Why is beard hair so wiry? [Let’s look at the SCIENCE]

At some point in every bearded person is beard journey we ask ourselves this exact question: why is beard hair so wiry? It normally occurs when we are looking at our beard in the mirror and we see that is just so different to head hair – and perhaps it is one of our bad beard hair days! In this article we are going to have a look to see at a molecular level if there is any difference between beard hair and head hair and what really makes it so wiry. The good news is that there are some really simple ways to stop your beard looking so wiry if you want to have your beard looking its best.

Beard hair is wiry because it tends to be curly, it has a thick shaft that is oval in cross-section, and it also is easy to become tangled. The nature of beard hair means that it can dry out very quickly which will add to the three properties that make it so wiry.

There is no doubt that beard hair is in some way wiry. But what do we mean when we think about wiry?

The thing that pops up in my mind is a product like the Brillo pad or a wire scrubbing pad. In this instance, the wiryness comes from the disorganized nature of the wires intertwining with each other and not laying in any particular way. Also, I think of it in terms of the thickness of the wires. They are thick enough that you can feel individual wires easily. Lastly, I think that the other aspect that make something wiry is the curliness of the individual strands. Morphology of the individual strands. In this instance, I think metallic wire and hairs are oval in cross-section. If you think of a wire it often is a curly structure.

So, in the interest of understanding what we mean by wiry I think beard hair and a wire like structure share these simple properties:

  • tangled strands – beard hair can sometimes become a tangled mass of hair.
  • Thickness – beard hair is thicker than head hair in general.
  • Curliness – beard hair is generally much curly than head hair due to its oval cross-section.
  • Dryness – the dryness of the beard hair will dictate how wiry it feels. Dry beards will resist brushing and moulding more than well-conditioned and hydrated beards.

These four properties are what make beard hair particularly wiry. Even though we may not be able to change the overall cross-section of the hair or no curly it is we can control the way in which it sets i.e. the amount the beard hair is tangled together as well as providing some form of lasting hold to the shape of the beard.

A study in 2006 studied the three main morphological features of beard hair, the cuticles, the cortex, and the medulla were identified and characterised via a variety of techniques. The optical microscopy of the hair revealed that the majority of the beard hair samples had an elliptical cross-section. They also found that the beard hair samples from different people varied significantly in the shape of the cross-sectional area. And not much variation was found between the samples taken from different facial sites of individuals.

Types of beard hair texture

Ultimately, it is your genetics that determines the type of beard hair texture that you are growing. The genetics that you are born with determine things like the shape of your hair follicle, the cross-sectional shape of your hair, as well as the growth pattern and density of the hair follicles on different parts of your face.

Your ethnicity also plays a huge role in the type of beard texture that you will grow. As a sweeping broad statement the middle eastern ethnicities can grow fantastic beards as can people of Indian, Italian, and Hungarian descent.

You may also find that the beard hair feels different on different parts of your face. That is because the cross-sectional area of the hair will change depending on where on the face you find it.

Here are the types of beard structures that exist and strongly aligned with genetic heritage.

Fair and straight

Hair follicles of straight beards grow perpendicular to the surface of the skin. This means that the hair does not have any torsional or growth strains put onto it as it is growing out of the skin.

The straighter the beard the rounder the cross-section of the hair is. It is unlikely that you will have a perfectly straight beard but for people with straighter beards the shaft of the hair will be very symmetrical. This is typical of people of Asian descent and you will find that people of Asian heritage will often have straighter and fairer beard hair than people of Caucasian or African descent.

Wavy hair

It is common for people of Caucasian descent to have wavy beards with some curliness but not a tightly curled beard. This is because the hair follicle is not completely perpendicular to the surface of the skin and the hair has a cross-section which is in a semi-oval to oval shape.

This is where hair can start to feel a little bit wiry as the one symmetrical cross-section as well as the growth patterns can result in tighter beard growth and beard hair that curls and tangles together.

Coiled and curly

Typically people of African descent will have much curly and coiled hair than other nationalities. This is because the hair follicle sets more parallel to the surface of the skin and the hair is a flat oval shape when you look at it as a cross-section.

