Most of us will eventually have some gray hair, whether we fight it or embrace it. About half of all people will have a significant amount of gray hair by the time they’re in their fifties. Most of us see the first gray hairs in their mid thirties to early forties. Some start to see it in their teens or twenties. Almost everyone feels their gray hair is premature, but premature gray is generally considered to be when there is a lot of gray in your twenties.
Gray hair is simply hair that lacks pigment. Hair is pigmented by melanin. Melanin is produced in the hair follicle by melanocyte cells. As we age, we have fewer melanocyte cells producing pigment, and the hair goes gray. It’s a bit like a pen running out of ink. The resulting hair is silvery white.
The look of an individuals gray hair is determined by three main factors. First, the natural color it’s mixed with. Second, the percentage of the hair that is gray. Third, how is it distributed. Sometimes the white is evenly distributed, giving the hair an overall gray effect. When it’s more in patches you get the look of your natural hair with streaks.
Gray hair seems to have a slightly different texture than pigmented hair. This is caused by the lack of melanin in the hair. The pigment in the hair helps protect it, and without the melanin the hair is more susceptible to damage from the sun. Heat is also challenge. Hot styling tools can yellow and dull white hair. The follicles that produce white hairs also produce less sebum, so the hair is a bit dryer.
Genetics is the biggest factor in when and how much gray hair you will end up with. Specific genes determine whether you may gray earlier than typical. The IRF4 gene, specifically the variant (rs12203592) is a marker for premature gray. That gene controls the activity of another gene, which in turn controls another gene controls an enzyme that is necessary for melanin production. The gene can pass from either parent or both, so we don’t really know until we start to gray. Some of the DNA testing sites analyze for gene that affect hair related traits. There are DNA analysis companies, such as X Code Life, available online that dive a bit deeper into the genes if your curious.
Gray hair being caused by stress is a popular belief, and some studies have shown instances of extreme stress causing rapid loss of hair pigment. The jury is still out on that, and so far stress doesn’t look to be the main cause. Scientists aren’t really sure if stress actually causes gray hair or not. Stress does, however, sometimes cause hair loss. In some cases, we see the hair that grows back come back in gray.
According to a 2013 study , smoking tobacco sometimes caused gray hair to occur sooner than in non-smokers. Smokers gray prematurely two and a half times more often than non-smokers.
Gray hair has been found to have several nutritional deficiencies. Inadequate intake of B vitamins including biotin, folic acid, and B12 appears to be a factor. Gray hair has also been associated with deficiencies of vitamin D, iron, and selenium. A healthy diet is critical not just for gray prevention, but the overall health and appearance of the hair.
Certain health conditions can play a roll. Vitiligo , a condition that destroys pigment in the skin, can cause graying when it occurs on the scalp. Some thyroid conditions are know to cause gray hair as well. There are several other rare health conditions that can also contribute to graying hair.
We can only control a few factors involved in graying hair. A healthy diet, proper exercise, and sufficient sleep are most important. Supplements that help your hair be all it can be may help as well, consult your doctor before starting a program.
What we can do is, one, eliminate the gray or enhance the color.