That first gray hair can be unsettling. It pokes through like a symbol of lost youth, and lays the path for more to follow. But welcome or not, “going gray” is a normal stage of aging. And while we can’t promise that it brings wisdom, we can debunk some of its most legendary falsehoods.
Myth: Plucking them will only bring more.
Truth: Gray hair is caused by the retiring of cells that provide pigment within your hair’s follicles. Removing a hair from a follicle doesn’t have anything to do with the hair around it. But that doesn’t mean that tweezing is necessarily good, either. “It’s not the best idea to pull your hair out,” says Dr. Mona Mofid, a dermatologist affiliated with Sharp Community Medical Group. “At the end of the day, you’ll never keep up with new grays. And worse, you could damage the follicle and prevent new hair from growing at all.”
Myth: Stress causes gray hair.
Truth: Stress doesn’t make your hair turn gray, but it could set the stage for it. Stress, in extreme circumstances, can cause your hair to fall out — a condition called telogen effluvium. And when hair sheds from its follicle, it can often have less pigment the next time around. “On average, washing, blow-drying or brushing your hair can cause us to shed about 100 hairs a day,” says Dr. Mofid. “However, when hair loss becomes excessive, stress could be the culprit causing it. Divorce, job changes, financial concerns, injuries — these are all stressful events that could play a part in hair changes.”
Myth: Gray hair is courser than pigmented hair.
Truth: Gray hair may seem to have a thicker texture, but in actuality, it can be finer than its original. Any time new hair grows, it doesn’t have the length to fold with the rest of your hair — causing the illusion that it’s tougher. Plus, gray hair tends to be drier and produces less oil. So it seems sharper than the well-hydrated hair around it.
Myth: Gray hair is, well, the color gray.
Truth: Gray hairs really aren’t gray at all — they just lack pigment. Pigment is decided by two types of melanin, the same elements that decide the color of our skin. The more melanin that is present, the darker the hair shade. “Gray hair, technically, is transparent,” says Dr. Mofid. “The range in transparency — gray, silver or white — has to do with how melanin levels are affecting your hair’s pigment.” For example, polar bears never have pigmented fur — so they are technically transparent animals. Eventually, human hair will become the same, transparent shade.
Myth: Gray hair has nothing to do with DNA.
Truth: Gray hair has almost everything to do with DNA. While some outside factors, such as stress, environment, hormones or smoking, can speed the process, it’s your genes that lead the way. “If your mother or father turned gray at an early age, there’s a good chance you will, too,” says Dr. Mofid. So the next time you blame your kids for those silver strands, think twice. It may be your parents who really gave them to you.
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Mona Mofid for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.