The Unexplained

Why Does Hair Turn Gray?

When a few strands of gray hair began growing, some people have panic attacks because it’s usually a sign of aging. They even try to cover them up by dying. Based on a study, gray hair starts growing at the age of forty. However, there are young ones who are just in their teenage years who have strands of gray hairs present. Therefore, having gray hair isn’t only because of aging. So, why does hair turn gray?

Homeostasis

Since aging is the most known reason for having gray hair, let’s understand first one of its important concept which is homeostasis. Homeostasis is composed of processes in our body which keep everything balanced and working. These processes include sweating to keep the body’s temperature in the optimal range, replicating cells to heal wounds, and maintaining blood sugar levels.

A constant supply of new cells helps our body to maintain the status quo at a cellular level because it helps repair injuries and cellular damage. For example, when you get a deep cut, the stem cells in your skin tissues will grow into multiple types of skin cells or connective tissues to repair the damage. When homeostasis can no longer keep up with the number of cells needed to be replaced, that’s the time when visible aging occurs.

Melanocytes

There are two parts that make up each strand of our hair. These are the shaft, which is the colored part we see growing out of our heads, and the root, which is the bottom part that keeps our hair anchored under the scalp. The root of each hair strand is composed of a tube tissue called the hair follicle. Each hair follicle is made up of pigment cells. These pigment cells maintain and control our hair colors and they are called melanocytes. They produce melanin which is responsible for the different colors of our skin, eyes, and hair.  As we age, the pigment cells or melanocytes in our hair follicles slowly die. Our hair strands will no longer contain much melanin when there are fewer pigment cells in our hair follicles, therefore, its color will become more transparent.

Hair Aging

Similar to how homeostasis is explained, when a melanocyte gets damaged or when it dies, it will be replaced by a stem cell. Our hair follicles undergo a lot of full death and re-growth cycles. Meaning, in each cycle, the melanocyte gets replaced by a new stem cell. However, the follicle runs out eventually. And when they do, the melanocytes that will die will no longer be replaced. This causes the hair follicle to lose the ability to add color to the hair that will grow.

How Hair Turns Gray

Gray hair starts growing basically when there is no melanin present anymore. This often occurs on the 7th to the 15th growth cycle of the follicle which happens between the ages 36 to 50. However, it does not depend on a person’s age. It can also depend on different factors such as:

  • Ethnicity: Caucasians are said to grow gray hair earlier, followed by Asians and African-Americans. However, scientists haven’t figured out yet why.
  • Stress: Since stress is implicated in a lot of skin and hair issues, it can be part of turning hair into gray but not in an instant. For example, stress can cause hair to fall. Once some of your hair has fallen off, they may grow back in a different color.
  • Lifestyle: Smoking is believed to stress our skin and hair. Some doctors also say that it’s better to eat foods with antioxidants to maintain healthy skins and hairs. Maybe a healthy lifestyle can also help prevent growing gray hair early.

These factors can be the answer to why younger people begin to have gray hair as early as their teenage years. 

Though we can blame it on the lack of stem cells on why our hair turns gray, there still seems to be a mystery behind this phenomenon, because no one can tell yet what causes the melanocytes to be damaged rapidly. Once this is more understood, it’s possible that scientists will come up with treatments and preventions for gray hair which might help people keep their original hair colors.

Hair dyeing works for most people, but if there will be other ways to keep our original hair colors for as long as possible, I guess people will be happy to spend even a fortune for it.

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