Whilst some relish the chance to be a 'silver fox', grey hair - particularly when it appears prematurely - can trouble many people as, just like hair loss, it tends to be associated with ageing.
Now, however, thanks to a discovery by researchers at University College London, going grey may soon be a thing of the past, or at least a choice.
For the first time, scientists have uncovered a genetic explanation as to why hair goes grey in people with various racial backgrounds and hair types. Previously environmental lifestyle factors including stress and smoking were thought to cause the decreased pigmentation that leads to grey hair.
International research conducted by UCL and published in the respected Nature journal has now found that the IRF4 gene, which works alongside melanin to determine the colour of hair, eyes and skin, is also responsible for the hair turning grey.
The study's lead author, Dr Kaustubh Adhikari of UCL Cell & Developmental Biology, explains in a press release published on the university's website, "We already know several genes involved in balding and hair colour but this is the first time a gene for greying has been identified in humans, as well as other genes influencing hair shape and density.”
Study leader, UCL Biosciences' Professor Andrés Ruiz-Linares, added, “We have found the first genetic association to hair greying, which could provide a good model to understand aspects of the biology of human aging. Understanding the mechanism of the IRF4 greying association could also be relevant for developing ways to delay hair greying.”
This breakthrough discovery, which involved studying 6,630 individuals, paves the way for further research which scientists believe may allow treatments or even cosmetic products to be developed to combat greying in future. Continues below
UCL's wide-ranging study also identified a number of other genes related to hair growth, hair type and androgenetic alopecia - better known as male pattern baldness in men or, for women, female pattern hair loss.
An expressed PAX3 gene was found to determine a monobrow, whilst other combinations of different genes were found to regulate straight or curly hair shapes, thickness of beards and eyebrows.
The genes GRID1 and AR/EDA2R were found to contribute to thinning hair caused by genetic pattern hair loss. Their relevance and potential applications have not yet been discussed in detail but were mentioned as part of the study's overall findings.
"It has long been speculated that hair features could have been influenced by some form of selection, such as natural or sexual selection, and we found statistical evidence in the genome supporting that view,” points out Dr. Adhikari. “The genes we have identified are unlikely to work in isolation to cause greying or straight hair, or thick eyebrows, but have a role to play along with many other factors yet to be identified."
As an image-conscious yet ageing population, any progress that allows people to retain their youthful looks for longer is generally well-received.
These important developments from UCL follow another significant scientific discovery pertaining to age-related hair loss. Japanese researchers recently revealed that the natural decline in collagen as we age can turn hair follicles to skin, leading to hair loss.
As thicker hair tends to be regarded by society as a sign of youth and general vitality, men and women of all ages who are affected by pattern hair loss often tell us they worry their thinning hair makes them look older than they are. But, just as hair dye can be used to deal with greying, clinically-proven hair loss treatments can help to prevent further shedding and promote regrowth.
Many clients featured in Belgravia's Success Stories gallery attest to this, with further testimonies available via our feedback listings which include this snippet from Male Hair Loss Treatment client, Raj, who says, "I have been using Belgravia for a few years now, and the results have been positive. I feel young, actually look younger than my age which is great news".
The Belgravia Centre is a world-renowned group of a hair loss clinic in Central London, UK. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation from anywhere in the world for home-use treatment.
View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which includes the world's largest gallery of hair growth photos and demonstrates the level of success that so many of Belgravia's patients achieve.