If you are of African descent you will have to do work hard with your beard and come up with a good maintenance regime with lots of quality products to get your beard to stay in shape. One of the plus side is that the curliness allows for a very thick looking beard with great density across the entire face.

You may also find that the coiled and curly nature of your beard makes for easy styling with a beard trimmer. If you want to find out more about the best beard trimmer for thick course hair check out my five insider pics in this article – click here.

This type of hair texture will respond well to being kept hydrated and will very quickly feel wiry even if it is only very slightly dried out.

Beard hair versus head hair under the microscope

in this section we are going to look at the scanning electron microscope and optical microscope images of beard hair and head hair that exist in the scientific literature.

Beard hair under the microscope

These images are taken from a study called structural characteristics and mechanical behaviour of beard hair which was published in the Journal of materials science in 2006. The first image will look at is the cross-sectional images of beard hair taken from different facial sites of two different participants.

You can see that there is significant variation between the two different individuals. Subject a has an flat oval structure whereas subject C has a much more complicated structure in their beard hair. If you look at the cross-section is carefully you will see that the cuticle layer can be seen as a thin dark outer boundary layer. The cortex is seen as a thick grey region and the medulla is the inner dark region of the hair.

The outer layer of the hair is shown in the image below.

you can easily observe the cuticle structure as it looks like a roof tile arrangement of the cuticle sales. This is very similar to what scalp hair looks like on the surface. It is this flatness that can make beard hair so much more wiry than head hair.

For a comparison, here is what head hair looks like when you place it under the microscope. I have also gone through the scientific literature to find images that have been published in peer-reviewed journals. That means you can be confident that this is what the experts have agreed that head hair and beard hair are like. You don’t just have to take my word for it!

Head hair under the microscope

The images in this section are from an article called hair: it structure and response to cosmetic preparations. It is published in the clinics in dermatology.

The outer part of head hair looks like this:

you can see that the outer surface structure is overlapping cuticle sales and this is from a scanning electron microscope. Human hair is surrounded by about 6 to 10 layers of cuticle sales each approximately 0.2 to 0.5 micro metres thick. They overlap on the surface and are seen to be like the roof tiles that we discussed for the beard hair.

The cross-section of this hair would be circular.

You can see that there are a lot of ways that beard hair and head hair are similar. Mammalian hairs are very similar no matter where they come from in the body in terms of their three layer structure but there cross-sectional area and the shape of the hairs is what determines the different textures and wiry nature of some hairs.

How do I stop my beard looking wiry?

Now that you know why beard hair is more wiry than head hair we should take a look at the ways that you can make it less wiry so that you can stop your beard from becoming a tangled wiry mass. Before we go on I do want to point out that there is nothing you can do about the following things:

  • the cross-sectional shape of your hair – the cross-sectional shape of your hair is determined by your genetics and no amount of pressing with a hot iron or chemical treatment will change that.
  • The shape of your hair follicles – the shape of your hair follicles cannot be changed as they are also determined by your genetics.

However, there are plenty of things you can do to make sure that your hair is less wiry. One of the best things is to make sure that you are not drying out your beard hair through excessive heat treatment or over shampooing.

Let’s take a look at the things that you can do right now to keep your beard from becoming too wiry.

1. Lock in the moisture

Keeping the moisture in your hair will be the number one thing that you can do to make your hair not as wiry. Check out my latest insight on my YouTube video about using beard oil to lock in the moisture:

It’s really important that you use products to keep the moisture in your beard if you are planning on using a beard hairdryer or straightener. The one thing I found recently is that using a beard oil before using a hairdryer and after I have just come out of a shower means that the oil keeps the moisture in my beard and I have found that it is much more manageable and not as wiry.

After the process of straightening your beard you can also backup the conditioning with a beard conditioner. If you want to have a look at the best beard conditioner is on the market right now check out my other article – 10 best beard conditioner is [beyond oil and balm!) – Click here.

2. Comb your beard

Another really awesome way that you can stop your beard becoming wiry is to brush and comb your hair regularly. That way, you are avoiding any tangles and curls in your beard. And it helps the beard lay flat against your skin.

