Your first few strands of gray hair can seem to grow out overnight. Hair rich and uniform in color is suddenly peppered with a few rogue white strands, which are soon joined by more of their kind. Understanding how gray hair starts, as well the actual process by which hair loses its color, helps you better understand your options once you do start to go gray. Gray hair starts deep inside the hair root with special cells called melanocytes, which your hair relies on for color.
There are two components that make up hair. Keratin is a protein that gives hair its structure, while melanin gives it a specific hue, says the Library of Congress’ Everyday Mysteries website. Dark and light pigments, eumelanin and phaeomelanin, occur in various proportions to form the wide array of natural hair shades you see around you, including the color of your own hair. Special cells called melanocytes act as gatekeepers in the pigmenting process, injecting each follicle with a designated amount of melanin as it grows out. As long as all of your melanocytes are still functioning, your hair won’t turn gray.
You’re likely first notice a smattering of gray hairs around your temples, says the National Institute of Health. Here’s what’s happening: The melanocytes that stayed on the job until you entered your 30s clocked out for the last time. According to the Library of Congress, your melanocytes come with a preset time clock, producing melanin for a designated number of years and no longer. Without pigment to provide color, hair grows out transparent–although you may call it white, silver or gray.
Gray hair is associated with the aging process; however, when your hair goes gray and how rapidly you gray is genetically determined. The same holds true for people who go gray prematurely. Other factors, such as stress, smoking and certain medical conditions, such as thyroid disease, anemia and vitiligo, may hasten gray hair along, says GreyHairLoss.Com. Ultimately, when you go gray and how much gray hair you get was predetermined before you were born.
Once your hair grows out gray, it’s a done deal; there’s no way you can reverse the process, says GreyHairLoss.Com. A “cure” for gray hair would mean dabbling around in your genetic coding to revive dead melanocyte cells–a process not medically possible. This might explain why dietary supplements marketed as gray hair cures cannot feasibly result in success. The only way to hide your gray roots is to camouflage them with hair dye or a progressive colorant.
- hair image by DXfoto.com from Fotolia.com