Why does my beard turn orange? [The Science]

It’s a common sight in bearded men. Where the person has dark-haired hair and a bright orange beard. But what causes this person’s beard to turn orange? It could be that you are considering growing a beard but you are not sure what colour it will turn out. You see, it’s not as easy as looking at your heritage or parents to see what colour your beard will be – it’s much more complicated than that. In this article we are going to go over what makes your beard turn orange and look at the science of beard hair colour.

Your beard is turning orange because of a mutated gene called the MC1R-gene. This gene plays an important role in pigmentation. This gene codes for the production of different amounts of pigments, called melanin, in your hair. The mutation stops the body being able to produce the black pigment and so you end up with red or orange beard hair.

The science behind this can get pretty complicated and it is not just a simple single gene mutation that can cause it. The genes that code for hair colour are interacting in a complicated manner and can be expressed differently in different areas of your body for example your head, beard, eyebrows, or pubic region.

Let’s take a quick look at the science of beard hair colour and why your beard is turning orange.

The science of orange beard hair

For a person to have orange beard hair (despite the colour of their head hair) they must inherit two mutated versions of the MC1R-gene. This is because if they were to have inherited only one mutated gene the other one would easily cover for it – and they wouldn’t end up with her orange beard.

All about the genes

Why does my beard turn orange? - genes

Petra Haak-Bloem from Erfocentrum, which is a company that promotes genetics and awareness of genetic disorders, told the publication Motherboard:

More than a decade ago, researchers discovered that one gene (MC1R) on chromosome 16 plays an important part in giving people red hair. MC1R’s task is making a protein called melanocortin 1. That protein plays an important part in converting pheolmelanine into eumelanine,”

“When someone inherits two mutated versions of the MC1R-gene (one from each parent), less pheomelanine is converted into eumelanine. The feomelanine accumulates in the pigment cells and the person ends up with red hair and fair skin.”

Let’s break that down a little bit for us to understand.

The genetics that determines hair colour is very complicated. No single gene dominates over the rest but all genes influence each other so that a combination of genes results in a different hair colour. And the interesting thing is that the same genes that are inherited by people can be expressed (this just means the results on the human body) differently for individuals. That means that there are a range of possibilities for combinations of head hair, armpit hair, pubes, or beard.

Because of the way that genes work you don’t just inherit genes from your parents but strictly speaking you also inherit genes from your grandparents and earlier generations of your family. So that’s why you could have the hair colour that a great great great great grandfather had. We even get a very small amount of genes from even more distant relatives. You share about 0.78% of your DNA with your great-great-great-great-great grandfather (aka 5th great-grandfather). So, even though it is very unlikely that your beard growing potential comes from your great-great-great-great-great grandfather – it is a possibility.

These genes will not only determine the density or growth pattern of your beard but it will also determine the pigmentation of your beard too!

That’s all well and good but how does that different collection of genes result in a range of different hair colours? Let’s take a look at the hair follicle and what is going on in the pigment cells of the hair.

The result: hair pigments

Your beard hair colour is determined by the ratio of different pigments (which are all called melanin) that are created in the hair follicle of the beard hair.

Melanin is a broad term for a group of natural pigments found in other organisms – not just humans. The term melanin comes from the Greek term, melas, which means black or dark.

In each hair follicle there are different levels of pigmentation which act like colour building blocks for each individual hair. There are two types of hair pigmentation that are created in your hair follicle:

  • eumelanin – this type of melanin results in brown and black pigmentation.
  • pheomelanin – this type of melanin results in yellow and red pigmentation.

Different ratios of these hair colour building blocks and up in your hair. The thing that dictates this is a combination of your genes and the ratio of these building blocks in your hair root. In my case I have many different types of beard hair colours in my beard. I have orange, light brown, dark brown, black, and now even grey hairs. If you want to know more about if it is normal to have different colours in your beard check out my other article – click here.

So, if your beard has a load of different colours in it that is completely normal and if it is completely orange it is because your genes and the expression of those genes are reducing the amount of the brown and black pigmentation being formed. That is, that the production of eumelanin is being limited.

That is why your beard hair is turning orange.

There isn’t too much you can do about it other than dying your hair or choosing not to grow a beard at all. You can’t change your genes. But there are some external factors that could change the colour of your beard. Let’s have a look at those now if you’re not convinced that your genes are the root cause of your orange beard.

Products that can help:

These are products that can help even out the colour of your beard.

