Why does hair turn grey?

When the cells present at the base of the hair root stop producing melanin (the pigment producing colour), the hair shafts turn grey.

Melanin is made up of specialised pigment cells called melanocytes. These are located at the openings on the skin’s surface (follicles) through which hair grows.

As the hair is being formed, melanocytes inject pigment (melanin) into cells containing keratin. Keratin is the protein that makes up our hair, skin and nails. Throughout the years, the melanocytes continue injecting pigment into keratin, giving the hair a colourful hue (black, brown, blond, red, etc). But with age comes a reduction in the amount of melanin, and the hair turns grey.

People can get grey hair at any age. Some people go grey at a young age — as early as when they are in high school or college — whereas others may be in their 30s or 40s before they see that first grey strand. Our genes determine how early we get grey hair. This means that most of us will start getting grey hair around the same age that our parents or grandparents first did.

Grey hair is more noticeable in people with darker hair because it stands out, but people with naturally lighter hair are just as likely to go grey. From the time a person notices a few grey strands, it may take more than 10 years for all of that person’s hair to turn grey.

Researchers are yet to come up with a definitive reason as to why hair follicles stop producing melanin. Some suggest that we may, someday, be able to arrest or reverse the greying process. But till that happens, those with grey hair must comfort themselves with the thought that grey streaks or salt-and-pepper hair makes one look “distinguished”!

Source:The Telegraph (Kolkata,India)

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