man with facial hair sitting in a wooden chair

Some men can grow thick & dense beards in a matter of weeks, while others can go without touching their razor for months with just a couple strands covering their chin.

Why exactly is that?

The topics we are going to explore today include…

  • Why can some men grow beards while others can’t?
  • How to tell if you can grow a beard?
  • Is it possible to never grow facial hair at all?
  • The science of why some can – and others can’t – grow a beard.
  • “So I can’t freaking grow facial hair, now what?”

We are going to go from learning how exactly beard growth occurs to what 4 things hinder it, and in the end you’ll learn how to fight back your genes and hormones to force beard growth.

Primer: What Causes Facial Hair Growth

vellus hair to terminal hair transitionThe complete process of what makes facial hair pop out of the follicles in your face is ridiculously complex.

To dumb it down, this is what takes place…

First, an almond-sized part of your brain called the hypothalamus produces a signaling hormone called Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH).

This GnRH travels a short distance to a gland in your brain called the pituitary gland, where it stimulates the secretion of two other hormones; luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). These are the “gonadotropins”.

Once LH and FSH are secreted, they make their way down through the network of nerves and blood vessels straight down to your testicles.

Once there, FSH mostly works on sperm production, while LH stimulates the testicular Leydig cells to start converting cholesterol into the key male hormone; testosterone (T).

In a burst-like fashion, your testicles then start shuttling testosterone into the bloodstream which distributes it around the body.

During multiple parts of this distribution, an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase (5-α) converts some of the testosterone into a far more potent form called dihydrotestosterone (DHT).

Testosterone and DHT are the key hormones that stimulate beard growth in men and science has shown us that testosterone is more closely related to priming the facial hair follicles while DHT works to promote linear growth of the facial hair.

But we are not done yet.

To enter and alter the DNA of the facial hair follicles, both testosterone and DHT need to bind into something called the androgen receptor (AR).

If there would be no androgen receptors – or if they are not sensitive enough – then your beard growing hormones will just circulate around the bloodstream, without actually giving you any of the benefits.

Think of it like this: If testosterone and DHT are the keys to stimulating the beard growth, then androgen receptors are the locks that unlock the effects.

To make it brutally simple, for any beard growth to realistically occur, you need to produce enough keys (T and DHT) and your locks (AR) need to be in prime condition for the keys to properly unlock and open them.

To answer the question of how long it takes to grow a beard and what is the maximum rate of natural beard growth, you simply need to know how much testosterone and DHT you have, and how active your androgen receptors are.

It’s a bit boring, but testosterone & DHT + androgen receptors = beard magic. That’s all you really need to understand to grow more beard – faster – naturally.

Four Reasons Why You Can’t Grow a Beard

Below is a list of 4 most common reasons men can’t grow a beard, and some helpful solutions to overcome them. Sure, genetics hold many back, but that’s not an obstacle you can’t overcome, and for most guys, there’s massive room for improvement in the beard area.

1. You May be Too Young to Grow a Beard

little boy getting a shaveIf you are between the ages of 13-25, chances are that you may still be too young to grow a full-beard.

After all, teenager beards (at least the full kind) aren’t all that common.

Sure at 13, it’s not even realistic to grow a beard and at 25 it starts to be highly unlikely that your age is a factor anymore.

But why?

Well, even though testosterone levels start sky-rocketing during the puberty, your DHT levels may not be that high yet, and/or your facial androgen receptors are not primed for binding the hormones yet.

There’s some evidence suggesting that DHT production and AR sensitivity peak somewhere between the ages of 20 to 25, which is also the age where most men who are able to grow beards, will see their facial hair growth to really speed up the most.

This is not set in stone however. I had a friend in school who grew a thick dark full-beard at the age of 16, while I personally started seeing major growth at 24!

2. Your Testosterone Levels May be Low

bearded man writing testosterone on a chalk boardLet’s put the age thing aside.

Say you still can’t grow a beard at 30.

At this point is obvious that you’re not too young anymore, but for some ungodly reason, facial hair strands are simply not growing on your face.

Perhaps you have some peach fuzz, a patchy bald-spot beard, maybe slight mustache growth and fur on your chin, but the cheeks are silky smooth.

Why can’t you grow a beard?

Well, one possible reason may simply be a lack of testosterone. Not by any surprise; a common side effect of Low-T is difficulty growing facial and body hair.

So how to know if you have low testosterone levels? 

  • Getting your levels measured by a lab gives you cold-hard data.
  • Low libido & erection problems are a common indicator of low-T.
  • Lack of muscle tone and difficulty building muscle may occur also.
  • Depression and lack of confidence are common with low-T.
  • Obesity and the inability to lose fat can be a cause and effect of low test.

What is also interesting is that our modern lifestyle (lack of activity, poor diet, micronutrient deficiencies, and other factors) are significantly pushing down our testosterone levels. In fact, studies indicate that your father likely had ~20% more testosterone at your age than you do now1.

graph from a study of testosterone and aging

Hormone replacement therapy through your doctor is one way to increase testosterone levels, but there’s also some fairly effective natural ways to do it. If you suspect low testosterone may be hindering your beard growth, we suggest you to familiarize yourself with this amazing course.