External factors that change the colour of your beard

Besides the obvious genetic factors, that we discussed above, there are actually a few environmental aspects that can change it to. Some of these may or may not be in your control but they are useful to know about if you are worried about your beard turning orange and maybe it is due to one of these factors

UV damage

If you are out in the sun often, whether or not it’s your job or for a hobby, the sun can change the colour of your hair. Everyone has seen the effect of some and UV radiation on their arm hair or other parts of the body. The UV light is so powerful that it can cause structural damage to the surface of the hair and the UV light can easily degrade the melanin (pigmentation) that is found in your hair.

Just like the outside of an old house your beard can get lighter in the sun as the pigmentation is destroyed. Apparently, this bleaching effect is more common in people with a European heritage and up to 48 genetic markers have been identified as important in determining how easy the hair bleaches.

So if your beard is turning orange and you have found that you have been going out in UV radiation a load it could be that protecting your beard with a beard wrap would stop your beard becoming lighter than it currently is.

Overheating your hair

Have you ever heard of bubble hair? This deformity of hair was first reported in 1986 and further characterised in 1992. It was first noticed when people started reporting localised hair loss, breakage, and coarseness of the hair. In 1994, there was a study performed to have a look at the origin of bubble hair. They found that if you heat the hair too much you can end up with gas bubbles forming in the hair.

Why does my beard turn orange? Hair bubbles

The study used microscopes and scanning electron microscopes after applying heat to normal hair to look at the bubbles and investigate the effect that that had on the hair. They found that certain temperature ranges resulted in different amounts of bubbles being formed.

It was found that if your hairdryer was operating at about 175° which is about 30° hotter than a typical hairdryer that bubbles were able to be formed. At temperatures of over 300° see which is the surface temperature of an overheating hairdryer within two minutes of turning on you can form bubbles in your hair in under five seconds.

The bubbles can change the colour of the hair but importantly the heat can also damage the pigment cells of the hair. The combination of bubbles and the reduction of some of the pigment cells could be a reason for changing hair colour.

Make sure that your hairdryer and your hair straighteners are not overheating which could potentially cause your hair colour to change.

Insufficient nutrients

If you do not eat the right balance of nutrients you could inhibit your body’s capability of producing healthy hair with healthy pigmentation. This is very unlikely but it can happen in extreme circumstances. If you want to know the top seven foods that increase your beard growth check out my YouTube video below:


Your beard is orange because of the balance of genetic information you have inherited from your ancestors and how that impacts the production of pigmentation in the hair root. People can have orange beards despite having different colour hair on their head and body.

It relies on inheriting two malfunctioning genes from your parents.

I recommend that you embrace your beard colour no matter what colour it is. Orange is a fantastically bright and unique colour that can make your beard stand out from all of the darker ones. There is one thing that makes a beard attractive and it’s not the colour – it’s the confidence of the person wearing it.

Enjoy your beard and everything that it is and I guarantee that it will be a better beard no matter what colour it is.

Frequently asked questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about beard colours.

Why is my beard changing colours?

If your beard is changing colours it could be that you are going through a physical change, such as the onset of grey hairs in older men. Or it could be that there is an external environmental factor that is changing the colour of your beard.

One thing that you need to be sure of is that the hairs are actually changing colour and that it’s not an artefact of your beard just getting longer. As beards grow they will change colour because of the density of the beard hair.

Go check out my other article on the different colours that beards can have – click here.

Why your beard is a different colour to your hair?

The genetics that determines your beard colour is much more complicated than one single gene. In fact, there are plenty of other genes that dictate your hair colour and it can be expressed in different ways on different parts of your body. It’s a very complicated interaction that science is only just starting to understand with the onset of genetic testing and manipulation.

Are ginger beards attractive?

There is no specific research out there that talks about ginger beards. However beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it only takes one person to find your beard irresistible to make it attractive. The closest study that I have been able to find two ginger beards is greybeards – go check out my other article and YouTube video about our greybeards attractive? I put together results from polls and surveys – click here.

The results of my investigations suggest that it is not the colour of the beard that makes it attractive but much rather the way it is maintained dictate how attractive it is. I believe this to be true of ginger beards as well. Ginger beards are just likely to be attractive if they are well maintained and the person that is wearing one is confident.

The Author

Andy Stapleton

Andy is a writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. He has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. He is an avid beard grower and after many years of growing and trialling different beard styles, he started this blog to share the tips, tricks, and science that he has learned along the way!