President Obama’s graying hair may be big news, but it’s actually normal for men and women in their late 40s to start going gray, no matter what their job may be. According to experts, after we hit 30 our chance of going gray increases 10-20% every 10 years.
Natural hair color is the result of pigments that our bodies actively produce. As we grow older, this pigmentation process shuts down, hair by hair, and we gradually go gray and finally white. The process has always been a bit of a mystery, but a new European study in a biological publication called The FASEB Journal poses an interesting explanation. The study suggests that a hair goes white when an enzyme called catalase stops working and allows naturally-occurring hydrogen peroxide in the follicle to bleach it from the inside out.
Researchers have long held that hair goes gray according to a genetically-determined time clock, not because of stress. But this new evidence raises the possibility that
stress may be a factor in the failure of catalase, so maybe we can yet blame the job, the kids or the economy for our graying hair. The study also raises the possibility of finding a way to prevent the graying process.
Until a remedy for graying hair is found, though, we can either try to age gracefully or dye our hair. The President won’t say whether he colors his hair or not, but if you cover your gray you should consider going lighter than your natural shade unless you can afford to keep your roots from showing. According to Carla Anderson, owner of Balance Salon in Jersey City, NJ, light or white roots growing out on dark-dyed hair “makes it look like you’re balding.” For many of us, that may be the only thing worse than going gray.