3. Your DHT Levels May be Low

bearded man thinkingSo you’re not a kid anymore and your testosterone levels are fine.

Still, you can’t grow a beard if your life depended on it.

The next possible culprit is dihydrotestosterone, aka. DHT.

Although testosterone primes the follicles and has a key role in facial hair growth, DHT – a roughly 10x more potent androgen for masculine effects like body and facial hair growth – is even more potent stimulating facial hair growth.

Both of the hormones are closely related, as testosterone is needed to create DHT, you simply need the enzyme 5-a reductase for T => DHT conversion to occur.

Some men have more 5-a reductase, and convert more T into DHT, others have less – resulting in lower DHT levels – obviously.

This can be the difference between being and not being able to grow a beard.

In fact, this is one of the key reasons why Native Americans and Asians tend to have a harder time growing facial hair than Caucasian males.

Although they produce about the same amount of testosterone, Asians and Native Americans tend to have far less 5-a reductase enzymes2 – resulting in far lower DHT and weaker facial hair growth – when compared to men of European origins.

Before you ask; Yes. DHT levels can be increased naturally. There is a full 120-page E-book about this very topic, which we recommend for anyone interested in raising their levels and understanding more of this “king of androgens”.

4. Desensitized Androgen Receptors

androgen receptors illustrationA young boy during puberty is oozing of anabolic androgenic hormones, yet can’t grow a beard.

Asian men and Native Americans show higher hormone levels than Caucasian males on average in some studies, yet are well-known of having harder times growing their beards.

If hormones are the answer, why some men with high levels, still can’t grow facial hair?

Likely, the reason is behind their androgen receptors (AR).

As we discussed in the first subheading of this article, the “What Causes Facial Hair Growth” part, the hormones actually need to enter the DNA of the cell to have ANY effects.

One good example of this is a study comparing Asian men and Caucasian men, exploring why the latter seems to grow beards way easier than the former.

The researchers found that not only did the Asian men have lower DHT (as discussed above), they also had a significantly higher amount of copies of the human androgen receptors, and more copies tends to mean LESS sensitivity3.

And this doesn’t only apply to Asian guys, plenty of European and American fellows also have high T and/or DHT, but their androgen receptors are simply not primed to bind with the hormones, and thus, no beard growth takes place.

In other words, they have lots of good keys, all the locks are just bad.

Is there a fix to this? Can I make the receptors more sensitive?

Yes, there are some scientifically proven tricks that can help…

  • Explosive resistance training: Research proves that trained men have significantly higher levels of androgen receptors in their bodies4 and that specific types of training can lead to varying degrees of AR activation5. What seems to be the most effective, are quick patterns of intense movements activating multiple muscles at the same time, such as deadlifting, squatting, chin-ups, overhead press, and dips.
  • Mucuna Pruriens: Pretty unknown herb containing a natural dopamine precursor (L-Dopa). Mucuna powder and extracts have been shown to increase testosterone levels and reduce cortisol, but more importantly, L-Dopa triggers the activation the AR by serving as a co-activator protein to the receptors6.
  • Forskolin: This is another herb not too well-known for its androgenic effects. There’s some research claiming that not only may it raise testosterone production through cAMP activation, it may also activate androgen receptors through activating an enzyme called protein-kinase-A (PKA)7.
  • Carnitine: Carnitine is a specific type of protein commonly found in meats and muscle tissue. Supplementation with L-carnitine L-tartrate has been found in two studies to increase the density of active tissue AR at rest8 and even more so in training participants9.

Recommended reading: 10 scientifically-proven beard supplements.

Secret Trick to Force Beard Growth

man with beard points at two packs of kirkland minoxidilI saved the best part last.

If you’ve made it this far, not only do you know exactly why you may not be able to grow facial hair, I’m also going to let you in on a bit of a secret.

The trick so powerful that it has been proven by countless anecdotal user tests, a clinical study, and even comes with FDA-approval for its effects in stimulating hair follicles to sprout out more strands.

I’m talking of course about minoxidil.

This powerful follicle activator is commonly used on the scalp, but as you can imagine, some pioneering dude’s went and tested if it could grow facial hair as well.

Turns out that minoxidil (Rogaine) does grow facial hair. Even if you were not able to grow a beard before.

You see, most people don’t realize that we all actually have the follicle structure to go full beard – even babies when they are born – have all the hair follicles they will ever get in their lifetime.

In order to grow a beard, those simply need to activate.

If your hormones, genes, or androgen receptors are fighting back and you cannot naturally grow a beard, you can screw them back and apply 1-2ml minoxidil on the area of the facial hair twice per day for 3-12 months.

And grow a mean beard, from scratch.

