November 8, 2018
Some people don’t turn a hair when they start going gray; others run straight for the colorist. But for those who embrace the natural look, there is good news. According to AARP, “Gray hair is having a moment. Now more than ever, women are feeling empowered to embrace their natural roots as they age.”
And while the advocacy group for those over 50 does not mention men, they, too, have stopped shunning those silver streaks.
What started the trend? Maybe there is just strength in numbers, as Baby Boomers begin to show their age: By 2029, fully 20% of the U.S. population will be over the age of 65.
Now, as millions of Americans dump the dye and go for authenticity, Good Housekeeping has posted a story on the “root causes” and recommended care of your newly metallic mane.
1. Normal aging is the biggest culprit. Okay, no surprise here, the lifestyle magazine says. Dermatologists call this the 50-50-50 rule. “Fifty percent of the population has about 50% gray hair at age 50,” Dr. Anthony Oro, a professor of Dermatology at Stanford University, told Good Housekeeping. And like skin, hair changes its texture with age, says Dr. Heather Woolery Lloyd, director of Ethnic Skin Care at the University of Miami School of Medicine.
2. Your ethnicity makes a difference. Caucasians tend to go gray earlier—and redheads, the earliest of all. Then Asians. Then African-Americans. Scientists haven’t figured out why yet.
3. Stress seems to play a role. “Stress won’t cause you to go gray directly,” says Roopal Kundu, an associate professor in Dermatology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “But stress is implicated in a lot of skin and hair issues.” During an illness, for example, people can shed hair rapidly. And hair you lose after a stressful event—such as a course of chemotherapy—may grow back a different color.
4. Lifestyle makes a difference. Smoking, for example, stresses your skin and hair. “Low vitamin B12 levels are notorious for causing loss of hair pigment,” says Karthik Krishnamurthy, director of the Dermatology Center’s Cosmetic Clinic at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.
5. Hair and its color are separate things. Hair stem cells make hair, and pigment-forming stem cells create pigment. Typically, they work together—but either can wear out, sometimes prematurely. Researchers are trying to determine whether a medicine, or something you could put on your scalp, could slow the graying process.
6. Your hair basically bleaches itself. You may be familiar with hydrogen peroxide as a way to go blonde, but it’s also the way we go gray. According to a 2009 study conducted by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, hydrogen peroxide naturally occurs in our hair follicles, and as we age, it builds up. This build-up blocks the production of melanin, which forms our hair’s pigment.
7. Your hair doesn’t turn gray—it grows that way. A single hair grows for one to three years; then you shed it—and grow a new one. As you age, your new hair is more likely to be white. “Every time the hair regenerates, you have to re-form these pigment-forming cells, and they wear out,” says Stanford’s Oro.
8. Gray hair isn’t coarser than colored hair. Gray hair actually is finer than colored hair, but it may seem drier because our scalps produce less oil as we get older. Another reason? Your hair may also ‘feel’ coarser if you pull out your first few grey hairs, because constant pulling-out of hair can distort your follicles.
Finally, the experts say, gray hair turns yellow in the sun. Wear a hat, or spray on a hair sunscreen to keep those silver strands at their best.
Research contact: @karenspringen