Two atoms collide with each other while trying to board a train.

The first atom asks, "Are you alright?" "No, I lost an electron!" the other replied glumly. "You sure?" "Yes, I'm positive, he replied."

Why does hair turn grey?

Having grey hair is part of growing old. Even in your own family you are likely to have uncles and aunts who have grey or white hair. The changing of hair colour is just another example of chemistry at work in your own body.

Some hair-raising facts

There are over 100,000 strands of hair on your head. Sounds like a lot doesn’t it? Before you begin to count them, you may be surprised to know that hair has the highest rate of cell division in your body and is the fastest growing tissue after bone marrow. This is why you will find your hair growing about 1cm every month.

You may not realise it, but hair is strong. One strand of hair can actually support 100 grams of weight, that’s almost the weight of a cell phone.  

So why does our hair turn grey?

Let’s take a closer look at hair. Our hair is surrounded by a tissue under the skin called a follicle. Each follicle contains certain pigment cells. Pigment is another word for colour. These pigment cells constantly produce a chemical called melanin. This chemical is responsible for the colour of our hair whether it is black, blonde, red, or brown.

The Gene Connection

Now that we know what gives colour to hair; its time to understand what role family genes play in greying them? The content of melanin in each hair determines a dark or light colour of the hair.

Is there a particular time when you start to get grey hair? Yes, people can go grey at any age, some people may go grey in their thirties or forties or maybe even later and on the other hand some people may see their first grey hair when they are in high school. Yes, have a look. You might find that a friend of yours may have a grey hair or two. It all depends on your genes. So, if it’s in your family to go grey early, then there’s no avoiding it.

The fall of the follicle

As we grow older, the pigment cells found in the follicle of our hair die, leading to a smaller amount of melanin being produced. This results in your hair becoming more transparent in colour; like grey, silver or white.
The other reasons for your hair to turn grey include the climate, pollutants, toxins and chemical exposure.

So if your parents tell you that your mischief is giving them grey hairs, don’t worry, it’s not true. Go ahead and tell them why hair turns grey.

Tags :     Everyday Chemistry     Hair     follicle     melanin     grey hair    

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