The science behind why hair turns grey

Some of us embrace the idea of becoming a ‘silver fox’, while others will do literally anything to hide the 50 shades of grey sneaking into our hair. However we feel about it, the reality is we will all go grey as we age, so I was wondering – why does this happen? And could we use science to prevent us from going grey?

For some people turning grey is not a problem at all....
For some people turning grey is not a problem at all….

To explain how our hair loses colour, we have to think of hair growing in cycles. There is a ‘growth phase’, where hair grows in length, and a ‘rest phase’ where hair stops growing and eventually falls out of the follicle. In this cycle the hair pigment is produced in the growth phase, and turns off in the rest phase, then production resumes again as we go back in to the growth phase. When the pigment production stays switched off after the rest phase and fails to turn back on in growth, we grow a grey hair (with no pigment).

With every hair cycle we have, some of the melanocytes (cells that produce pigment) in our hair become damaged.This isn’t a problem as we can replace the damaged/dead pigment producing cells with others from a little stash of them that we have, but when this store of melanocytes becomes depleted as we age and have used all of them up, we no longer have any cells to produce pigment – so our hair grows grey.

How would we stop hair going grey?

We would have to make the melanocytes live longer and be less susceptible to damage, or increase the amount of them we have in our stash. Sounds difficult but some scientists in France have identified a chemical that can protect the melanocytes from damage – so our hair can stay coloured for longer. If you’re already grey this won’t help you, but for those of us yet to turn grey there is hope!

Can we re-pigment hair?

Those of us who are bored of the chore that is hair dyeing, there may be a more permanent solution on the horizon to permanently turn grey hair back into pigmented hair! A study found particular antioxidants can reverse the greying of hair – although this was intended to help those with the genetic condition ‘vitilligo’, this could also work on those who no longer want the salt and pepper look.

So, ladies and gents, do not stress about turning grey (by the way, stress won’t make you turn grey, so even if you are stressed about it, doesn’t matter!), there is hope on the horizon that we can prevent and reverse all 50 shades of grey, white and silver (if you insist on calling it that).

Till next time,

Lucy

xxx

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