In this day and age of 5-second trends; Grey hair elicits different reactions from different people. We have people bursting into tears and doing anything they can to get rid of their greys, and at the same, there are those who dye their hair grey to achieve that appealing “Salt and pepper” look!
Even in these times where we are believing myths like plucking one grey will lead to three greys growing in its place; let’s see as to what causes hair turns grey?
How is hair color determined?
White is the initial hair color after which the natural color is gained by a natural pigment known as Melanin. The formation of this pigment starts before birth. The natural hair color of an individual depends upon ‘How melanin is distributed?’; ‘What is the type of melanin present?’; and most importantly ‘What is the amount of melanin stored in the middle layer of the hair shaft or cortex?’
The color of an individual’s hair depends upon the type of melanin present. Melanin is of two types;
1. Eumelanin: This pigment produces dark colors. Such as Black or Brown.
2. Phaeomelanin: This pigment is responsible for the production of light hair colors. Such as Red and yellow and their variations.
Specialised pigment cells known as the Melanocytes make up Melanin. These melanocytes migrate. As the hair follicles develop in the Utero, they migrate to the Hair Bulb, thus positioning themselves at the openings of the Skin’s surface.
The hair color is seen to vary as per the body site as well. The eyelashes are the darkest because of they contain high levels of eumelanin. The pubic hair is seen to be darker than the scalp. The pubic hair, underarm hair, and beard hair have a slight red tinge as phaeomelanin pigments are present in these areas.
Melanocyte-stimulating hormones and high levels of Oestrogen and Progesterone (these are present in pregnancy) can darken the naturally light hair. Malaria preventing drugs can lighten naturally dark hair. Whereas the medication that is given for epilepsy is said to darken the hair as well.
Its seen that siblings often have a very similar hair color.
What makes our hair turns Grey?
One of the biggest determining factors of the hair turning grey is our genetic predisposition. It is observed that the identical twins go grey at a very similar age and also follow a similar rate of graying and pattern as well. But the studies are yet to identify the controlling genes behind it.
We have often headed parents blame their teens for their graying hair. but there is no scientific evidence available to quantify this relationship amongst the two. And neither can one’s diet and lifestyle be considered scientifically responsible.
Vitiligo and alopecia aerate are certain autoimmune diseases which are responsible for damaging pigment cells and are able to induce graying. But, these are very uncommon conditions and they can be used to explain only a fraction of graying.
Premature aging syndromes such as Hutchinson’s progeria and Werner syndrome cause premature graying as they accelerate every aspect of aging in one’s body. People who are affected by, pernicious anemia, autoimmune thyroid disease, or Down syndrome are also seen to be victims of premature graying.
Dr. Desmond Robin, who is a professor of cell biology at the University of Bradford in England has suggested that the phenomenon of “Melanogentic clock” is present in the hair follicle. This phenomenon is responsible for the slowing down or shutting off the melanocyte activity, as a result, the reception of pigment by our hair is reduced. This phenomenon occurs right when the hair is about to fall out or shed and that’s why the roots of such hair tend to look pale.
Dr. Tobin further explained that age and genetics play a huge role in the graying of hair. He also went on to say that the genes are responsible for the regulation of the exhaustion of the pigmentary follicle of each hair follicle. The occurrences of this phenomena are seen to differ as per different hair follicles. It also differs from an individual to an individual as for some people this process occurs as slow as stretched over several decades, while for some this is a very rapid process.
We can divide these factors under two umbrellas:
A. Intrinsic factors:
1. Genetic defects
3. Body distribution
B. Extrinsic Factors:
4. Chemical Exposure
The scientists have also described the phenomena of self-bleaching where the hair follicles are seen to produce small amounts of Hydrogen peroxide and this chemical stays built in the hair shafts and thus leads to loss of hair color in a gradual manner.
So why doesn’t the production of the pigment turn back on?
During the end of every hair cycle, the pigment-producing melanocytes are either dead or damaged. The melanocyte stem cell reservoir which is at the top of the hair follicle has the ability to replenish the bulb, this ability keeps the pigment production going. But, if this reservoir of stem cells is exhausted, then the pigment production stops and the hair turns grey.
It has been long known that the life of the melanocytes needs to be extended and they must be protected from any harm or injury or an expansion procedure of these melanocytes needs to happen in order for them to continue to replace the lost pigment cells. French group of Scientists has not been able to succeed in identifying an innovative series of agents that are able to protect these hair follicles and these agents are being formulated into products that can be applied on as a spray on serum or shampoo. These products won’t re-color your hair but or reproduce the dead pigment generating cells. But, they will extend protection to your melanocytes.
So, people who fall into the spectrum of hating the greys, there are expanding horizons with ever-increasing options for you to protect your natural hair color. But, we would also like to scream a loud “You go girl” to those rocking the sultry salt and pepper!