Grays Anatomy: When and Why Our Hair Turns GrayJessica Cohen
If you have ever wondered why hair goes gray or why some people go gray much faster than others, I have got the answers for you. Just promise that you will not ask why this topic was of interest to me because I have no intentions of admitting anything. It is just shorter people like myself may be a tad more conscientious about gray hair since it may be more obvious compared to someone taller.
Some people believe that gray hair is a sign of wisdom or a crown of glory, while others believe that it comes from stress. The media always show how presidents age over the time they are in office, going from barely any noticeable gray hair to a salt-and-pepper look after one term, and a full head of gray hair for two-term presidents. It always seems as if the stress of the job is what is turning their hair gray, when in actuality it might just be their genetics. Admittedly though, sometimes it does feel like a job, kids, or a spouse might just be helping to speed that process up just a wee bit.
Our chances of going gray grow by 10-20% every decade after our 30th birthdays, though I have several friends who started to go gray much younger than that. While I did not start to see much gray until closer to 40, I may or may not have just been in denial.
The natural color of our hair depends upon the amount and type of a pigmentation called melanin. The formation of melanin begins in the womb and determines the color and thickness of our hair. Without melanin our hair would be white.
When we “go gray” it is actually caused by build-up of hydrogen peroxide. Not the same hydrogen peroxide used in your hair dye. Each of our hair cells makes a tiny bit of hydrogen peroxide on their own. As we get older, that tiny bit becomes a big bit. The hydrogen peroxide begins to damage the hair follicles and block the formation of melanin. So in reality, our hair bleaches itself from within and the pigmentation becomes gray, then over time, white.
Melanin comes from stem cells called melanocytes, which are responsible for hair color and growth. Overgrowth of melanocytes is what causes melanoma (skin cancer). So scientists are studying these melanocytes closely with the belief that if we learn how to regulate them, we might be able to reduce melanomas and regenerate hair to its original pigmentation and growth rate. Pretty fascinating, isn’t it?
Genetics may also determine how quickly an individual turns gray, as well as factors such as hormones, toxins in the body and chemical exposure.
So the next time you see a gray hair or two, remember that whether it comes from wisdom, stress or from getting older, gray hair is inevitable, it is empowering and it is beautiful.
Source: Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, NYU Langone Medical Center / New York University School of Medicine, The Library of Congress
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