Why Does Hair Turn Grey as We Age?

Posted on February 26, 2009  Comments (8)

A team of European scientists have learned why our hair turns gray as we age. Despite the notion that gray hair is a sign of wisdom, these researchers show that going gray is caused by a massive build up of hydrogen peroxide due to wear and tear of our hair follicles. The peroxide winds up blocking the normal synthesis of melanin, our hair’s natural pigment.

“Not only blondes change their hair color with hydrogen peroxide,” said Gerald Weissmann, MD, Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. “All of our hair cells make a tiny bit of hydrogen peroxide, but as we get older, this little bit becomes a lot. We bleach our hair pigment from within, and our hair turns gray and then white. This research, however, is an important first step to get at the root of the problem, so to speak.”

The researchers made this discovery by examining cell cultures of human hair follicles. They found that the build up of hydrogen peroxide was caused by a reduction of an enzyme that breaks up hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen (catalase). They also discovered that hair follicles could not repair the damage caused by the hydrogen peroxide because of low levels of enzymes that normally serve this function (MSR A and B). Further complicating matters, the high levels of hydrogen peroxide and low levels of MSR A and B, disrupt the formation of an enzyme (tyrosinase) that leads to the production of melanin in hair follicles. Melanin is the pigment responsible for hair color, skin color, and eye color. The researchers speculate that a similar breakdown in the skin could be the root cause of vitiligo.

Weissmann added. “This study is a prime example of how basic research in biology can benefit us in ways never imagined.”

See full press release

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8 Responses to “Why Does Hair Turn Grey as We Age?”

  1. Linda P. Morton
    February 27th, 2009 @ 3:10 pm

    Thanks for this information. I started graying around 21. My brother started at 16. What causes some people to gray so young? Is it that the hydrogen peroxide starts building faster for them?

  2. peter
    March 2nd, 2009 @ 8:40 am

    very interesting but what can one do against it? couldnt find out why the guy sad that “We can benefit” but the is no possibility to do something against it?

  3. amy grave
    March 3rd, 2009 @ 6:00 pm

    This is very interesting, I am going to show my boyfriend this article.

  4. Joe R.
    March 3rd, 2009 @ 7:12 pm

    There is some talk of lasers being used to reverse grey hair. Not ineffective laser combs but homemade helmuts with 200 to 300 diodes.

  5. Anonymous
    March 7th, 2009 @ 2:14 pm

    I’m 30 with long hair and every once in a while a grey one pops up. Interesting to note is that hydrogen peroxide is a well known teeth whitener and stain remover. Dentist use it but you can also find it in common whitener products and get it “raw” in a pharmacy, usually graded 3%. Anyway, I think the best way to avoid grey hair is leading a stress-free life (meditation) and using organic, natural shampoos.

  6. Clive
    February 12th, 2010 @ 12:25 pm

    I told my friend the other day that grey hair was because of natural hydrogen peroxide build up and he didn’t believe me.

    I’ve also noticed that many of my grey hairs are sort of ‘stiffer’ than my pigmented hairs. Anyone else noticed this?

  7. sonal
    June 17th, 2010 @ 2:47 pm

    Interesting & knowledgeable post.My best pal is having grey hair problem since last 2 months.This article will provide him the actual reason for why his hair turned grey? This is because of excess production of hydrogen per-oxide which inhibits melanin production.Its a good post,i just want to know if you can provide some therapy to prevent the hairs from turning grey .Thanks for valuable information.

  8. Can You Effectively Burn Calories by Drinking Cold Water? » Curious Cat Science Blog
    April 15th, 2013 @ 1:45 am

    Tyson “Wanna lose 1200 Calories a month? Drink a liter of ice water a day. You burn the energy just raising the water to body temp.”

    But, what if your body is trying to cool down?

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