Why We Go Gray
Keeping yourself looking and feeling young has always been a good reason to minimize stress. Now, there's scientific backing for the old adage that life is giving you gray hair!
Researchers at the Tokyo Medical and Dental University are saying that genotoxic stress - stress that damages DNA - depletes the melanocyte stem cells (MSC) that make melanin, or the pigment-producing, cells in our hair follicles. When the melanin does not provide color for the hair follicle, the hair shaft displays a transparent hue, which looks grey, white, or silver. Since melanin also provides moisture for your hair, the depletion of it will make your hair feel drier and coarser. This means that stress can in fact cause you to grow gray hair. The only catch is that the stress we're talking about here is stress on the cells, not stress on your emotions. Genotoxic stress that can alter the color of your hair includes mutagenic chemicals, UV rays, and radiation.
Of course, the majority of hair-graying is determined by age and genetics. As we age, the pigment cells in our hair die, and gradually turn our hair the color of snow. And the age at which this happens seems to have some consistency within families. For example, if you have a number of relatives that went gray in their 20s, it wouldn't be surprising if the same thing happened to you. Conversely, if your family hangs on to vibrant shades of brown, red, black, or blond well into middle age, you can probably count on keeping your hair color longer.
However, as with everything else, the changes in our bodies are at least in part affected by our environment and lifestyle. Emi Nishimura, of the Tokyo Medical and Dental University, estimates that the cells in our hair combat 100,000 DNA damaging events each day. You can protect your hair from this environmental stress, and perhaps preserve your color at the same time, by covering your head with a comfortable hat, scarf, or wrap when you go out in the sun or are near sources of radiation and pollution. Remember too, that there is nothing wrong with having gray hair, as it is simply a natural part of getting older. Some cultures even view it as something to respect. Allow yourself to age gracefully, and enjoy trying new styles to complement your new color!