prone to breakage). McMichael says to make sure you’re using a good, sharp razor when you do shave to prevent skin irritation.
So if you're currently surrounded by thick-bearded hipsters and feeling a little left out, be comforted in knowing you'll at least have nice, soft — if hairless — skin. Regardless, it's what's on the inside that really counts, right?
Additional reporting by Lilli Petersen.
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