How Does Gray Hair Happen?

Gray hair, kept for that salt and pepper look, plucked out in horror or left as it is because who cares? It’s part of who you are and how your body works with time. Or does it? With some getting it in their 20’s because of the mythical reason being stress, the rest from their genetics of aging or hitting the big 30, where about 10 to 20 % of adults are said to sprout that first line of silver in their mane. Factually, we will all go gray but here are some of the facts behind what makes them happen.

Coloring Your Mane

Hair color comes from a pigment we have called, melanin, which varies from person to person, in a gradient from dark melanin or eumelanin to light melanin or pheomelanin, giving each of us humans those color catered locks of raven black, shades of brunette, luscious orange and red, blonde and finally all going gray.

When we are still young, a pigmented stem cell called melanocytes injects the color pigment, melanin, into our keratin-containing cells. Keratin is the protein your hair is made of and the canvas for that hair color. But, as you get older, the amount of melanin reduces and those keratin color containers, with their empty paint palette leave your hair gray, white or silver.1


Reasons For The Gray

The reason for the amount of melanin reducing remained a mystery until recently. Thanks to a study where 6000 Latinos were taken up for an experiment to observe their genes and how it contributes to the various things that happen to facial and scalp hair, such as balding, thickness of hair growth, graying, eyebrows and mono-brows, etc. The study showed that the gene for blonde hair is said to make up 30% of genes for graying hair too, which happens depending on genetic factors even in darker hair shades. While, the other 70% for color loss was because of environmental factors, age, stress and more.

Aging just like skin has an time limit, said Desmond Tobin, a professor in Cell Biology from the University of Bradford in England. Hair is monitored by genes that follow a ‘melanogentic clock’ which eventually slows the pigmentation and processing power of those melanocyte cells for the hair follicles. And this slowing down happens at different paces for each individual, Asians and African Americans show signs of it only when closing in on their 40’s, while most show it in their mid-30’s.

Hydrogen peroxide is produced more by your hair as you age and is known to bleach hair.

Smokers also tend to gray faster as tobacco use and abuse generates premature graying of hair, even before their 30’s.


Stress or damage caused from oxidation activities also causes graying, this is when free radicals, that come from pollution, bad diets and stressing out defeat your good, antioxidant fighters who are empowered from a relaxed mind and body and maintaining a healthy diet. Those who have premature gray hair are said to have more oxidants than antioxidants in their system. Deficiencies in vitamin B12 also enable early on signs of graying as it is essential for maintaining your normal hair color pigmentation.

And yes, genes do play a role in graying early too. If it’s in your family tree to go gray early, chances are you may too.

Graying prematurely is also said to be symptomatic of some conditions such as osteopenia, a low bone density condition, anemia, vitiligo, thyroid disorders, and even a sign that you have a higher risk for coronary artery disease (CAD).

‘Hiyo Silver, Away!’

Although there is no set ‘cure’ for gray hair, considering the fact that there are bigger more crucial health conditions out there, New York University’s Medical Center, discovered that a protein called ‘Wnt’ helps align pigmentation processes between the melanocytes and other stem cells for proper hair follicle development. An experiment using black haired mice was conducted and they figured that a good place to start would be to add this ‘Wnt’ protein to hair care products or serums to possibly eliminate the chances of getting gray hair.


Another solution was creating this drug which manipulates the melanin producers so the hair changes inside out into any way you like, instead of going out to get those dyes or highlights. But, being experimental, it’s probably not a safe recommendation to go try.

Besides constantly dying that hair, which can increase hair loss and chemically damage hair follicles, a solution from the ‘roots’ is still being searched for. So till then embrace that silver, steel, platinum, white or whatever you’d like to call it, as it is becoming the in thing these days and is even decked by some adolescent and adult anime cosplayers alike.