It's something that many people dread as they get older: those first gray hairs. And they often come sooner than we'd like, leading many people to try and hide this tell-tale sign of aging. But have you ever wondered what actually causes our hair to gray as we age? NYU researchers have discovered that during aging, an increasing number of stem cells in hair follicles fail to develop into pigment-making melanocytes. These melanocytes don't mature fully, resulting in a lack of pigmentation. As a result, our hair turns gray.
Growing and shedding hair is a natural process. New hair growth comes from our hair follicles, where melanocytes can be found. When these melanocytes develop into mature cells, pigmentation is released and we get our hair color. As we get older, these melanocytes get “jammed” more frequently. So while the hair will keep growing, it may not grow with its usual pigment.
What's going on when we go gray?
- Experts advise against plucking out gray hairs, as this won't prevent others from developing and growing out of the same follicle. And plucking out those gray hairs could cause hair follicle damage, potentially resulting in bald patches.
- According to the National Institutes of Health, 74 percent of all people between the ages of 45 and 65 have a least a few gray hairs.
- Studying the causes of gray hair may be helpful for professionals in the medical field, potentially providing a better understanding of the nature of melanoma, alopecia areata, and vitiligo.