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What Causes Gray Hair?

July 31, 2019

Have you spotted your first grays? We’re taught from a young age that most people get gray hair with age. While you may have accepted this as a fact without question, chances are you’ve at some point wondered what causes gray hair. And if gray hair causes are something you’ve always been curious about, you’re in luck! Below, we’re answering some hard-hitting questions you might have about why you’re going grey—including whether or not stress causes gray hair. Get ready to embrace your change in hair color with grace!


Why does hair turn gray? There’s more than one factor that can contribute to gray strands. We’re sharing four causes of gray hair, below.

Gray Hair Cause #1: Reduction in or lack of melanin. Before we dive into the details on this one, let’s have a brief science lesson. Melanin dictates your hair’s hue, and like paint-mixing, the amount and combination of melanin determines your hair color. Gray hair is a result of reduced melanin, which is partly due to the gradual decline in the number of stem cells that mature to become melanin-producing cells as you age, among other factors.

Gray Hair Cause #2: Stress. We’ve all been there—stressed from work, an exam, or life in general to the point where we thought our hair was going to instantly turn gray. Is there truth behind that? It turns out there is—to an extent. According to the Cleveland Clinic, chances are, your hair won’t be suddenly losing color from stress or fear. That being said, stress can cause gradual, long-term graying. The Cleveland Clinic states that researchers examining gray hair have found evidence that free radicals—damaging chemicals which can be caused by stress as well as other factors—could be responsible for destroying pigment-producing stem cells. However, the Cleveland Clinic notes that there is no conclusive proof of the role stress plays in the graying process.

Gray Hair Cause #3: Genes. As you can probably guess, your genes play a role in your hair graying, too. This is because they help control melanin production, according to the Cleveland Clinic. A study led by researchers at the University College London found that a specific gene, IRF4, accounted for about 30 percent of hair’s graying. Additionally, a study from the Journal of Dermatology found that three genes in particular can help maintain stable numbers of melanin-producing cells.

Gray Hair Cause #4: Smoking. The Cleveland Clinic states that scientists suspect smoking can cause chemical changes that damage melanin-producing cells. Furthermore, a study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) found a significant relation between the onset of gray hair before the age of 30 years and cigarette smoking, with smokers on-average going gray three years earlier than non-smokers. However, further research is needed to really help understand the link between graying and smoking.


So, what about white hair? Is there a difference? Well, white hair is actually caused by the same factors that result in gray hair. The difference in their appearance is due to the levels of melanin in your strands. While gray hair is hair with reduced melanin, the Cleveland Clinic distinguishes that white hair completely lacks melanin.


Wouldn’t it be nice to decide you don’t want to go gray and then make that happen? Well, preventing gray hairs forever may not be an option. While you can take steps to avoid certain contributing factors such as smoking and attempt to minimize stress, there isn’t much you can do about your genes or the aging process.


If you can’t prevent grays, can you reverse them? Well, no. You don’t exactly have a time machine, after all. If you prefer to go back to your natural hair color—sans grays—your best bet is to color your hair. Try the L’Oréal Paris Excellence Creme, which offers rich, radiant, even color that adheres perfectly even on resistant grays.

Of course, you don’t have to resort to a solid hue to disguise your grays. Next, learn another way to embrace your grey hair and have a stylish mane in the process from our article, How to Blend Gray Hair with Highlights and Lowlights.

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