Literatus: Graying informed


WHEN I see gray hair in people of younger age, I usually think that someone in that person’s family or ancestry had gray hair when he or she was young. Often, people associate gray hair with biological aging.

However, nature knows better. Only science so far understood.

First, the blackness of a person’s hair comes from the genetically endowed ability of hair to produce the black pigment called “melanin.” That makes the difference in the light-colored hair in people of Caucasian descent or the extreme ivory hair or skin in people of African descent. When the pigment cells in the hair are incapable of producing melanin, the hair will not be colored black.

Second, the hair follicle stops making melanin for more different reasons than age. Of course, age is an important factor. Another factor is genes. Genes determine when the hair follicles stop producing melanin or never at all in some races. White people start graying in their mid-30s, Asians during their late 30s and Africans in their mid-40s. For Asians, though, experts opined that it would be premature to start having gray hair at age 25.

Third, apart from age and genetics, certain physical conditions result in the graying of hair earlier than expected. These conditions include vitamin B12 deficiency, alopecia areata (falling out of hair), rare cancer diseases, thyroid disease and vitiligo (the destruction of the follicle pigment cells).

Falling hair increases the chances of developing gray hair because the re-growing hair has greater chances of losing its melanin pigmentation. This brings an increasing number of gray hairs on your head. If stress causes your hairs to shed three times more and faster than normal, then graying takes place.

Some studies also found a connection between graying and certain lifestyles and behaviors, such as smoking (2.5 times more likely at age 30) and exposure to sunlight, humidity, chemicals and heat (in hairstyling). This explains why gray hairs are thin. They have lost their natural protection by the hair cuticle.

Avoid plucking gray hairs, though. Chances are these plucked hairs may not regrow and you end up balding instead of graying. At any rate, enjoy the hair you have while you have it whatever its color. If you love being Biblical, you can always joke with those who notice that graying is close to seeing God, Moses-like. In Exodus, after facing God in that great mountain, Moses returned to Israel in full silver hair.


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