Here’s an example (Jeff’s beard board and Reddit are full of similar kind):

before and after result from a man using rogaine on his cheeks

When minoxidil use on the face was not that popular yet, people were extremely skeptical and had to trust the before-after pictures only.

Today, however, there’s even a clinical study from Thailand, where 48 men used 3% minoxidil solution on beard area for 16-weeks, showing massive gains of new hair when compared to a placebo solution10.

results from a minoxidil beard growth study

Now imagine what kind of results you could get if you combined testosterone optimization, DHT optimization, androgen receptor optimization, and threw in some minoxidil?

Beard magic. That’s what.

Conclusion on Why You Can’t Grow a Beard

Can everyone grow a beard?

Yes. Nearly every guy when they are born has the full structure of hair follicles around their face for beard growth. If they lack testosterone, DHT, or if the androgen receptors are not sensitive enough, then beard growth does not take place. However, all of those factors can be optimized.

If you think you can’t grow proper facial hair, and you’re sure it’s not because of your age anymore, I highly suggest you to learn how to increase testosterone and DHT naturally, and how to optimize your androgen receptor sensitivity (see tricks above)…

…I also recommend you to add in a 3-12 month test run with minoxidil, and maybe include a Derma Roller in your beard growth arsenal.

If EVEN that doesn’t work, then you can realistically say the phrase “I can’t grow a beard” and either suck it up or turn to beard transplants.

1.
Stanworth R, Jones T. Testosterone for the aging male; current evidence and recommended practice . Clin Interv Aging. 2008;3(1):25-44.
2.
Lookingbill D, Demers L, Wang C, Leung A, Rittmaster R, Santen R. Clinical and biochemical parameters of androgen action in normal healthy Caucasian versus Chinese subjects. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1991;72(6):1242-1248.
3.
Bennett C, Price D, Kim S, et al. Racial variation in CAG repeat lengths within the androgen receptor gene among prostate cancer patients of lower socioeconomic status. J Clin Oncol. 2002;20(17):3599-3604.
4.
Kraemer W, Ratamess N. Hormonal responses and adaptations to resistance exercise and training. Sports Med. 2005;35(4):339-361.
5.
Willoughby D, Taylor L. Effects of sequential bouts of resistance exercise on androgen receptor expression. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004;36(9):1499-1506.
6.
Margiotti K, Wafa L, Cheng H, Novelli G, Nelson C, Rennie P. Androgen-regulated genes differentially modulated by the androgen receptor coactivator L-dopa decarboxylase in human prostate cancer cells. Mol Cancer. 2007;6:38.
7.
Nazareth L, Weigel N. Activation of the human androgen receptor through a protein kinase A signaling pathway. J Biol Chem. 1996;271(33):19900-19907.
8.
Kraemer W, Spiering B, Volek J, et al. Androgenic responses to resistance exercise: effects of feeding and L-carnitine. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006;38(7):1288-1296.
9.
Kraemer W, Volek J, French D, et al. The effects of L-carnitine L-tartrate supplementation on hormonal responses to resistance exercise and recovery. J Strength Cond Res. 2003;17(3):455-462.
10.
Tanglertsampan C. Efficacy and safety of 3% minoxidil versus combined 3% minoxidil / 0.1% finasteride in male pattern hair loss: a randomized, double-blind, comparative study. J Med Assoc Thai. 2012;95(10):1312-1316.

10 COMMENTS

  1. This article is for me for sure. I tried many times to grow a thick beard but, failed every time. Finally found an incredible article. This write up answered almost all of my questions. I am impressed!

  2. Who would have thought that a person lifestyle would have an effect on your facial hair? By eating the right foods and doing exercise you can start moving in the right direction

  3. It’s surprising to realize that low diet, exercise and others can cause low testosterone which results in little or no beard. I’d watch my diets now. Thanks for the information.

  4. Jeez. This post just really opened my eyes to a lot of things I never imagined would be the reason why my beard has decided not to ever grow. I think I would try minoxidil and see if it works for me.

  5. Hmm. How safe is beard transplant? Someone has actually recommended it to me but I don’t know how effective and safe it is and wouldn’t want to go after something I would regret.

  6. Hehehe. I think I can officially now say I can’t grow a beard! I mean really, I’ve been trying out a lot of drugs and even the velvet bean but no much luck. I guess I am just naturally not cut out to have a beard. Good thing I don’t have a baby face and so I don’t have to worry much about people talking about my beardless face.

  7. There are so many factors that go into growing a beard that I didn’t realize. I’m going to have to go get my levels tested to see if that’s really why I can’t grow a beard and see if there’s anything I can do to change that.

  8. There’s a lot more to growing beards than I thought. I’ve never been able to grow a beard. The closest I can come is a half-baked goatee. I think it’s my Native American blood, but based on what I’ve read here, there are several other factors. The worst is that I grow just enough facial hair where I have to shave or I look like a bum. Now do I follow this advice or just stick with things the way they are? I’m going to have to decide.

  9. I never loved biology, but seriously I never knew growing beards had to do with my testicles. This is really informative. Thanks.

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