For many men and women, spotting a few strands of gray hair is a reminder that as you age, your body begins to change. Although the thought of aging and going gray may be daunting, an expert at Baylor College of Medicine says there are several factors that play a role in developing gray hair.
“Hair can go gray for several different reasons,” said Rajani Katta, M.D., clinical assistant professor of medicine at Baylor. “The primary reason is genetics, and a lot of it depends on what age your parents went gray.”
Ethnic background also is a factor in going gray, Katta said. Individuals who are Caucasian tend to go gray in their mid-30s, Asians often begin to grow gray hair in their late 30s and African-Americans normally develop gray in their early to mid-40s.
Physical and emotional stress to the body is another cause of developing gray hair. “People who are smokers have a higher risk of turning gray at an earlier age. There have also been studies that link things that cause stress to our body to premature graying, and that includes emotional stress and even pollution and ultraviolet light,” she said.
Medical conditions also have been linked to graying of the hair. Conditions such as changing thyroid levels can affect hair color. “If I have a patient who comes to me with early graying of the hair, one of the things I would recommend is that we check the thyroid level,” Katta said.
Although nothing can be done to stop time or change the genetics of graying hair, behavioral changes such as quitting smoking, reducing stress and addressing medical issues can be made to prevent hair from graying prematurely, she said.
A common myth about gray hair is that if you pull out one strand, four more will grow back in its place, and Katta said that is simply not true. “There has not been any evidence that has shown that pulling one out leads to more gray hair. If you prefer plucking, it’s fine to continue.”
There are currently no recommended hair products to prevent hair from losing pigment, so she recommends hair dye to cover up the unwanted gray hair.
–Courtesy of Baylor College of Medicine
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Erin O’Donnell is a freelance health and science writer, parent, and graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Walks by Lake Michigan make her happy.