Sometimes shaving feels like a hassle. Other than your teeth, no other part of your body requires more daily maintenance, even if you’re just maintaining your facial hair. Who among us has never gazed into our reflection in the bathroom mirror, razor in hand, and wondered what would happen if you just stopped shaving forever? The truth is, only your beard knows the correct answer.
Every strand of hair on your body, from the top of your head down to your ankles, has three stages of existence. To keep it simple, the first and longest by far is the Anagen phase, where your hair does all its growing, courtesy of your follicles churning strands out like sausages. The second and briefest is the Catagen phase, where your hair growth slows down and the follicles close down for business to take a break. During the third and final Telogen phase, your hair just hangs out for a while, maintaining its same size, until your follicles open shop again and start making new hair, which pushes the old hair out the door (metaphorically speaking) and off your body.
How long these phases last is unique not only to each individual but what type of hair we’re talking about. “Hair growth depends on where it’s located on the body, whether it’s on the scalp or the arms or the legs,” says dermatologist Anthony Rossi. “They all have different Anagen to Telogen cycles, which determines how long they stay growing. The hair on your head remains in Anagen for quite some time, and that’s why your hair continues to grow longer [than your body hair].”
While your body hair stops growing in a few months, both your head hair and beard hair can grow for years — but the number of those years varies wildly from person to person. The average lifespan of head hair is two to seven years, while a beard will stop growing after two to six years. That’s a huge difference! Yet this doesn’t take into account how fast your hair grows — the average is a half-inch each month, but this also varies significantly by individual. (Just to make things more chaotic, your mustache maxes out at around three or so months.) If you assume you have an average growth rate, then your beard could top off anywhere between one and three feet if you let it run free… but it’s also worth keeping in mind the Guinness-approved world record holder for the longest natural beard. The award went to Sarwan Singh in 2011 for his 98.5-inch beard, which is a hair over 8 feet long (pun mercilessly intended).
Your beard’s maximum length is entirely a matter of genetics… or fate, if you’d rather. You can’t change either one. So the only way to truly know is to put that razor down and let nature take its course.