Growing a luscious, full beard is an achievement and celebration of manhood. However, beards are not created equal. For many of us who aspire to such bearded wizards as Jeff Bridges and Jake Gyllenhaal, it can be startling to see missing patches of hair when we look in the mirror.

Whether it’s the rate of hair growth or your hair growth pattern, the way your beard ends up is pretty much hardwired into your genetics. However, the fight isn’t over yet. Keep reading for ways to remedy the patchiness and make the most of what you’ve got.

Let It Grow

The first step to filling in a patchy beard is to let your hair grow while resisting the urge to trim. Wait at least a month before touching a razor so you can see the direction of hair growth and where the patchy spots have camped out. After a month, trim your cheek and jaw line to keep things tidy, and continue letting your hair grow – the longer your beard, the more likely the patches will get lost underneath the rest of your beard bush.

Take Good Care of Your Facial Hair

During your hair growth phase, it’s wise to promote new hair growth and keep follicles healthy (both of which make your beard look fuller). Brittle, wiry beard hair only exacerbates a patchy beard.

To keep your beard in good shape, remember the following:

    • Apply beard oil – Beard oil will help tame the itchiness that often nips a new beard (and beardsman) in the bud. The struggle is real, but an alcohol-free beard oil will keep skin and beard moisturized.

    • Apply beard balm – Beard balm has just enough hold to help train your facial hairs to grow the direction you want them to grow. Smooth the balm onto hair with your fingers.

    • Brush your beard – Use a bristle brush to brush beard hair downwards, which will eventually cover patches and also give your beard a tidy, uniform appearance.

If you’ve kept up your beard growing and grooming regimen and your mug rug is still looking patchy, you have options:

Embrace What You’ve Got

Bruce Springsteen. Bob Dylan. Johnny Depp. Just because your beard is on the thinner side doesn’t mean you can’t rock it. A patchy beard can be a refreshing departure from traditionally groomed facial hair. As GQ puts it, “if the whole package looks sharp, then a patchy beard can add an element of ruggedness.”

When trimming:

If your beard is patchy further up, bring the line down the cheek and keep edges sharp.

Rock the Stubble-Short Beard Hybrid

There’s a sweet spot between stubble and a beard that will make patches look less noticeable.

After a few days’ growth, trim your jawline and cheeks with a beard trimmer with an adjustable length setting. Keep the lines clean. If you really want to get an edge on the stubble-short beard hybrid, head to your barber for the initial trim so he can cut the best lines for your face shape. That way, after your visit, all you have to do is follow his path.

You can also give the anchor beard a go, which goes shorter on the sides to accentuate the length you have elsewhere.

Eat Well

Easy to say, hard to maintain (we know). But there’s no way around the fact that healthy hair growth – and thus a thicker beard – starts with a balanced diet. You’ve probably heard about biotin supplements for hair loss, but since the research on supplements inducing hair growth is inconclusive, we suggest getting plenty of biotin in your diet from natural sources like eggs, avocados, legumes, milk, and chocolate.

And fill up on foods containing niacin, which prevents hair from becoming brittle and falling out. Common sources include sunflower seeds, mushrooms, beef, and fish.

While you’re at it, maximize your beard growing powers by getting more sleep, working out to boost testosterone, and de-stressing. See our tips for growing more beard hair in general here.