At some stage in our lives, both men and women will experience the onset of gray hair. Contrary to popular belief, gray hair isn’t always an indicator of the twilight phase of your age. Gray hair can occur as young as in our teens and range into our late 50’s or even older.
So, just like skin, hair changes its texture with age. Basically, the human body has millions of hair follicles. These follicles generate hair and color or pigment cells that contain melanin. Over time, hair follicles start losing pigment cells, leading to white hair color. So, hair doesn’t actually “turn” gray. When a single strand of hair starts out brown, black, red or blonde, the color has already been set and it is never going to turn gray.
Many women proudly sport those changes in their silver mane, while others wait anxiously for gray hairs to appear. So, whether you are in your early 20’s or late 50’s, greying hair will always come as a subtly veiled nightmare which reminds us of how fast time is passing by.
What causes gray hair?
Science of grays
Initially, your hair is white. It’s your hair follicles called “Melanocytes” which generate Melanin, a pigment which gives our hair its color. So, the more melanin is produced, the darker the hair color; the less melanin, the lighter the hair color.
As you age, pigment cells start to die, meaning follicles stop producing melanin. Without melanin, new hair strands will grow transparent. It’s your dark healthier hair that gives the new strands the appearance of gray hair. So, blame your gray hair to the melanocyte stem cells (MSC) failure.
If there is more salt than pepper present in your hair, that’s the reminder that you are no longer young. Whether you decide to focus on the salt and accept the nature’s inevitable laws or the pepper side calls to you, it’s a part of life and a beautiful part of it.
But if you have ever wondered what actually causes gray hair, let’s get to the silvery root of it all below:
One thing that gray hair indicates is our biological age. Okay, no surprise here. Typically, people start growing gray hair at their mid-30s. As we mentioned above, there is the 50-50-50 rule, as by the age of 50, 50% of the population has about 50% gray hair.
So, as you grow older, your hair follicles produce less melanin, until there is no pigment at all. With less melanin production, hair will still continue its natural cycle of dying and regenerating, except now your new strands of hair will be colorless.
2. Heredity (Genes)
Gray hair is an inherited trait, so if you have come to the graying game, blame genetics as well. If your mom or dad went gray at a young age, the chances for you to suffer from premature gray hair are higher. Same goes if your parents didn’t see grays until much later in life. Most likely you won’t experience gray mane either.
This means that it just happens because it’s a commonality within your family genes. So, to get a hint on when graying will occur, look at your family and see if it matches with your timeline.
Another factor which plays a vital role in the aging process is also ethnicity, also referred to as your ‘ethnic background.’
The truth is, the more melanin you have in your skin, the later you will show signs of aging.
On average, White/Anglo Australian/Caucasian are the first of all ethnicities to show signs of premature aging as they start to gray in their mid-30s. This results in having less melanin in their skin. Asians start in their late 30s. And African-Americans usually don’t see hair color changes until their mid-40s. While the earliest of them all are redheads.
According to Dr. Karthik Krishnamurthy, director of the Dermatology Center’s Cosmetic Clinic at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York, “Low vitamin B12 levels are notorious for causing loss of hair pigment.” This may be associated with your nutrition regime.
What Dr. Wilma Bergfeld, a senior dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic recommends, is consuming foods such as liver and carrots, which are rich in vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants. This kind of food will also help in protecting cells against toxins and help prevent heart disease, cancer, and other ailments.
Stress is another cause of gray hair, but not a direct one. It can trigger a condition called telogen effluvium which leads hair to shed about 3 times more than they would normally do. Although this condition doesn’t cause balding as the hair will grow back again, it’s possible the new hair will be gray instead of its original color.
Smoking, except for ‘stressing’ your lungs, it also stresses your skin and hair. A 2013 study published in the Indian Dermatology Online Journal, showed that smokers are two and half times more likely to develop premature gray hair than non-smokers. Another effect smoking has on our hair is the yellowish it gives to our hair.
Even worse, smoking can also damage your tresses by certain chemicals which break down in hair cells and cause baldness.
7. Medical conditions
Gray hair may also be a medical condition indicator, especially when white tresses appear at a young age. So, rather than indicating our biological age, gray hair may also be a signal one of these health issues.
– Vitamin B12 deficiency
– Thyroid disease
– Vitiligo: a long-term skin condition characterized by patches of the skin losing their pigment, because of melanocytes failure.
– Tuberous sclerosis: an uncommon, inherited multisystem genetic disease that causes benign tumors to grow in multiple vital organs.
– Alopecia areata: Also known as spot baldness, is a disorder in which hair, especially the colored (non-gray) hair, is lost from some or all areas of the body.
– Heart disease and low bone mass (called osteopenia, a precursor of osteoporosis.)
8. Chemical hair dyes and hair products
Extra factors to contribute to premature hair graying are chemical hair dyes and hair products. Applying hydrogen peroxide or excessive use of products that bleach hair, cheap products, or even shampoos may affect your hair as they contain harmful ingredients that decrease melanin.
So, make sure to check the quality and the ingredients of the products you are going to apply on your hair. Avoid too much chemical based and cheap products.
You might also want to read: Hair Masks And Everything You Need To Know About Them