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Why Does Hair Turn White or Gray As You Age?

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Having white or gray hair tends to be a signal that someone is older. But, just why does your hair start growing in grayish or even fully white as you get up there in age? Also, why do some people go gray or white earlier in life, while others may never have a change in their hair color at all?

Below, we will answer some of these questions regarding gray and white hair including the mechanism behind why hair grows in less pigmented, the root cause of graying, any potential steps you can take to delay graying, and what you can do if you don’t like the look for your gray or white hair.

What is the mechanism behind why hair can change color with age?

The hair has color due to the interplay of a few different parts of your hair unit. Firstly, you have melanocytes, which are cells that produce a pigment molecule called melanin. Melanin is the pigment responsible for giving your hair and your skin color.

These melanocytes are attached to your hair follicle, and they are responsible for inserting melanin into your growing hairs, which are composed mainly of the protein keratin.

As you age, these melanocytes may stop producing as much melanin to insert into your freshly growing hair strands. And, over time, the melanocytes themselves may die off and no longer be attached to the follicle at all.

The appearance of gray hair is hair that has some melanin inserted into it, but not as much as when you were younger and your hair was more pigmented. Bright white hair occurs when there is no longer any melanin being inserted into the growing strands.

What is the cause of gray or white hair developing?

Now that you have an idea of what cells, pigments, and structures are involved in hair color changes, you may be wondering why this happens.

The number 1 cause of hair going gray or white is simply your genetics. Some people just develop gray or white hair after a certain age. If you are curious if it is in your genes to develop gray or white hair, simply look at your family members and ask them about when they started developing hair color changes. Chances are, you may start noticing similar changes at around the same age as others in your family.

Aside from hereditary gray or white hair, there are a few other reasons why hair may become less pigmented, or do so sooner than you might have expected.

Prolonged states of stress may cause damage to your melanocytes in the form of depletion of melanocyte stem cells, causing your hair to lose pigment sooner than it may have otherwise.

Other potential, but less common causes of rapid or accelerated hair pigment loss may include: 

  • Autoimmune disorders like alopecia and vitiligo
  • Thyroid disorders (hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism)
  • Vitamin B-12 deficiency
  • Smoking

What are the most common ages to start developing gray or white hair?

The age that you may expect to start developing gray or white hair is largely dependent on your genes, so looking at members of your family will likely give you the best estimate.

In general, the average age that you may start noticing gray or white hairs may change according to your race:

  • If you are Caucasian, you may start going gray in your mid-30s
  • If you are Asian, your late 30s may be the beginning of gray hairs
  • If you are African-American, your 40s may be the start of seeing gray

There are also ages that may signify a premature graying of hair. These ages may fall roughly into these categories:

  • Before the age of 20 in Caucasians
  • Before the age of 25 in Asians
  • Before the age of 30 in African-Americans

What steps can you take to preserve your hair color as long as possible?

There is not much that you can do about your genetics, and that is the most common driver of hair color changes in older age by far.

However, you may be able to live a healthier lifestyle in order to make sure graying is not accelerated past what is already inevitable.

Eating a well-balanced and nutritious diet, taking care of your body with regular exercise, and avoiding smoking may be ways to avoid accelerating hair graying.

What can you do if you don’t like your white or gray hair?

Once your hair has gone gray or white, there is not currently a way to make those hair follicles start producing and inserting melanin again. 

If you really dislike the look of your gray or white hair, you can dye your hair using temporary or permanent hair colors in order to cover up the gray or white hair. Some people may even want to utilize spray-on colored powders to disguise gray or white roots growing in between salon visits.

However, many people choose to embrace the look and learn to enjoy the appearance of their gray, white, or “salt and pepper” hair.

Strut Health prescription hair loss treatments online

Here at Strut, we can’t help you put the pigment back in your hair, but we do specialize in other age-related hair concerns like male pattern hair loss and female pattern hair loss.

We use ingredients like Finasteride, Dutasteride, Minoxidil, Spironolactone, Tretinoin, and Biotin to help slow the progression of age, genetic, and hormone-related hair loss. To help you stay adherent to your treatment regimen, we offer topical and oral formulations to suit your preferences.

If you are interested in seeing if a prescription hair loss medication is a good fit for you, you can have a free online questionnaire and image-based telemedicine consultation with our U.S. licensed doctors today. If you are a good candidate for treatment, your medication can be shipped to your front door.

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