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What causes gray hair?

Before discussing why the hair can turn gray, it is helpful to understand what factors provide pigment to the hair. Pigment in hair is produced by melanocytes in the hair bulb that only produce pigment during the anagen or active growth phase of the hair cycle. During the resting and transition stages, telogen and catagen, pigment is not produced. Read more...
 

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gray hair

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Why do some women go gray early?


Before discussing why the hair can turn gray, it is helpful to understand what factors provide pigment to the hair. Pigment in hair is produced by melanocytes in the hair bulb that only produce pigment during the anagen or active growth phase of the hair cycle. During the resting and transition stages, telogen and catagen, pigment is not produced.


The process of graying of the hair is not completely understood but is thought to be related to the loss of melanocytes in the hair bulb, resulting in less pigment transferred to the hair follicle. The loss of melanocytes is believed to occur with age. There may be a role for oxidative stress on these cells that results from pigment production due to free radicals. This oxidative stress may impact the melanocytes. Other factors that can also affect these cells are smoking, nutrition, and exposure to UV light.


Genetic factors also likely play a role. Telomeres are sections of DNA in cells. With age, these shorten and can impact the life cycle of a cell. Telomere shortening in melanocytes is thought to occur resulting in cell death and less pigment production. A reduction in the production of signaling proteins for pigment production and changes in the structure of hair as we age may also play a role.






Is gray hair a health warning or would you say it is normal or common?


Graying of the hair, also known as canities, occurs naturally with aging at different ages depending on race and ethnicity. The average age for Caucasians to develop gray hair is in the mid-30s, for Asians late 30s, and for African Americans in the mid-40s. Based on these patterns, premature graying of the hair is defined as before the age of 20 in Caucasians and before the age of 30 in African Americans.


Graying of the hair as we age is normal, premature graying is not necessarily so.  Some conditions can trigger premature graying of the age as a result of oxidative stress:




Should I see a doctor if my hair is graying?


If there are concerns about premature graying, consider discussing an evaluation with your Dermatologist to rule out reversible triggers.  Identifying these factors can help with management.  Outside of this, the choice to stay gray or color is a deeply personal one that ties to identity that there are of course choices to consider. 



Do you have any other premature gray hair tips?


Graying of the hair is so closely tied to perceptions of age. First, identify if premature graying versus natural aging is responsible for your experience.  Reversible causes are worthy of addressing. 




Gray Hair

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