There is nothing to fear about a gray beard. Sure, there are all sorts of beard dyes out there, but gray beards are a mark of dignity and wisdom. Think about how many gray beards you admire. Gandalf, Santa–heck, even The Most Interesting Man in the World has a gray beard. So don’t fear the gray, my friends. Embrace it.
When do Beards Go Gray?
Men can start going gray at nearly any age, but most start graying in their 30s. Sometimes the head and beard gray at the same time, but sometimes the beard starts graying first. Over the next two decades, your beard will get more and more gray, until you end with a salt-and-pepper, or completely white beard.
Why do Beards Go Gray?
There are many reasons why beard hairs go gray. The first is genetic. Somewhere, wired deep within your genes, are directions from your body to stop producing melanin–the substance that gives skin and hair color–in your follicles after a certain number of years. Since this trait is inherited, you can get a good guess of when you will go gray by looking at your father’s and grandfathers’ beards. If they went gray early in life, yours likely will.
New research shows that some men’s beard follicles produce excess levels of hydrogen peroxide, which acts like a bleach, removing all pigment from your beard hair. While science doesn’t yet know exactly why some follicles produce more hydrogen peroxide than others, it is believed that stress and diet habits have a lot to do with it. There are even reports that men who have gray beards early in life have been able to reverse the process by reducing stress, increasing daily exercise, and improving their diets. While this will not help gray beard strands that have gone gray due to genetics, it may help strands that have gone gray early due to external elements.
Beards actually don’t go gray. They go white. Take a look at individual gray beard hairs, and you will notice that they are completely devoid of pigment. Men with “gray” beards actually have lots of pure white beard hairs, mingled with some hairs that have not gone white yet. From a distance, this gives the illusion of a gray beard.
Many people think that beard hairs go gray slowly over time–that beard hairs start as a solid, vibrant color, and then dull over time until becoming white. Not so. The graying is almost instant. One day you wake up and one of your beard strands is white. It is not a lighter shade of brown, or a grayer shade of black–it is completely white.
Another myth is that graying occurs from the follicle out. Sometimes this is true, but it is certainly not true for everyone. For some reason, many beard hairs start graying from the tip first, leaving hairs that are half white, half colored.
The presumption is that this kind of color change is due to stress or bad diet. The entire hair strand, when connected to blood vessels, is a living part of your person, like an appendage. These strands can be healthy or unhealthy, just like any other part of your body. While white beard hair is not always a sign of poor health, premature graying can be, especially when it happens when you are very young, or before other men in your family have begun to gray. You can revive these graying beard strands by improving your diet and reducing stress, unless your beard has gone gray for natural reasons.
White beard strands are more wiry than colored strands. Melanin has an elastic quality in hairs, which make them smoother and more wavy. As your beard turns gray, the new white strands will be stiffer, and what was once a curly beard may be a tad more straight. Don’t expect your curly beard to go completely straight as you age, but you can expect your white beard strands to noticeably uncoil, when compared to your colored strands.
It will also make curly beard hair harder to tame. I advocate using beard wax to tame an unruly beard, but even beard wax may not work on white beards. You may need to resort to hairspray or a tougher wax like mustache wax. To use mustache wax, first melt it with a hot hair dryer, rub your finger in the liquid, and lightly coat the wiry strands you want to tame. It will quickly dry. As it dries, use a beard comb to tease the strands in place until the wax has solidified.
Gray Beards and Dignity
Throughout history, gray beards are a symbol of dignity and a life well led. This was especially true during times of hardship, as few men lived long enough to get old. Those who had gray beards were seen as survivors and wise men who had seen a thing or two.
If you feel a tad self-conscious about your gray beard, here are some traditional providers across cultures to consider.
The meaning of this is straightforward. Lazy men who don’t go outside and work (scatter the dew) never live long enough to grow gray hair. Therefore, gray beards are the mark of a hard working, and thus successful, man.
In this proverb, gray beard hairs are badges of brave deeds–both those done, and those to come. The Spartan wears his beard long so he can see his gray beard, and remind himself that he has a reputation of dignity to fulfil.
Men who worry and are anxious rarely greet old age. This proverb reminds us that “happy” is something you choose to be, and happiness brings long life.
Bible – Proverbs 20:29
Even the Bible calls gray hair an honor.
This one is less inspiring, but it reminds us that we bury our friends and family as we age. Part of the reverence for men with gray beards is the knowledge that they have seen many things. Some of those things are not nice.
Do you know any proverbs about gray beards? Share them in the comments below and I will post them here.