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Why does our hair turn grey?

Just as dreaded as hair loss, going grey happens to us all at some point, but for some earlier than others. While grey hair is ultra trendy at the moment, this hasn’t always been the case. For some people, it is a sign of old age and poor grooming…. but actually, do you know how and why your hair turns grey?  

Why does your hair turn grey?  

The more melanin present in your hair, the more pigmented and dark your hair is. However, like all cells, melanocytes have a limited life span. When cells die, they are replaced by stem cells which then turn into melanocytes. The problem is that there isn’t an unlimited reserve of stem cells. As time goes by, fewer cells are replaced. Eventually melanocytes die without being replaced while the remaining cells produce less and less melanin.  

Logically, hair becomes less pigmented until it loses its pigment altogether and grows completely white. This is the link with aging. The older you get, the more your stock of stem cells becomes depleted and the less melanin they produce.  

Aggravating factors? 

While going grey is completely normal and something that happens to us all, how and when it happens varies from person to person. Some people get their first grey hair at 20, while others keep their hair colour until into their 50s.   

Genetics can be a factor in when you go grey, especially when it happens prematurely. Going grey before the age of 30 is often hereditary.  

Ethnicity also plays a role in the appearance of the first grey hairs. For people of caucasian origin, hair often goes grey from 35, compared to 40 for people of Asian origin and 45 for people of African origin.  

Another factor that can lead to the appearance of grey hair is stress! And no, that’s not a myth. Stress or a traumatic event really can accelerate the appearance of grey hair. So how does this happen? Stress hormones, like adrenaline, disrupt the normal functioning of our cells, particularly melanocytes by sending the wrong signals. This is an immune system response to chronic stress.  

Lastly, food deficiencies or hormonal problems can also lead to the appearance of grey hairr.  

Health problems and greying  

While age is the primary reason for the appearance of grey hair, it is not the only one. As well as stress, a number of health problems can cause the sudden and premature appearance of grey hair.  

There are several physiological reasons for greying 

  • Scalp inflammation 
  • Thyroid issues 
  • An infectious illness 
  • Adrenal insufficiency 

These hormonal issues seem to be linked to irreversible greying, which still needs to be confirmed and explained.  

On a physiopathological level, several problems can cause a hair pigmentation anomaly. These include:   

  • Vitiligo (Vogt-Koyanagi syndrome) 
  • Waardenburg syndrome 
  • Tuberous sclerosis (Bourneville’s disease) 
  • Progeria  
  • Werner syndrome 
  • Congenital poikiloderma 
  • Albinism 
  • Menkes disease 
  • Ataxia-telangiectasia 
  • Addison’s disease 

How to avoid going grey? 

As you can see, grey hair will eventually catch up with us all, but while we can’t prevent it we can try to limit its appearance by avoiding aggravating factors. To do this, make sure to eat a healthy and balanced diet, full of vitamins. Also avoid smoking, pollution and staying in the sun too much.  

It is also important to use a sulphate-free shampoo, which is milder and will not irritate and damage your scalp. Go for natural products that are gentler on your skin and hair. 

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