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
NOV 21, 2019
Chemistry & Physics
NOV 21, 2019
What do a Wing Nut and a Tennis Racket Have in Common?
In 1985 during a mission to rescue the space station Salyut-7, Soviet astronaut Vladimir Dzhanibekov observed something rather strange. A free-flowing wing...
NOV 21, 2019
Space & Astronomy
NOV 21, 2019
NASA's Dawn Mission Taught Us Much About the Asteroid Vesta
In 2011, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft arrived at its destination, enabling planetary scientists with the American space agency to study a particularly capt...
NOV 21, 2019
Plants & Animals
NOV 21, 2019
Deep-Sea Critters Opportunistically Munch on a Sunken Whale Carcass
The ocean floor can be a lifeless and desolate place to be; so much so that marine animals have taken notice. It’s not often that you’ll find f...
NOV 21, 2019
Plants & Animals
NOV 21, 2019
Everything You Didn't Know About Hyenas
The humble hyena is often depicted as dim-witted, but as the scientific facts would show, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Despite the negati...
NOV 21, 2019
Chemistry & Physics
NOV 21, 2019
Radioactive Spill? Self-propelled Microbots to the Rescue
Scientists have been looking for an effective method to clean up radioactive elements in industrial wastewater and accidental spill, to support and boost t...
NOV 21, 2019
Space & Astronomy
NOV 21, 2019
SpaceX Puts Another 60 Starlink Satellites Into Orbit
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that stood tall and proud at the launch pad at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station ignited its engines and lofted a g...
Loading Comments...