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What Causes Hair To Turn Gray As We Grow Older?

Gray hair and aging are two terms that often go hand in hand. It makes sense why we would group graying hair and the aging process together — 74 percent of people experience some degree of graying between ages 45 and 65

Some people encounter premature graying at 30, and some don’t see silver strands emerging from their hair follicles until after age 65. It’s safe to say that there is a lot of solidarity out there in the world as far as gray hair color is concerned.

Those curious to know the answer to the question “why does hair turn gray?” should read on.

Why Does Our Hair Gray?

Gray hair doesn’t discriminate — people from every ethnicity can experience graying hair. The graying process can also impact people who originally had blonde hair, red hair, brown hair, or black hair. 

There are many reasons why our hair loses pigment as we age. Some of these factors are external, while others have a physiological element. Environmental aspects and our lifestyle can also play a role in the lack of melanin in our hair when we grow older. 

Some myths surround graying hair, and sometimes it is difficult to separate fact from fiction. On the other hand, some gray hair facts may surprise you. Better Not Younger is here to help you get to the bottom of some of the most common effects of aging, especially as they relate to your hair.

Perhaps you want to ease into showing off your gray hair and owning it, complete with learning the ins and outs of purple shampoo. Maybe you feel better suited to covering up your grays for now at the salon by your hairstylist. Both are completely valid options! 

The best choice is to go for whatever makes you feel most confident. Regardless of your decision, it is always a good idea to become familiar with why we experience this phenomenon as we grow older and what products can support it. Take our quiz today for personalized product recommendations!

What Is the Most Common Cause of Gray Hair?

As we age, we may notice gradual changes in our bodies. The cells in our bodies can be responsible for a plethora of functions, from processing nutrients from our food, contributing to the elasticity of our skin, fighting off disease, to the color of our hair. Cells dying throughout our life cycle have a direct impact on many different aspects of our biology, with our hair color being no exception.

Our hair strands become gray as we age because the cells responsible for our hair color reduce in number, thus producing less of the pigment that colors our hair. These pigment cells are known as “melanocytes.” 

Melanocytes produce melanin. Melanin is the pigment-producing substance in your body that controls the color of hair, skin, and even eye color. When it comes to the melanocytes in your hair, they are responsible for housing the two types of melanin that dictate hair color — eumelanin, responsible for dark-colored hair (or blonde, when there is a lack of it), and pheomelanin, which contributes to red shades of hair when eumelanin is scarce. 

Over time as these melanocytes die off, they cannot produce as much melanin, and our hair begins to lose its original color when melanin production is scarce.

Aging is the most common cause of gray hair, usually around the 30 to 40-year-old mark. Despite popular belief, gray hair is not a 50 or older process. Most adults will see at least half of their hair pigmentation changing, with some developing a full head of gray or white hair.

Other Causes of Gray Hair

Genetics also plays a large role in who is prone to gray hair. Interestingly, ethnicity determines what age hair color begins to turn gray. The structure of the hair, beyond what you can see with your eyes, determines your hair color (and what it may be as you get older!).

Illnesses or health problems can also contribute to the depletion of melanocytes, leading to graying. An example of this is autoimmune diseases such as vitiligo. Vitiligo is a condition that causes parts of the skin to lose color. 

But vitiligo isn’t just for the dermatologist. In the case of gray hair, the immune system of someone with vitiligo mistakes melanocytes as a threat during a scalp infection. 

Gray hair can also be linked to vitamin B12 deficiency, thyroid disease, and psychological stress

What Causes Gray Hair at an Early Age?

Graying at an early age was once theorized as being related to low bone density. However, a study in 2007 of men and women didn’t support the idea. So what gives?

We do know that genes play a role, even though it isn’t entirely clear why. Psychological stress has been attributed to the graying of hair. 

Also, deficiencies of vitamin B12 or vitamin D can lead to early graying. Thyroid or pituitary gland issues can also point to premature hair graying. For these, it’s always best to speak with your doctor for medical advice.

Not all gray hair at an early age is caused by medical issues; the common theme is that genetics can account for these issues. If your parent or parents had gray hair at an early age, chances are you will too. 

Psychological stress can also cause accelerated graying of the hair through a condition called “telogen effluvium.” This condition accelerates the rate at which we shed our hair, much like alopecia areata. Since hair follicles don't change color, gray hair growth exponentially increases.

Can You Reverse Gray Hair?

With modern medicine, we sometimes find ourselves looking to find solutions to all of life's problems. When it comes to hair, some of us can feel self-conscious about our looks and seek a solution (other than running for the hair dye). But with gray hair, can it actually be reversed? 

The answer to this may change at some point, but gray hair cannot be reversed for the moment. Thanks to our genes that control how our body operates, we are on a mostly fixed path of aging and what that entails. 

But that doesn’t mean we can’t enhance what we have in one way or another! While gray hair cannot be reversed, some opt for coloring their hair. Some would rather go with the flow of the natural process and learn how to care for their gray hair.

How Do I Care for Graying Hair? 

Gray hair caused by aging requires different considerations than your typical hair products aimed at serving the general public. At Better Not Younger, we have recognized the unique hair care needs that aging hair requires. 

For example, gray hair tends to be a bit more dry, frizzy, and prone to breakage with age. To keep your silvery hair in its best shape, our Second Chance Repairing Conditioner for Dry or Damaged Hair is a great conditioner to give a little love to your strands. By strengthening gray hair that may be more brittle or damaged, moisturizing through conditioner is key. 

If you’ve noticed that your gray or white hair is changing color by becoming yellow or brassy, we have a fix for that. Our Silver Lining Purple Brightening Shampoo can reduce the yellow and brassy tones immediately, giving you sleek and cool silver tones. 

To help boost the effectiveness of the purple shampoo is our Silver Lining Purple Butter Masque. Combined, the purple power of these products will not only banish unwanted yellow hues but also moisturize and strengthen gray hair that has become dried and fragile.

Conclusion

What causes gray hair isn’t a “one size fits all” answer. Rather, various unique factors combine to affect our hair — it just so happens that this shows up most often once we reach certain thresholds when we age.

Gray hair happens to many people as we get older. If your version of aging better has you beginning a new hair care routine aimed at taking amazing care of your new graying hair, Better Not Younger is here for you.

Even if you don’t experience much graying, everyone’s hair changes when we age. Hair loss, breakage, hair thinning, and differences in hair texture due to hormones are still aging hair concepts that you will want to address. Luckily, Better Not Younger is here for you for that, too.

Sources:

Greying of the Human Hair: A Worldwide Survey | PMC

Body Cells and Tissues | University of Cincinnati

Why Does Our Hair Turn Gray As We Age? | Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Gray Hair | Harvard Health

Factors Associated with Premature Hair Graying | PMC