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Why Does Hair Turn Grey With Age?

Reviewed by
Date published
09/08/2021
Date last updated
02/08/2021
Length of read
5 Minutes

Whether you’re dreading the day your hair turns to silver or are looking forward to embracing the change, hair turning grey is a natural part of aging. But have you ever wondered why hair turns grey with age?

Getting To Know Your Hair

Hair is made up of two parts – the shaft (the coloured part we see growing from our head), and the root (which is the part attached to our scalp). The hair’s roots are surrounded by tissue under the skin known as the hair follicle, which contain a certain amount of pigment cells that continuously produce a chemical called melanin. Melanin is the chemical that gives our hair (the growing shaft) its colour.

As we grow older, the pigment cells within the hair follicles start to die, and over time, reduce in quantity. This process results in hair that no longer contains the same volume of melanin it once had and therefore begins to turn grey. Eventually, there are zero melanin-producing pigment cells left and therefore no colour, resulting in hair that is grey all over (or silvery or white).

When Does Hair Turn Grey?

While it's more common in old age, hair can turn grey at any age, with many people reporting the change to occur after the age of 35. The age in which we turn grey is mostly hereditary, meaning the majority of us will start to experience grey hair around the same time as our parents and grandparents did.

Aside from ageing, grey hair may also start to appear due to other factors including:

Poor Diet

It isn’t just our weight that our diet impacts, but the rest of the body too, including our hair. Developing a deficiency in any one type of food group could result in a lack of vital nutrients, such as Omega-3 or B12, so be sure to eat a well-varied and balanced diet.

Stress

Studies have shown a link between stress and our hair turning grey, and it revolves around a hormone called cortisol – produced when the body is put under pressure.

Other researchers believe the link to be connected to the central nervous system, and how it reduces the number of pigmentation cells within the hair follicles when we become stressed. Those who suffer from hair loss due to stress when middle-aged are more likely to have grey hair once it grows back as opposed to the original colour.

Hair Dye

While many people may opt for a hair dye to cover up their grey hairs, the product can have the opposite effect. Hair colourants usually contain strong ingredients such as bleach or ammonia which can strip the hair of its melanin and therefore make it appear dull and grey in colour.

Genetics and Ethnicity

The speed and rate at which our hair turns grey can have a lot to do with our genetics and ethnicity. Research has shown that on average:

  • Caucasians will start to go grey in their mid-30s
  • Asians in their late-30s
  • African Americans in their mid-40s

The gene identified for grey hair, IR4F, is involved in regulating the storage and production of melanin, with grey hair reportedly being controlled 90% by genetics.

Smoking

As if there weren’t enough reasons to kick the habit, studies have shown a link between smoking and hair turning grey. Not only does smoking cause visible signs of premature ageing, but it’s believed the free radicals that are produced by smoking may also damage the cells that produce melanin, causing hair to turn grey prematurely. Studies show that smokers are 2.5 times more likely to experience grey hair before the age of 30 than non-smokers.

Is There A Way To Prevent Grey Hair?

While hair turning grey is a natural part of ageing and nothing to be embarrassed about, here are some of the ways you can try to prevent the change from occurring-

Get Enough Minerals

Zinc, Iron, Selenium, Copper and Magnesium all play a crucial role in hair health, so make sure you’re getting the right amount of them.

Eat A Well-Rounded and Balanced Diet

Make sure you’re eating a well-balanced diet that includes both protein and essential vitamins such as Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D3.

Try Not To Stress

Try out ways in which you can keep stress to a minimum, such as journaling, meditation or yoga.

Eat Foods That Contain Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are said to help the pigment-producing cells within the follicles stay active for longer. Foods that contain these fatty acids include fish and seeds.

Eat More Antioxidants

Diets that are rich in antioxidants can play a vital role in preventing hair from turning grey, by reducing oxidative stress. Foods that are rich in antioxidants include fresh fruit and vegetables, green tea and olive oil.