Gray Beards - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
So you’ve woken up to the realization that gray hairs are appearing in your beard, and you’re not sure whether to be pleased or repulsed! Real Bearded Men gives you the lowdown about hair turning white – why it happens and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly…
Most of us realize that as we age our hair may become gray, a process called achromotrichia, and that’s true of beards too, unlike the Polar Bear who is born white, right? Actually, wrong! Polar Bears have zero pigment in their coats; the hair has no color whatsoever. The shafts are hollow and clear with light-scattering particles that create an optical phenomenon which causes a luminescent reaction, and therefore give out a white appearance. Our own hair follicles are filled with pigmentation made up of two types of melanin: eumelanin and pheomelanin. These, in turn, are responsible for all the natural hair colors we, as humans, can produce. However, as we get older we become more like Polar Bears as the production of melanin is reduced and pigmentation becomes nonexistent. These clear hairs reflect light, appearing white just like our arctic ursine brothers. Sometimes the oh-so-gradual onset of the graying beard and hair is called the ‘salt and pepper’ effect because the white hairs are mixed with the dark, and no one knows for sure what triggers one hair to stop its pigmentation production years ahead of its neighbors just millimeters away. There are, of course, other factors to why your beard might turn gray, including illness, genetic makeup and environmental influences (diet, stress, toxins etc) but normally it’s age related. Premature graying can also be put down as a hereditary factor; if your forefathers have all had white facial hair as younger men, the chances are you will too.
Look after your gray beard and you’ll have the ultimate attraction! Partners are not put off by silver facial hair if it’s styled and trimmed properly (rather than left to rot like some mangy mask of a street hobo!) In fact, whether it’s completely white or contrasting in 50 shades of gray, it can be the hot allurement, setting apart the men from the boys, creating the character of a chap who’s been there, done that, and is ready for more! ‘Distinguished’ is the usual word associated with white whiskers but don’t get that confused with ‘old’. Those gray hairs are a symbol of maturity, so embrace the wisdom and intelligence that it offers, and treat it like the asset it is! Regardless of the density of white, there are some styles that really rock the look that will give you a confidence boost. Here’s a few of the 50 shades of gray styles for the mature man and his gray hair beard, and don’t forget to find out more about styles here.
Whatever the style, it seems the quality of the hair is the defining factor of a good gray beard. As your face mane becomes whiter, you’ll probably notice that it also becomes softer. Work with this natural effect by using oils and balms to maintain its tiptop condition, and keep it well trimmed according to the style you choose to stop it looking like an unplanned, accidental appendage.
Ultimately there is nothing bad about a gray beard if treated right, but there are factors that can generate untimely aging which are best avoided if you don’t want those silver hairs arriving sooner than expected.
Stress: Tales of ‘turning white overnight’ have recurred throughout the ages but there is no scientific evidence that your hair can in fact achieve this so quickly. However, we’re not dismissing stress out of hand because both acute and chronic levels may indeed activate the signs of early onset achromotrichia. Scientists are undecided whether cortisol (a hormone that becomes progressively more concentrated in the hair) can change hair color. But for sure oxidative stress – an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidant defenses - will kill cells that produce eumelanin and pheomelanin, and it’s those melamines that are responsible for color. Also having a low level of catalase, an enzyme that helps to break down oxidative stress, will not help. There are many products on the market that claim to right these stress related imbalances but very little is actually proved other than to line the pockets of the retailers! The real answer is to de-stress by living sensibly, playing sport, taking time out to relax in busy schedules, and eating well.
Toxins: The number one toxin for killing off your melanin levels is smoking. As you already know what the advice is on this one, we won’t bother to say! Also, be aware of your workplace atmosphere. Although working standard rules mean that our working environments are cleaner, safer and treated with more respect, if you work in an industry where contact with smoke, chemicals or other pollutants are prevalent, these will all take a toll on you and your beard. And don’t forget about the chemicals in treatments and cosmetics; if you use manmade, synthetic products regularly you will be filling your beard, follicles and skin with toxic detritus that, although at first may be useful, prolonged use will cause a buildup of unwanted chemicals. Here at Real Bearded Men are pleased to say all our products are 100% natural!
