What Happens to Our Hair as We Age?

Why Does Hair Turn Grey?
Photo Credit: Jacob Ammentorp Lund / iStockPhoto.com
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Why Does Hair Turn Grey?

In 2014, the cosmetic industry brought in $255 billion in revenue globally. As large as that number is, that figure is expected to increase to $316 billion by 2019.

Hair-care products account for the largest portion of the cosmetic industry — about one-quarter of the revenue. In the U.S., hair coloring services account for 18 percent of the revenue. It is estimated that 70 percent of the female population — yes, more than two-thirds — colors their hair.

Why?

Women have plenty of reasons for wanting to dye their hair, from not liking their hair color, to changing their look, to expressing themselves, to covering grey hair.

If grey hair has you running to the salon every four to six weeks, having an understanding about why your hair is grey may make you feel a little bit better.

And yes, you can probably blame your mother.

Genetics

Greying hair is caused by genetics. Recently, scientists have pinpointed the gene that is responsible for greying hair.

Nature Communications published the findings of a study in March. The study discussed genetics responsible for greying hair — and they even boldly stated that their study could possibly lead to a medication that could prevent hair turning grey.

The study analyzed DNA of 6,000 people from Latin America with varying ethnicities. The genes responsible for hair color, texture, and density were studied.

The study concluded that the gene IRF4 — the same gene responsible for light hair color in people of European origin — is also responsible for grey hair. This gene is responsible for melanin production; eventually something happens in the body that causes the body to produce less melanin, which ultimately results in grey hair.

Regardless of the gene, dermatologists refer to greying hair as the “50-50-50” rule: “50 percent of the population has about 50 percent of gray hair at age 50,” according to Dr. Anthony Oro, a professor of dermatology at Stanford University.

Lifestyle

While our genes play a large role in if and when we will go grey, the way we live our lives also plays a part.

For example, stress may play a factor. Stress doesn’t have a direct effect on greying, but undue stress on the body can cause hair and skin issues. Smoking can also “stress” the hair and may lead to lower pigmentation.

Nutrition deficiencies may also play a large part, especially if you are deficient in vitamin B12. In research studies, low levels of pantothenic acid have resulted in mice with greying hair.

Clearing Up Misconceptions

Because the science behind greying hair has been inconclusive until very recently, there have been many misconceptions about what and what does not cause grey hair.

Plucking a grey hair from your scalp will NOT make more grey hairs grow in its place.

Excess dying of the hair will not turn the hair grey (well, not unless you dye it that way!).

Lastly, it is important to understand how the hair gets its color. The hair itself is grown from a hair stem cell, and the color from another stem cell that forms pigment.

The two stem cells ideally work together; when this works perfectly, your hair will grow that perfect blonde or brunette shade that is unique to you. However, when one of the two stem cells wears out, greying begins.

This is also why it is important to understand that the hair gets its color at the scalp and then continues to grow for one to three years before the hair falls out. The hair will remain that color; only when it is shed and another hair begins to grow is it possible for a grey hair to form in its place — a hair will not spontaneously become grey.

Your hair turning grey is inevitable. Whether or not you embrace the grey is up to you!

Resources

The Atlantic (Hair Dye: A History)

Good Housekeeping (6 Things You Didn’t Know About Gray Hair)

The Huffington Post (The Most Common Gray Hair Myths Debunked)

Newsweek (The Gene That Causes Gray Hair Has Been Identified)