Surprising Facts About Premature Graying

African American woman grey hairWhile some women proudly sport their silver crown of splendor, many others dread the arrival of new gray strands on the daily! The good news? Scientists have been hard at work on discovering what causes hair to gray as well as how to prevent it.

READ: Q&A: Is There A Way To Prevent Gray Hair?

Still, whether going gray is no big deal or a puzzling hit to your vanity, it’s a fact of life. So let’s help you better understand it.

What causes hair to turn gray?

Believe it or not, hair in its basic unpigmented state is white. It receives its color from melanin, that same magical pigment that determines skin color. There are two types of melanin, eumelanin (dark brown or black) and phaeomelanin (reddish yellow). When combined, they create a wonderful wheel of colors including strawberry blonde, jet black, golden brown, etc. However, as we age, the pigment cells in our hair follicles gradually die. When there are fewer pigment cells in a hair follicle, that strand of hair will no longer contain as much melanin, in turn, becoming a more transparent color — like gray, silver or white.

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Race plays a major role.

According to Jeffrey Benabio, a dermatologist with Kaiser Permanente in San Diego, CA, Whites typically start to notice gray strands around age 35. Meanwhile, African Americans tend to be 40 when it begins. Furthermore, about 50 percent of people have half a head of gray by the time they’re 50.