Most people associate gray hair with aging, but actually some people see gray as early as their teens. There are many factors that can cause hair to lose its natural color, including genetics, vitamin B12 deficiency, thyroid disorders, smoking and vitiligo, a skin condition that causes loss of pigment.
Severe stress can contribute to graying hair as well according to studies. “Graying could be a result of chronic free radical damage,” says Ralf Paus, professor of dermatology at the University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein in Lübeck, Germany. Stress contributes to free radical damage. To simplify the “sciency” details of why hair turns gray, certain cells called melanocytes become defective or die off.
These are the cells that produce the pigment known as melanin that give your skin and hair its color. Florida businessman Ed Barbara started noticing grays popping up in his early 40s. He’s a non-smoker with no health issues who attributes his grays to natural aging, but, he says, “I still feel as if I’m 20.”
When it comes to gray hair, women get the “shaft.” Over the years, it’s always been perfectly acceptable for men to let their hair go gray. In fact, they’re called “distinguished” with gray or salt-and-pepper hair. Women, on the other hand, have been referred to as “older” or “matronly.”
According to the book, Beauty Bias: Discrimination and Social Power by Bonnie Berry (Praeger, July 30, 2007), “Three out of four middle-aged women color their gray hair as do 13 percent of middle-aged men.” Have no fear, scientists have been working on the antidote for gray hair for years.
In fact, scientists at French cosmetics company L’Oreal have already identified the genes that may play a key role in gray hair and they’ve been working on a treatment. “We could be talking about a pill or we could be talking about a topical treatment,” says Dr. Bruno Bernard, the lead researcher in the study.
Whether you color your hair or let nature take its course is a personal decision. Only you can decide what’s right for you.