The pigment melanin is responsible for the colour of our hair. The colouring material ensures that the hair shines black, brown, blond or red. To produce melanin, the body needs a sufficient amount of the amino acid tyrosine. With increasing age or as a result of certain diseases, however, less and less of this is produced in the skin and hair roots.
The reason for this is a decreasing ability of the body cells to neutralize the hydrogen peroxide naturally occurring in cell metabolism. It interferes with the synthesis of tyrosine in the hair follicle – and thus also that of melanin. Instead of the dye, air bubbles are then stored in the hair shaft. The affected hair looks grey or even white to the human eye.
Initially only individual hairs turn grey, but over time more and more hairs are affected. If the remaining, pigmented hairs gradually fall out, the hair will become greyer and greyer over time. Usually the process begins at the temples, because the hairs there have a shorter life cycle and therefore fall out faster. Bearded hair is also affected early for this reason.
When grey hair can come earlier
Disease-related disturbances in pigment production can be the reason for grey hair. But also stress, lack of minerals, excessive alcohol or nicotine consumption can favour the graying of the hair. Stories, however, according to which people are almost completely grey overnight, belong more to the realm of mythology.
In contrast, people with the disease Alopecia areata can actually turn grey for a short time. This disease causes all pigmented hairs to fall out within a short time and only the younger, grey ones remain. The cause of the disease has not yet been clarified.
What disease causes my symptoms?
Usually, the first grey hairs are discovered at mid-30. But even gray hair at 30 is no reason to worry. The situation is different if you discover grey hair at the age of 20 or even earlier. Then you should try to clarify medically which causes are responsible for it.
What can you do about gray hair?
With advancing age, the hair becomes gray, in old age most people finally get completely white hair. This is a natural process against which little can be done. You can only prevent this to a limited extent – for example with a balanced, mineral-rich diet and the renunciation of alcohol and nicotine. Even people who can cope well with stress seem to get grey hair later on average.
To pull out or cut off the first few gray hairs is a method that many people initially use. But usually other means are already necessary after a short time to get rid of grey hair or to conceal it. Basically you have the choice between renaturation and dyeing.
Renaturating grey hair – back to the old colour
Through the so-called renaturation, grey hair can actually get color again. In contrast to dyeing, no foreign dyes are used to cover the hair colour. Instead, the substances are stored in the hair where the natural pigments are missing.
For dark hair types: Eumelanin
A substance often used for this purpose is artificially produced eumelanin. It is the dark part of melanin that occurs naturally in the body. The agent must be used several times until it has accumulated in sufficient concentration and colour strength in the pigment-free areas of the hair. However, it does not repigment all original hair colours as it only contains melanin. Blonde and reddish hair tones cannot be restored because there is no artificial red pigment yet. So if you had a reddish-brown hair tone, only the brown will get back. This also applies to blonde hair.
Replacement pigments: Medium with lead acetate
Other products contain lead acetate, which reacts with the sulphur particles of the hair substance and atmospheric oxygen to form black lead sulphide pigments. Over the course of several weeks of use, these pigments are deposited more and more densely in the areas of grey hair where the air pockets are located. They act as a kind of replacement pigment. All in all, users of lead acetate-containing products should get their original hair color back in this way.
However, experts warn against the health risks of lead acetate. Toxicologists from the University of Kiel found out that the toxic heavy metal lead of lead acetate reaches the body via the scalp. It can accumulate in the bones and also cause severe damage to the nervous system and the haematopoietic bone marrow.
Dyeing grey hair
As an alternative to the so-called “renaturation” methods, you can of course also color gray hair. You can read more about this in the article Colouring grey hair.
Care for grey hair
In the meantime numerous hair care products especially for grey hair are available in the trade. They contain care substances that are supposed to give the hair moisture and elasticity back, as the hair becomes drier and more brittle over the years. Treat your grey hair to this extra portion of care to keep it shiny and smooth. Then there may even be no need to conceal gray hair.