Why Does Hair Turn Gray or White as We Age?

One of the basic explanations for hair turning gray or white with age involves the absence of melanin. According to research our hair follicles have pigment cells to give each hair its color. When the follicles no longer have pigment cells to produce melanin, the hair doesn’t doesn’t produce the brown, black, blonde etc. that defines our hair. This method of providing is similar to the tanning of light skin when exposed to the sun.

Gradual graying of the hair is due to the gradual reduction of pigment cells/melanin in each hair follicle. If all the cells are “used up” or die all the hairs will be gray or white. Of course, not all human beings turn gray at the same rate or at the same age. The specific rate of graying and the age at which our hair starts to turn gray is determined by our genetic makeup. It’s passed down from generation to generation within families.

Different Ages, Different Health

In addition to genetics contributing to the graying of hair, our health and lifestyle may also have some influence on the change in hair color. Medical research shows that people who have a significant lack of B vitamins may have gray hair sooner than those who do have sufficient Vitamin B. Lower levels of iron in the blood and problems with the thyroid gland may also contribute to early graying. Smoking tobacco is believed to contribute as well, maybe because there is less oxygen in a smoker’s blood.

Chemical treatment for AIDS and cancer may also kill pigment cells and cause premature graying. It is no longer widely believed that a visual shock or psychological shock will cause a person to have gray or white hair. For decades it was believed that this experience would cause hair to turn gray or white instantly. The theory that stress from raising children causes gray hair is also widely discounted among medical experts.

With this information in mind, it is easier to understand that in normally healthy persons, each individual strand of hair produces pigment cells and these cells produce melanin on a consistent basis. Gray hair or white hair is really the absence of other color. The hair might be said to be more transparent due to lack of a darker color.

It is interesting to note that some people notice their hair turns gray at a very early age, even in their 30s. Other individuals might have relatively dark hair well into their 60s or 70s, especially if they aren’t stricken by some major illnesses and they maintain proper nutrition. We should also understand that people with very light blonde hair may have a lot of gray hairs that aren’t noticeable. Yet a person with dark brown or black hair might notice even a few gray hairs. Though the hair on every individual will turn gray at a different rate, research shows that the average individual will turn completely gray in a period of about 10 years.

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