The 5 Questions Everyone Asks About Going Gray
Everyone remembers their first gray hair. It's a shocking, physical reminder that yes, you are getting older (and undoubtedly wiser). Over time, the rogue gray hairs you keep finding will multiply until you're full-on gray or salt and pepper. Even though we'll all eventually get gray hair, it's a change doesn't happen to everyone at the same age for everyone.
No wonder we have so many questions about gray hair. So, what causes gray hair, why do some of us start going gray earlier than others, and how should you care for gray hair? With the help of New York City board-certified dermatologist Dr. Shari Marchbein, we're answering most common questions about going gray, along with how to care for naturally gray hair.
1) WHY DOES HAIR GO GRAY?
"Hair color is determined by your genetics and the pigment called melanin, of which there are two main types: pheomelanin (red) and eumelanin (black or brown)," says Dr. Marchbein. "Gray hair occurs when the pigment cells (or melanocytes) in the hair starts producing less melanin." How much melanin your body products is also determined by genetics, too.
2) WHAT CAUSES HAIR TO GO GRAY?
The most common cause of gray or white hair is normal aging. As people get older, their hair eventually turns gray and then white. Dr. Marchbein says that this process is called achromotrichia.
"Achromotrichia normally begins in the early to mid-twenties in men and late twenties for woman," she explains.
However, hair color and race are two factors that can effect when you'll start to go gray. According to a study by the British Association of Dermatologists, fifty percent of the population has about 50 percent gray hair by the age of 50. The results of this research also found that the rate people go gray is linked to their ethnicity. Caucasians and redheads tend to gray earliest.
"The age at which graying begins seems almost entirely due to genetics and therefore can’t be changed, although thyroid abnormalities, stress events (which may make you shed hair and the resulting hair that grows back may be a different color), as well as certain vitamin deficiencies can lead to gray hair," says Dr. Marchbein.
3) CAN YOU PREVENT GRAY HAIR?
The answer? A hard no. Although there are external factors like stress events that can trigger shedding and gray hair, when and how you go gray is entirely up to genetics.
So, don't waste your money on all of those supplements and topical products out there that claim to delay the inevitable. Dr. Marchbein says they're not going to work. "Our predisposition to graying is determined by our genetics, age, and subsequent melanin production in the hair," she explains.
4) HOW IS GRAY HAIR DIFFERENT THAN YOUR ORIGINAL COLOR?
First off, gray hair doesn't turn gray — it grows that way. Dr. Marchbein says that the melanin production in hair is reduced from its original blonde, brown, or red shade. So, as we age, the new hairs that grow are more likely to be white or gray.
On top of its gray or silver color, these hairs can also be a different texture. "Gray hairs tend to be coarser and drier than your natural hair color," she says.
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5) WHAT STEPS SHOULD BE IN YOUR GRAY HAIRCARE ROUTINE?
First things first: Don't pluck them. When you start to find a few random grays, grabbing your tweezers might seem like a good idea, but plucking out a gray hair isn't going to get rid of it because it will grow back.
Another reason not to pluck? It can damage the hair follicle. "Dermatologists recommend not plucking hair of any kind, not because it will produce more of that hair, but because repeated trauma to the hair can damage it, and actually make you permanently lose hair from that spot," explains Dr. Marchbein.
In addition to getting gray hair, our scalps also tend to become drier as we get older, too. Dr. Marchbein recommends cutting back on how often you wash your hair every week so that you don't strip it of its natural oils, and cutting back on hot tools so hair doesn't get brittle.
Gray hair is also prone to brassiness from styling, pollution, and environmental damage, so washing it with a purple shampoo (the same formulas for blonde hair) once a week will help cut out the yellowness so white and silver hair looks vibrant and shiny again.