What Causes Gray Hair?

What's really going on when your hair turns gray?

There’s no lying, a head full of gorgeously pigmented, flowing locks just has a way of making you feel more confident. So, it’s no wonder why the possibility of getting gray hair can be so daunting. Before you know it, you’re focusing on any myth you click across that could lead to the prevention of going gray before your time. Truth be told, though, there’s a lot more than myths about what leads to salt and pepper hair. Whether you’re into science or some age-old observations, read on to find out what causes gray hair and its changes with a few tips from Unilever’s Peter Bailey, Global Technical Manager, Hair Care and Senior Hair Manager, Leon Van-Gorkom.

1. Age plays a role in going gray

gray hair: what you need to know
Embrace your grey hair with open arms!

Why does hair turn grey? This shouldn’t be a shock seeing as many people, especially women gawk in horror at the arrival of a random gray hair due to its indication of growing old. According to dermatologists, there’s this little phenomenon called the 50-50-50 rule that basically means 50% of the population has about 50% gray hair at age 50. However, this is a very rough estimate as it is very dependent on ethnicity. According to Leon-van Gorkom of Unilever, “Later studies estimate lower levels of people on a global level that are 50 years /50% gray hair as being between 6 to 23%.”

2. Does stress cause gray hair?

Many may believe that stress is one of the biggest gray hair causes. What causes gray hair has very little to do with stress. Although stress won’t directly cause gray hair, it certainly is considered to be a factor in skin and hair issues. Think about it, the more you stress, the more you see it in your face, the texture of hair, your joints, and so on. Obviously, stress is inevitable, but if you take the time to bliss out on a yoga mat or a walk through nature, you might just be one step further away from going gray.

what causes gray hair
Keep your hair healthy as it matures.

3. Your hair doesn’t turn gray, it grows that way

Despite what people say, your hair isn’t going to magically turn gray one day. This is actually kind of the amazing part when you really think about how much goes into a head full of gray hair. Look at it like this: one day you catch a gray hair when the sun hits your head just right and you find yourself totally in shock; well, to get a full head of gray, thousands of new grays need to grow to make it a reality.

4. Ethnically, not all hair is created equal

According to scientists, despite not knowing the exact reasons why, Caucasians are the most likely to gray earlier on in life, followed by Asians and then African Americans.

5. Your lifestyle choices matter

There’s no way that we’re the first people to let you know that too much time in the sun, poor eating choices or that bad smoking habit are going to have their effects one day. When you eat high-nutrient foods, wear hats and protect your locks from harsh environments, you may be more likely to dodge early onset grays.

6. And then there’s this study.

Most people assume that if their parents went gray, they probably will too. Ah, the glory of genes. It wasn’t until this year however that scientists discovered the exact gene to be held accountable. Published in Nature Communications, the study identifies the gene IRF4 as the #1 culprit in ashen tresses.

IRF4 regulates the production and storage of melanin, a.k.a the pigment that gives hair its color. According to the study, once you begin to produce less melanin, the color of your hair will start to change. With this new insight in mind, scientists hope to be able to develop therapies that can delay gray hair.

7. What Products Should I Use on Gray Hair?

Now that you know what causes hair to turn white, it’s important to learn how to maintain it. Like blondes, grey hair can throw off some golden or orange tones. Manage these by using a purple shampoo that will neutralize the warmth, leaving you with icy silver locks. Bed Head by TIGI Dumb Blonde Purple Toning Shampoo, for example, uses violet toners to banish brassiness and brighten the hair.

If you’ve dyed your hair in an effort to cover up any grey roots, make sure to use a color-enhancing shampoo and conditioning system like TRESemmé Color Revitalize Shampoo and Conditioner. This will gently cleanse and help keep your shade more vibrant, for longer.

what causes gray hair woman on phone with grey hair walking down street
Embrace your silver strands. Photo credit: indigitalimages.com

8. What causes gray hair in your 20s?

Due to a variety of factors that impact why hair goes grey, due to genetics, you can also go grey earlier than expected.“Melanin is produced at the bottom of the hair follicle in the scalp. Over time, the biological processes that produce melanin switch off, this is what causes hair to appear gray,” reveals Peter.

Generally, people go grey at different stages in their life, some much earlier than others. No matter what causes gray hair, we live in an age where gray hair is now one of the hottest hair trends. So, the next time you gaze in horror at a sprouted gray, take a breath and thank your lucky stars for being so naturally fashionable.