Beards are in high demand these days. Hell, you can even win awards for having one. But if you’re in the process of growing your own at the moment, you might have noticed that the hair on your chin doesn’t always match up with what’s on your head. And for a lot of guys, that difference is marked by a surprising amount of red-hued whiskers. Well, if you’re one of those ginger-chinned gents, today brings good news: Science is here to explain the follicular phenomenon.
“The genes that determine hair color are so-called ‘incomplete dominant hereditary traits.’ This means that there isn’t one single gene that’s dominant over the rest, but all genes influence each other,” Petra Haak-Bloem, a specialist at Erfocentrum, the Dutch national information center for genetics, told Motherboard. The red hair itself is caused by a mutation in what researchers call the MC1R gene. Having two mutated genes gives someone all red hair, but having just one can give a person red hair in unexpected places. In non-Gattaca terms, that means even if a gene that signals brown hair is dominant in your family, another gene for red hair may still be present in your genetic code.
So if you’ve got a red beard, someone at some point in your family had red hair, but those genes can express themselves differently in different people across different generations. “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,” Haak-Bloem says. Essentially, if you’re upset about having a red beard that clashes with your brown hair, you may want to blame your mom’s grandfather’s cousin.