Why Does Our Hair Turn Gray?

For the majority of us, getting gray hair is inevitable. Along with losing our hair (alopecia) and getting wrinkles, gray hair is considered a normal response to aging. Typically, white people start going gray in their mid-30s, Asians in their late 30s, and African-Americans in their mid-40s. Half of all people have a significant amount of gray hair by the time they turn 50. The driving factor in when a person will notice their first gray hair is genetics. Contrary to popular belief, stress does not cause gray hair.

If you find that you experience premature graying, it is most likely because your parents or grandparents went gray early. However, in some cases it could be a medical condition that is causing you to go gray. Although we may not be able to control the specific time we go gray, experts do agree that we may have some control over the rate in which we gray. If you have one of the following habits or conditions, you may find that you go gray faster:

  • Smoking habit
  • Anemia
  • Poor Nutrition – with insufficient B vitamins
  • Untreated Thyroid Condition

Why do we go gray as we age?

For a full explanation, we must look at the graying process at the individual hair follicle. The responsible pigment for going gray is melanin, which is the same one that tans your skin during sun exposure. Chemistry expert, Anne Helmenstine PhD explains the process in detail, “All of your hair follicles have pigment cells called melanocytes. The melanocytes produce eumelanin, which is black or dark brown, and pheomelanin, which is reddish-yellow, and pass the melanin to the cells which produce keratin, the chief protein in hair. When the keratin-producing cells (keratinocytes) die, they retain the coloring from the melanin. When you first start to go gray, the melanocytes are still present, but they become less active. Less pigment is deposited into the hair so it appears lighter. As graying progresses, the melanocytes die off until there aren’t any cells left to produce the color.”

Researchers and scientists continue to explore what actually happens with our genes and cells when hair goes gray because this process could reveal useful insights in treating other age-related conditions. Olansky Dermatology Associates helps patients who are faced with a variety of skin and hair conditions as they age.

Whether you choose to cover up your gray with hair color or you embrace this aging attribute, it’s up to you. At least now you will have an understanding as to just what is going on at those hair follicles and perhaps you can make some lifestyle changes to slow down the process.

Posted on behalf of Olansky Dermatology Associates