Have you ever seen someone try to colour their hair to cover up gray hair? Or perhaps you are confused as to why your grandpa has a full head of silver hair when in older pics it’s dark brown.
Each hair on our heads is made up of two parts:
1. a shaft — the colored part we see growing out of our heads
2. a root — the bottom part, which keeps the hair anchored under the scalp
A tube of tissue under the skin known as the hair follicle (say: FAHL-ih-kul) surrounds the root of each hair strand. There are a specific number of pigment cells in each hair follicle.
These pigment cells constantly make a chemical called melanin (say: MEL-uh-nin) that gives the growing shaft of hair its color of brown, blonde, black, red, and anything in between.
Melanin is the same stuff that makes our skin’s color fair or darker. Also, it helps in identifying whether someone will burn or tan in the sun. The dark or light color of someone’s hair depends on how much melanin each hair has.
The pigment cells in our hair follicles gradually die as we age. A hair strand will no longer contain as much melanin when there are fewer pigment cells in the hair follicle, and as it develops, it will take on a more transparent color, such as gray, silver, or white. There will be fewer pigment cells that can produce melanin as people age. The hair will eventually look completely gray.
Gray hair can appear on anyone at any age. Some people begin to gray when they are still in high school or college, while others may not see their first gray hair until their 30s or 40s. Our genes decide when we begin to gray our hair. This means that most of us will start having gray hairs around the same age that our parents or grandparents first did.
Persons with naturally lighter hair are just as likely to get gray hair, but gray hair shines out more in people with darker hair. It could take more than ten years for all of a person’s hair to become gray when they first notice a few gray hairs.
Some individuals believe that a significant shock or trauma can cause their hair to become white or gray over night, although scientists do not actually think this happens. Try not to scare your parents too much, just in case. You don’t want to be blamed for any of their gray hairs!