Health Care and Gray Hair

- August 12, 2013
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If you have ever looked into the mirror and found one day that you had a gray hair, then join the club. It may be a sudden shock to see your first one, but sooner or later, if you live long enough, those locks of auburn, red, blonde, brown, or black will start to turn to a silver or gray colored tint. One of the most successful industries in the world is the hair color business—providing an answer to those who feel that vanity must outweigh the truth of time.

Getting gray, silver, or white hair is a natural part of growing older, and here's why, according to The Nemours Foundation. Each hair on your head is made up of two parts:

1. a shaft — the colored part you see growing out of your head

2. a root — the bottom part, which keeps the hair anchored under the scalp

The root of every strand of hair is surrounded by a tube of tissue under the skin that is called the hair follicle. Each hair follicle contains a certain number of pigment cells. These pigment cells continuously produce a chemical called melanin that gives the growing shaft of hair its color. Melanin is the same natural chemical that makes your skin's color fair or darker. It also helps determine whether a person burns or tans in the sun. The dark or light color of someone's hair depends on how much melanin each hair contains.

As you get older, the pigment cells in your hair follicles gradually die. When there are fewer pigment cells in a hair follicle, that strand of hair no longer contains as much melanin and becomes a more transparent color — like gray, silver, or white — as it grows. As people continue to get older, fewer pigment cells are around to produce melanin. Eventually, the hair looks completely gray.

People can get gray hair at any age, according to The Nemours Foundation. Some people go gray at a young age — as early as when they are in high school or college — whereas others may be in their 30s or 40s before they see that first gray hair. How early you get gray hair is determined by your genes. This means that most people start having gray hairs around the same age that their parents or grandparents first did.

Gray hair is more noticeable in people with darker hair because it stands out, but people with naturally lighter hair are just as likely to go gray. From the time a person notices a few gray hairs, it may take more than 10 years for all of that person's hair to turn gray. Some people think that a big shock or trauma can turn a person's hair white or gray overnight, but scientists don't really believe that this happens.

Even the seemingly accelerated speed at which certain sections go gray (temples first for some, the crown area for others) and the exact shade of gray you get (white, charcoal, or any of the other variations) are genetically predetermined. Your head has roughly 100,000 hair follicles, and each functions autonomously. If one runs out of melanin, even if you pluck the resulting gray hair, there is no impact on surrounding follicles, according to Prevention Magazine.

While going gray is a normal and unavoidable part of the aging process and is not of itself associated with disease, some autoimmune diseases can cause premature graying. However, some people start going gray in their 20s or earlier and are perfectly healthy. Also, according to, smoking is known to increase the rate of graying. Anemia, generally poor nutrition, insufficient B vitamins, and untreated thyroid conditions can also speed the rate of graying. And, your hair will also change texture, so it is a good idea to switch to products especially formulated for graying hair. And, don't forget to deep condition your hair on a regular basis.

According to YouBeauty Magazine, researchers have also found that hydrogen peroxide (a powerful bleaching agent) is produced naturally in the hair follicle, but it's broken down by enzymes. As you age, those enzymes dwindle, letting the hydrogen peroxide bleach hair from the inside out. Most people will have some gray hair by their 50th birthdays. Different ethnicities tend to go gray at different ages. Speaking in broad generalities, the average is mid-30s for Caucasians, late 30s for Asians and mid-40s for people of African descent. But, others hold onto their hair color until they’re 80.

According to Dr. Oz’s Blog, whether you are seeing your first grays, or are already into the salt-and-pepper zone, dealing with gray hair can be frustrating. Fortunately, there are plenty of tricks to make emerging grays look stylish and chic. Here are a few:

Whatever You Do, Do NOT Pluck! -- Sure, when it’s just a stray strand or two, grabbing the tweezers can feel super tempting – but you may live to regret the shortcut. Plucking can damage the hair follicle and the strand may never grow back – and as you age and your hair naturally thins, you’ll need every strand of hair you can get. Gray hair is perfectly good hair – it just needs pigment.

Play With Your Part Line--For many women especially, grays often grow in more heavily on one side of the head than the other. If grays are more prominent on one side, try switching your part to the other side. A zigzag or diagonal part may also help conceal grays that are growing in more scattered around the head.

Cut Hair So It Falls Forward--For those who have grays are around the face or on the sides of their head, ask your stylist to cut layers shorter in the back and longer in the front so that hair falls forward. A blowout with a brush that accentuates the forward-falling motion can help cement the clever style.

Although gray hair is often seen as a stigma in society, there is something to be said about a man or woman who wears their silver locks with dignity. Gray hair has as far back as ancient times been regarded as a sign of wisdom. Even the Bible talks about the stateliness of gray hair in the Book of Proverbs:

Proverbs 16:31—“Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.”

Proverbs 20:29--The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.

So, although in modern society gray hair may be discounted and frowned upon by a majority of people, those with gray hair, when combined with wisdom, have something to offer. You may wish to listen to them, especially when you need advice on life changing decisions or even the small choices, such as what hair color should you use to keep looking young.

Until next time.

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