APR 23, 2016 12:25 PM PDT

The Science Behind Hair Greying

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Silver, salt and pepper, distinguished hair - however you refer to it, grey/white hair is common and will inevitably happen to all of us. Some people view the greying as a rite of passage that makes them more appealing, while others find solutions in dyes and color treatments. But why do hair turn white and why do some people experience this earlier than others?

The pigment in our hair comes from the same pigment found in our skin and eye color: melanin, which is made in cells called melanocytes. As hair grows, melanocytes inject the pigment molecules into the follicles, which get incorporated into the hair as it grows out. This means that all of us are born with white hair before melanocytes get to working on the roots. In a reverse process, aging causes the melanocytes to decrease melanin production, leaving hair with less pigment. Over time, the melanocytes die off completely, causing more hair to be noticeably white/grey.

Genetics is behind when you get your first grey hair. Likely, you'll start going grey at the same time your parents did. Identical twins also undergo greying at the same time, though scientists have yet to pinpoint the exact genes involved. Other genetic diseases, such as Hutchinson's-progeria and Werner syndrome, also accelerate the greying process.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
MAY 24, 2020
Plants & Animals
Bees May 'Trick' Plants Into Flowering When Pollen is Scarce
MAY 24, 2020
Bees May 'Trick' Plants Into Flowering When Pollen is Scarce
It’s no secret that bumblebees depend heavily on pollen for their unique worker-centric lifestyles. In fact, whene ...
MAY 25, 2020
Plants & Animals
Cuttlefish Are Amazing, and Here's Why
MAY 25, 2020
Cuttlefish Are Amazing, and Here's Why
Many people have heard of the cuttlefish but haven’t actually seen one in person – and we’re just goin ...
JUN 15, 2020
Space & Astronomy
This Drop Tower Simulates Near-Zero Gravity On Earth
JUN 15, 2020
This Drop Tower Simulates Near-Zero Gravity On Earth
It’s almost impossible to replicate the effects of zero gravity here on Earth, and that’s one of the reasons ...
JUN 15, 2020
Plants & Animals
Tasty Pigeon Just Barely Outflies a Hungry Falcon
JUN 15, 2020
Tasty Pigeon Just Barely Outflies a Hungry Falcon
It’s dog eat dog out there, especially in the animal kingdom. But this well-received idiom referring to the ruthle ...
JUL 14, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Thermoluminescence Dating: How Heating Ancient Pots Can Help Determining Their Age
JUL 14, 2020
Thermoluminescence Dating: How Heating Ancient Pots Can Help Determining Their Age
Radiometric dating is an effective method for determining the age of the material, whether a mineral or a piece of organ ...
JUL 23, 2020
Plants & Animals
Sharks Missing from 1/5 of World's Reefs
JUL 23, 2020
Sharks Missing from 1/5 of World's Reefs
Sharks of all sizes are vital to coral reef ecosystems, both as predators and prey. Shark populations have rapidly decli ...
Loading Comments...