Hair is an important feature. For some of us, hair is the first thing we notice when we meet someone new. Hair is ultimately versatile. It can be styled differently on a whim, shaved off, or grown long. With the right hairstyle, you can completely change the way your outfit looks. It is the perfect accessory.
However, as we age, hair often grows weaker and thinner. In the worst case scenario, we will succumb to baldness. Hair loss affects about two-thirds of men over the age of 60 and a quarter of women over the age of 50. Baldness happens for various reasons. The most common form of baldness is androgenetic alopecia—which you might know as pattern baldness—and is hereditary. Other causes of baldness include stress, the environment, or specific medications.
Even more common than baldness is graying hair. As you age, your hair will undoubtedly turn color. That’s just how things work out unless you want to constantly dye your hair. The big question here is: Why does hair change color in the first place?
Understanding Hair and Hair Color
First, we have to understand hair. As one of the defining characteristics of mammals, hair is made up of keratin, a fibrous structural protein that is also found in fingernails, the outer layer of human skin, and the horns and hooves of animals.
Hair actually starts out white. It gets its color from melanin, a pigment that is also responsible for skin color. Our hair’s natural color depends on the distribution, type, and amount of melanin in the middle area, or cortex, of the hair shaft.
With the rainbow of different hair colors in existence, hair actually only has two different types of pigments: light (phaeomelanin) and dark (eumelanin). The two shades mix and blend into different concentrations to make up the massive range of hair colors.
Melanocytes, which are the cells that make up melanin, are found around the hair follicles. As the hair grows, melanocytes inject melanin into the hair’s keratin. As you grow, the melanoctyes continue injecting your hair with pigment, giving your hair its warm, colorful hue.
Why Do We Lose Hair Color?
Hair can change or lose color for a variety of reasons.
- Most commonly, as the body ages, the follicles and melanocytes might slow down or eventually stop production. This results in colorless hair, which appears gray when coupled with normal, colored hair. Similarly, follicles can produce color in spurts, which causes your hair to look less bright or faded.
- Genetics may also have a hand in graying hair. Genes regulate the exhaustion of the pigmentary potential of each hair follicle. However, this happens differently for everyone and for every follicle. Some follicles take whole decades to completely lose pigment.
- The sun can act as a natural bleaching agent, significantly lightening hair color. People with blonde or brown hair who spend lengthy periods of time in the sun might find their hair turning a few shades lighter. Once bleached by the sun, hair does not turn dark again. Instead, it is trimmed and replaced by growing hair roots. This is why some people have lighter tips and dark roots. As effective as it is, sun bleaching your hair is not recommended as it damages your hair and increases your risks of skin cancer.
- Believe it or not, your mood can actually result in physical changes in your body’s functions. Extreme fear or stress can change your hair color. Your psychological state has a significant impact on your hormones and body chemistry. In turn, this can affect your body’s production of melanin and the amount of melanin injected into each strand of hair. However, this will not happen instantly and may take years.
- Those suffering from malnutrition notice a distinct lightening in their hair color, along with much weaker strands and slower growth. This change in hair color is usually reversed once the individual receives proper nutrition.
- Some medical conditions, like pernicious anemia and Werner syndrome, can result in changing or graying hair color.
Other possible factors include:
- Genetic defects
- Exposure to chemicals