It’s ironic to think that we all come into this world bald and some of us, especially men, exit in the same way. Genetics, lifestyle and hormone fluctuations all play a role in determining the colour and density of our hair as we age. But, understanding how our hair responds to these factors can help us manage with the graying and prevent the loss of our valuable locks.
It’s a fact of life that everybody loses hair. The normal pattern of shedding sees the average person lose about 100 hairs a day, but the hair is quickly replaced by a new strand thanks to the efficiency of the hair growth lifecycle. Hair grows for anywhere between two and seven years before it sheds naturally and when the hair re-grows, it is either pigmented or white.
Hair loss and greying is for the most part genetically determined. Contributing causes for grey and thinning hair however include (but are not limited to) excessive stress, constant tension on the hair follicles, smoking, certain medical conditions and surgeries, vitiligo, nutritional deficiencies and anaemia, childbirth and some medications. A sudden and rapid greying and loss of hair may be an indication that there’s an underlying factor, so if this is the case, you might want to consider visiting a doctor for a check-up. Generally however, both greying and loss of hair as we age is natural.
Pigment in the hair shaft comes from cells at the root of the hair called melanocytes. These cells are genetically programmed to make a certain amount of pigment (or melanin) at specific ages. At some point in the aging process, these cells make less and less pigment until they cease producing pigment altogether. Generally, greying of the hair often begins between the ages of 30 and 35, but the lifespan of pigment-producing cells is determined by your genetics and it is completely individual. It is considered premature greying, however, if more than 50% of a person’s hair is white by the age of 40.
Hair thinning and loss of hair on the other hand, is becoming increasingly prevalent in younger men and women. It’s thought that a number of lifestyle factors all play a part in temporary or early hair loss but as with graying hair, it’s essentially tangled up with your genetics.
Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is a chemical derivative of the male hormone testosterone, and the main cause female pattern hair loss and male pattern baldness. This little biologically active metabolite causes the hair follicles to shrink and grow finer hair that is shorter, less deeply rooted and also lighter in colour than before. The hair will continue to grow, but at an increasingly slower rate, until the follicles eventually shrivel and hair growth ceases completely.
Surprisingly, reversing hair loss is a lot easier than reversing grey hair. In order to achieve the reversal of grey hair, you need to rejuvenate dead pigment-producing cells in the hair follicles, but there is no scientific evidence at the moment that shows any existing medicine, diet, herb, supplement or natural product can prevent or reverse greying hair. Scientifically created hair loss treatments, on the other hand, have proven to effectively stabilise the balding process and re-grow hair that’s been lost, provided the non-active hair follicles are not completely dead.
But there is no reason you have to lose your hair to greying either. Natural hair dyes can mask the appearance of grey hairs and progressive hair colourants are available which only affect your grey hair. As your hair colour changes gradually and unnoticeably, your hair loss treatments should start to kick in also.