Have you ever thought about why our hair turns gray as we age? Melanin is the pigment that determines hair color, in addition to eye color and skin tone. Gray hair is a sign of reduced melanin, while white hair completely lacks it.
Usually by our 40s, or perhaps earlier for some, there is a gradual decline in number of stem cells that mature to become melanin-producing cells. Genetics is a factor, but the cells could also become damaged. Our skin and eyes also lose pigmentation with age as well, but not as noticeably as hair.
Could there be other factors that affect the graying of hair? Researchers believe so. Studies show that damaging chemicals from smoking, stress, and inflammation destroy melanin-producing cells.1,2 One study even finds that smokers went gray three years earlier than non-smokers on average.
While there is nothing that can prevent hair from graying eventually, approximately 60% of adult men and women in western culture dye their hair. Are you one of them?
- Arck P, Overall R, Spatz K, et al. Towards a “free radical theory of graying”: melanocyte apoptosis in the aging human hair follicle is an indicator of oxidative stress induced tissue damage. The FASEB Journal, 20 (9): 1567-1569.
- Zayed A, Shahait A, Ayoub M, Yousef A. Smokers’ hair: Does smoking cause premature hair graying? Indian Dermatol Online J, 2013; 4 (2): 90-92.