IS THERE A PERMANENT SOLUTION FOR GREY HAIR?
Those of us over a “certain age” are mystified by the trend among younger people to dye their hair grey as a fashion statement. In our culture grey hair is “distinguished” for men, and “a constant struggle” for most women. I remember fondly the days when I would have my hair colored just for fun rather than as a constant battle against the realities of aging. Not that I don’t love all grey hair on a man or woman- its a beautiful look that works so well for some, not well at all for others. But imagine a day when you will be able to decide whether to love it or leave it behind forever?
HOW IS HAIR COLOR DETERMINED?
Hair color is determined by the type and concentration of the pigment molecule Melanin in the hair. The more melanin the darker the hair. Red shades are caused by a special type of melanin. Hair begins to turn gray when the cells producing the melanin in the hair follicle give out. Different types of grey – salt and pepper, silver, white are an optical illusion cause by the mixture of some dark hairs with the white hair.
CAN WE STOP THE GREY BEFORE IT STARTS?
Recent scientific studies from different sources have been published that shed light on the process of greying and give some hope for being able to avoid greying altogether in the future.
- The first was a large study of over 6000 patients revealing that the timing of the appearance of grey hairs is controlled by a gene. The gene called IRF4 potentially provides a target for future research in delaying or turning off the gene completely.
- The second study shows that there are influences by environmental factors which cause oxidative stress on the cells. Smoking, sun exposure, poor nutrition may all produce free radicals that damage the ability of cells to produce pigment. Anti oxidants, both ingested and applied to the scalp may offer some protection against this damage. Loreal is developing a product which would potentially work to reduce this damage to the follicles. The catch- you would have to start taking this product ten years before you see a grey hair- but for some people who have seen relatives go grey at an early age this might be a motivation.
- A third revelation shows that pigment producing cells are controlled by a protein which is able to turn them on and off. So if scientists are able to manipulate this protein (right now only in mice!) someday this may lead to advances that would be able to adjust the level of grey in humans.