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Why does hair turn gray?

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asked Aug 16, 2015 in Beauty and Style by blueskies (57,070 points)
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Believe it or not, hair does not turn gray. It is believed that all hair is white to begin with [1]. What you see as hair changing from a color to "gray" is actually the death of pigment cells within the hair shaft.

 

Melanin is what causes hair to have color. Melanin is produced before birth, and the amount of melanin, along with how it is distributed through hair is what dictates which color hair the baby would have. If melanin was never produced, the hair would remain white.

 

Melanin is made of special cells called melanocytes. These melanocytes are produced through the hair shafts. As the hair grows from the shaft, the melanocytes inject pigments, or melanin, through the shafts that attach to the keratin-producing cells, or keratinocytes. [2] These cells contain the main proteins that make up the hair. As time goes on, more pigment is produced, which creates the various natural hair colors.

 

There are actually two types of melanin that occurs in the hair: phaeomelanin and eumelanin. Phaeomelanin is responsible for the light colors (red and yellow) in hair, and eumelanin is responsible for the dark colors (brown and black) in hair. They two types of melanin are mixed in different amounts to produce different shades in hair color.

 

There is no definite answer as to why hair eventually becomes gray. Many factors ranging from age and stress to hormones and genetics, etc. can affect individuals differently and at different times during their lives. However, it is believed that there is eventually a point when a person's melanocytes start slowing or completely stopping production of pigment through the hair shaft.

 

If you notice a color change in the hair you already have, that means that the process of pigment production has started to slow down and that these hairs are ready to shed and fall out. When new gray hair appears, it means that there are still some healthy melanocytes producing pigments in new hair growth, and when new white hair appears, it means that they have all died and completely stopped producing pigments in all future hair growth.

 

References:

 

[1] http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/grayhair.html

 

[2] http://chemistry.about.com/od/howthingsworkfaqs/f/why-does-hair-turn-gray.htm

answered Aug 16, 2015 by deviousdesigner (36,530 points)
selected Aug 19, 2015 by blueskies
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Hair turns gray when there is little melanin produced by the melanocytes. These are cells that live in the root of the hair right beneath the epidermis of your scalp. Melanin is the pigment that gives hair its dark color. It's the same cells that give your skin its color. When these melanocytes produce less melanin in the root of your hair, your hair will turn a lighter color. Your genetics determine how many melanocytes your hair has and how they behave. That's why you see some people get gray hair quicker than others. [1]

There are many possible reasons why these melanocytes produce less melanin.

- With age, these cells may slowly become inactive, or they may decrease in number.

- Certain medical conditions may interrupt the melanocytes from producing pigment or prevent melanocytmes from developing.

- Your diet may also affect the health and behavior of these melanocytes. A deficiency in B vitamins can be a possible cause. [2]

- When you experience shock or a very stressful event previously, this may interrupt the production of melanin. Since hair is produced in a cycle, you won't see the effect until your hair actually grows in.



[1] http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-does-hair-turn-gray/

[2] http://chemistry.about.com/od/howthingsworkfaqs/f/why-does-hair-turn-gray.htm
answered Aug 16, 2015 by turker88 (23,620 points)

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