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What Causes Graying Hair? Stress or Aging?

Spotting gray hair strands on your head or chin is enough to inspire a panic attack. I know most people have the fantasy of becoming immortals. Or of being young forever. But reality is not so generous with time. Graying hair is one of the most distinct sign of aging.

Contrary to popular belief, the most common cause of graying of hair is aging – not stress. You don’t get gray hair because you spend time worrying or thinking.

Why does hair turn gray when we grow old?

Technically, hair never turns gray. The hair never changes colour. As soon as the hair follicle starts to produce hair, a natural colour is set. If it starts out as blond, it would grow as blond. If it starts out as black or whatever colour, it would maintain it. Except, of course, if you dye it.

What happens is that as we grow old, the hair follicles produce less vibrant colour. This is what gives the hair a gray coloration. This is just one reason.

Another reason is the chemical processes that take place in the hair. Our hair cells produce hydrogen peroxide. This substance is broken down by enzymes to produce water and oxygen. As we grow older, there are fewer enzymes available to catalyze the hydrogen peroxide. The buildup of hydrogen peroxide damages the cells that produce color pigments.

At what age does hair start graying?

The age is largely dependent on the gene of the individual. But it’s natural to start to see the gray strands at around the age of 35.

“I am young, but my hair is already graying. Why?”

This is a valid question. Sometimes, we find gray strands in the hair of young people. A person is said to be graying prematurely if he starts to see gray strands on the head before 20 years (in Caucasians) or before 30 years (in Africans).

This is not to say all young people with gray hair are old at heart. So, don’t worry.

Although aging is chiefly responsible for graying of hair, there are other factors that are indirectly responsible for it. The first is:

Genetic makeup: Go dig up your family album. If granddaddy or daddy started graying at a young age, you most likely are going to fall in the same line. Fruits don’t fall from the tree.

Stress: a new study of mice shows that graying of furs occurs when they are placed under stressful conditions. But this is not exactly the same for humans. What stress does to human is to cause quick shedding of hair. This condition is called telogen effluvium. If shedding occurs frequently, it is possible that the hair would start to lose its original colour and become gray.

What to do if hair starts graying?

If the percentage of graying strands is not much, plucking would suffice especially as a young person. If it occupies a huge chunk of your head, you may need to see a dermatologist. Or better, you can rock your new look if you are an oldie. Take it from me: hair color is secondary. Confidence is the biggest flex.

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