Diet: Antioxidants, those much needed compounds that balance oxidative stress and free radicals, can be best produced by eating healthily. Once you have gray hair, what you eat won’t make it dark again but it will help slow down the process of aging, as well as keep your facial hair in good general condition. So a bad diet is not only bad for you, but bad for your beard. Increasing melamin levels will go a long way to increasing the time span of maintaining your hair color, and certain foods can help you do this. These include products that contain vitamin A (such as milk, carrots and tomatoes), copper (walnuts, berries, sunflower seeds and cereals), and iron (dried apricots, spinach and bananas). Try to also include lots of greens – both vegetables and salad items, salmon, dark chocolate, almonds and apple cider vinegar. And avoid quantities of greasy or fried food; not only is it bad for you but it’s been proven that being overweight can lead to premature aging of your beard. Also lessen your intake of coffee, tea and alcohol and replace them with pure, simple water which will help the melamin to function in the hair follicles properly.
All of these factors – stress, toxins and a bad diet - will have an unwelcome effect on your health generally, not just your beard, so keeping to a clean and wholesome lifestyle will benefit every part of your wellbeing.
The ugly truth is there are no surefire answers for how to permanently turn your gray hairs into black – or whatever color you’d prefer them to be. Like the alchemist turning lead into gold, it’s a myth that any one action or routine will reverse the graying beard permanently into the younger version it once was.
Supplements: The supplement and health industry could be considered ugly when it pushes you, in your desperation, to purchase items that promise to replace those white hairs with ones full of pigmentation. Try them if you must but don’t be fooled into thinking they’re going to be the answer to all your prayers! However, if you find something that works for you, we’d love to hear about it.
Hair Dye: Of course, this is the easiest solution and we’re not going to say don’t! The most successful dyes are those full of chemicals. Herbal-based colorants like indigo and henna have their place and could be worth a try – they may well work for you - but are generally less effective (but kinder to your beard.) We’ve even known people to use shoe polish and marker pens for a quick cover-up solution. So dye if you must, but if you do, buy reputable brands with good reviews, choose a color that either matches what your beard once was (or what your head hair is now), and remember, you’ll have to keep doing it really regularly until you decide you can live with the gray after all. We’ve put hair dye under the ‘ugly’ heading simply because, besides any advantages or disadvantages, a bad dye job is just that – plain ugly and spectacularly obvious. Use with caution and always read the instruction on how to color beard hair.
Condition: If you’ve decided you can rock the white, pay attention to the condition of those lovely silver hairs just the same as you did when they were colorful. A gray beard can be a great enhancement, but not if you’ve let it get scraggy and out of condition. Although the hairs are softer, split ends can still be a problem and we recommend continuing with all the products you used before to keep your beard at its finest.
Ill Health: Being unwell is always ugly. If you’re particularly young (under 25 or a gray hair teenager) and showing overt signs of grayness, we’d recommend a check up with your doctor who might want to take blood samples, just to eliminate anything nasty that could be going on. Deficiencies, particularly in your diet, may show up and your doc will point you in the right direction. However, let’s get away from the scaremongering and say that premature graying is nearly always to do with genetics and lots of guys are affected. Some studies report that as many as one in ten men suffers from it, if ‘suffer’ is the right word. You’re only ‘suffering’ if you choose to consider those bespoke locks ugly, and we’d have to disagree with you somewhat there. They are YOU, and what you make of them and how you treat them is more a psychological issue than anything else.
So, what have we learned? Mainly that there is nothing wrong with gray, from the salt and pepper beginnings, the slightly tinged 50 shades, thru to the glorious Gandalf lookalike.
A couple of facts for you to ruminate on are that usually the order of service for hair turning white is nose, head, beard, body and lastly, eyebrows. And if you’re not prone to baldness (yet another genetic feature) your hair may actually start growing faster once it loses its color!
And a fashion statement: if you have become predominantly gray, silver or white, wear black! Dark clothes contrast well with your distinguished mane, allowing you to embrace it and show it off at its best with pride. Some great wardrobe answers can be found here.
Remember – your facial hair is called a beard for a reason - maybe that reason is to bring you closer to the Polar Bear[d] that lives inside all Real Bearded Men as time goes by.