Beardless Native American Myth

The Beardless Native American Myth

It’s commonly stated that Native American men can’t grow facial hair. That’s a myth. As with other peoples all over the world, the amount of facial and other facial hair characteristics varies among individuals as well as related populations. If you want proof of that statement, check out this article from In the answers section, you will find tons of replies, many from Native Americans themselves. Mainly, we learn from this cross section of Native Americans and experts that the amount of facial hair “100% pure” Native Americans have can vary from very fine and very little to very thick and full, on par with the range of variation seen in people who are entirely descended from Native Europeans.

Satank (Sitting Bear) displays a typical variation of Native American facial hair density.
Image Credit: Pinterest

In fact, early reports from New England colonists talk about Native Americans choosing to shave their facial hair off. In the present day, lack of facial hair in Native American men is generally a style choice and not because they can’t grow any. backs up these claims and dispels many other racist myths about Native Americans as well.

All of that said, the sparse facial hair type is reportedly most common among Native Americans. As with all facial hair growth patterns, it’s down to genetics. The ancestors of today’s Native Americans migrated to America from Asia via the now-sunken landmass Beringia between 16,500 and 13,000 years ago. The Asian homeland of the people who are the ancestors of the group who migrated across the Beringian land bridge is believed to be located around the Yenisei River in Siberia. This does not mean that Native Americans are culturally identical to Asians; instead, it means they share ancestors in common with modern East Asian peoples like the Han Chinese, the Japanese and the Ainu. Because of this incredibly ancient common ancestry, it’s easy to see why both Native Americans and East Asians might end up with similar facial hair patterns.

Because scientists now believe that the ancestors of the Native Americans lived in Beringia for tens of thousands of years before making their way into Alaska and the rest of the Americas, it’s important to note that this common ancestor population could have lived around the Yenisei River more than 30,000 years ago—just to give you an idea of how ancient this ancestry is.

Going back even further in time, the ancestors of the people who lived around the Yenisei River in northern Siberia had some ancestors possibly from the Altai Mountain region of southern Siberia. This is where the genetics gets even more convoluted. The Altai region is associated with mtDNA (the DNA you can only get from your mom, and her mom, etc.) Haplogroup X. Haplogroups are the DNA mutations that scientists use to track the origins of populations of people, among other things. The interesting thing about Haplogroup X is that it is also found in Europe, as well as North Africa. (Haplogroup X has even been found in some Ancient Egyptian DNA samples.) This has led to theories, such as the Solutrean Hypothesis, that are, frankly, racist and ignorant, but essentially state that all Native Americans descend from Paleolithic Western Europeans. This is false. However, what Haplogroup X shows us is that both Native Americans and Western Europeans descend from the same common ancestors.

Because all men alive today descend from an ancient African man nicknamed “Y-Chromosomal Adam”, who lived as much as 200,000 to 300,000 years ago, it’s easy to see how, with enough detective work, scientists are able to uncover common ancestry from groups of people that are very diverse and geographically far-flung in the present day.

So, what does the common ancestry of Native Americans, East Asians, North Africans and Europeans mean other than we’re all just one big happy genetic family? What it means is there are potentially reasons why there are shared variations in traits within certain populations that trickle down into various aspects of your genetics, like the genes that control your beard.

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The bottom line

Native American men can always grow facial hair and many of them can grow full beards. If you’re a young Native American guy who’s wondering if you’ll be able to grow a beard, look back at all of the men in your family—not just your dad. The most common facial hair type in your family is the one you’ll most likely—but won’t necessarily—have.

Written by Robert B. Brown

Dermatologist. Researcher. Writer. There are only two things more important than my beard in life; My wife and my two kids. I'm a guy full of surprise. If you don't hear me talk about my hair or beard, it's probably because I am watching the UFC.

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