I recommend that if you are going to comb your beard regularly that you get a natural fibre brush. This will be far kinder on your beard then plastic comb. The way plastic cones are made can result in sharp edges along the sides of the teeth. Go check out my recommended tools page where you will be able to see all of my recommended beard tools including which brushes you should buy.

3. Use beard conditioner

Using a beard conditioner is one of the best ways that you can protect your beard. Many people have heard of beard oil and beard balm but this is some next level hydration treatment.

What are the benefits of beard conditioners?

It can be confusing with beard oils, butters, balms and waxes. Why would you need a product that specifically conditions the beard. Unlike other products that also provide a styling and hold component – beard conditioners are formulated for maximum nourishment for your beard.

Here are some of the best reasons that you should consider using a dedicated beard conditioner:

  • It nourishes and moisturizes the beard – one of the biggest benefits to your beard – it makes it lovely and soft and will make your wirey hair much easier to manage.
  • It helps softens the stubble on the face – If you are not one for growing a long beard but prefer to keep it close to the skin the it’ll help soften the ends of the hairs and make it way less spikey!
  • Imparts a healthy shine – A well-conditioned beard is one with a nice healthy shine to it. If you want to find out more tips and tricks to making your beard shine – check out my other article.
  • It makes combing and styling easier – having hair that doesn’t grip the comb and sits well after it is brushed into place is an achievable outcome if you use a beard conditioner regularly.
  • It reduces irritation and dry skin – the skin under a beard is not easy to look after. However, the regular use of a conditioner will leave the skin nourished and irritation-free. If you are worried about bacteria and a smelly beard you can also use a beard conditioner with essential oil that has antibacterial properties.
  • They leave a nice fragrance – The last and maybe one of the strongest effects noticed by others is that a good beard conditioner will leave your beard smelling lovely! Choose a beard conditioner that has a smell that you like and, if you have a significant other, make sure that they also like the smell! There is nothing quite like a lovely smelling product!

Use a beard conditioner regularly and you will be sure to have a less wiry beard that is much easier to manage.

4. Don’t shampoo every day

One of the last things you should consider is how often you shampoo your beard. I know in the early stages of my beard growth I would regularly over shampoo my beard for fear of it smelling or having bacteria grow in it.

Fear not. As long as you do not completely neglect your beard it will remain healthy and clean. I recommend that you invest in a good beard soap so that you don’t dry out your hair. Beard soap is a specially formulated for the beard hair. Beard hair is very different to head hair as the face makes a lot less oils than the top of your head. This means that if you wash your beard regularly you can easily dry out. This will leave your beard wiry and brittle. A dry beard is much more prone to damage and so you will find that not only is it wiry but you will likely have more hair fall than usual.

Go check out my other article on this website called the best beard soap – the ultimate guide and products – click here.

5. Reduce the weathering effects on your beard

All hair fibres undergo some degree of break down from root to tip before being shared during the telogen phase. The term weathering of hair has been limited by some authorities to the changes in the hair shaft due to cosmetic procedures. However, factors such as combing, brushing, bleaching, and chemical treatments can also cause this type of weathering. This can also include natural friction, wetting, and ultraviolet radiation exposure.

Weathering of hair normally is a progressive change that starts at the surface cuticle sales. The cuticle sales generally lift up and break irregularly which leads to parts of the hair that have no cuticle cells at all. Once the outside cuticle cells have been completely removed the inside parts of the hair are able to become damaged by the environments.

If you are a compulsive brush or you shampoo your hair to frequently the hair can become easily damaged. Also, if you regularly swim in the ocean the corrosive nature of sea salt can also dry out your hair and cause the repairable damage. Use the approaches that we discussed above to make sure that you don’t end up with incredibly dry and brittle hair.


So, there is why your beard feels wiry. It can be very tempting to think that all beards are wiry but there are some easy things that you can implement right now to make sure your beard is soft and manageable.

The important thing is that you focus on the things that are in your control such as your treatment regime and use of products rather than what you can’t control such as your beard cross-sectional area and shape as well as the hair follicle shape and growth pattern.

A wiry beard can be tamed with the conscious use of the right products although it may just be a wiry and wild beard that you are after. And who am I to say that that is a bad thing!

Happy beard growing and good luck with your bearded adventure!

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!