One of the most common complaints our clients bring to the salon is, “I’m sick and tired of my gray hair.” Turns out there may be more to that lament than you think.
A research study published by the University of Alabama at Birmingham indicates a possible answer to why some of us start turning gray at an early age. The study used mouse models to explore the connection between stem cells and aging. Researchers were particularly focused on melanocyte stem cells in hair follicles. Melanocytes are pigment-producing cells responsible for giving hair its natural color. When melanocytes are damaged – whether due to the natural aging process or sickness -- newly grown hair carries much less of its natural pigment, resulting in gray, silver, or white hair.
Previously, the research team discovered that the MITF protein (melanogenesis-associated transcription factor) controls the genes that generate hair pigment. The scientists studied mice that had been bred to develop premature gray hair and found an excessive production of MITF. The new study found that MITF might work to deactivate the anti-virus, immune protein known as interferon. When an anti-virus response was triggered in mice, models having low levels of this protein lost melanocytes and developed gray fur.
This study did not explore similar scenarios in humans. The paper’s authors hypothesize, however, that an immune reaction could be one reason why some people develop gray hair earlier than others. Theoretically, if a healthy person who is predisposed to gray hair contracts certain everyday viruses, the decline in their melanocytes and melanocyte stem cells could prompt premature graying.
On a happier note, I’ve noticed that a growing number of women (and men) are embracing gray hair. More than a few of our clients have decided to let their locks go gray, silver, or white and the results are absolutely stunning. In fact, some of our younger clients are asking for color treatments that yield similar results. What do you think? Are you ready for the “au naturel” look?