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When do the first gray hairs appear?

The emergence of white hair is primarily caused by a gradual loss of activity in the melanocytes within the hair bulb. When it does not receive enough pigment, the hair grows in a white shade. This then raises the following question: when do the first white hairs appear?

Summary
Published January 26, 2024, by Pauline, Head of Scientific Communication — 5 min read

First gray hairs: when do they appear?

The first gray hairs are typically visible around theage of 34. This inevitable and natural phenomenon is called "canities". It is characterized by a discoloration of the hair, which turns white over time. We are not all created equal when it comes to the onset of gray hair. Numerous factors impact the age at which gray hair appears, and it happens that some people see their hair turn white as early as their twenties, while others still have naturally colored hair into their fifties.

From birth, melanocytes, located at the base of the epidermis, synthesize melanin, the pigment that controls hair color. The melanin is then transferred to the keratinocytes via melanosomes. Keratinocytes are the cells that surround the dermal papilla of the hair follicle. The distribution of melanin in the keratinocytes determines the color of the hair. However, the activity and number of melanocytes decrease gradually over time. Therefore, the amount of melanin synthesized becomes lower, which leads to the whitening of the hair.

Furthermore, the process of hair growth involves the synthesis of hydrogen peroxide as a byproduct. This reactive species, capable of triggering a chain reaction leading to the degradation of melanin, is normally naturally degraded by an enzyme called catalase. However, over time, the amount of catalase in the cells decreases, which promotes the degradation of melanin by hydrogen peroxide.

What factors influence the appearance of white hair?

The appearance of white hair is thus caused by a decrease in melanin synthesis and a weaker distribution of this pigment in the hair fibers. The most common cause is aging. Like most cells in the body, melanocytes have a limited lifespan. Once these cells disappear, the hair is no longer pigmented and turns white. Several factors are responsible for accelerating or slowing down this process.

Sources

  • SEIBERG M. Age-induced hair greying - the multiple effects of oxidative stress. International Journal of Cosmetic Science (2013).

  • RAWNSLEY J. & al. Hair biology: Growth and pigmentation. Facial Plastic Surgery Clinics of North America (2018).

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