Hair does not actually turn red before it turns grey. The reddish hues that can appear are caused by shifts in melanin pigmentation during the greying process. As we age, our hair gradually loses the pigments that give it color. This loss of melanin leaves hair looking grey or white. However, hair can take on red or coppery tones temporarily as the ratios of underlying pigments change while greying.
This article explores the science behind hair greying, including the roles of melanin and telomeres. It explains why hair sometimes turns reddish before fully greying, and whether red hair actually grays faster than other shades. Additional factors that influence greying like age, genetics, stress, and health conditions are discussed.
The article also answers common questions about the greying process such as what makes grey hair turn red and how people’s hair typically progresses through color changes before becoming grey.
Does Hair Turn Red Before Grey?
No, hair does not turn red before it turns grey. The red color that sometimes appears is caused by a shift in the melanin pigments, not by hair actually turning red.
The Science of Hair Graying
Melanin is the pigment that gives hair its natural color. There are two types of melanin: eumelanin which produces brown and black hues, and pheomelanin which produces red and blonde hues.
As we age, the pigment-producing cells in hair follicles gradually die off. This causes a loss of melanin and leaves hair looking grey or white.
Telomeres are protective caps on the ends of chromosomes that shorten each time a cell divides. A
s telomeres become critically short, cells stop dividing and eventually die off. This telomere shortening is associated with cell aging and death, which leads to hair losing its color.
Why Does Hair Turn Red Before Gray?
The red coloring is caused by a shift in the balance of melanin pigments, not by hair actually turning red.
As hair begins to gray, it often takes on reddish hues before eventually turning fully grey. This happens for a few reasons:
- As hair loses melanin, the red pheomelanin shows through more strongly before also fading. This makes hair look more red or copper initially.
- People with a genetic predisposition to having more pheomelanin may show red hues more prominently before their hair grays.
- Other factors like hair dye reactions, medications, inflammatory conditions or mineral buildup can also skew melanin ratios and cause red hues.
Does Red Hair Turn Gray Faster Than Other Colors?
Some research indicates people with natural red hair may start to gray earlier and complete the graying process faster:
- A study of over 6,300 people found that redheads turned gray before age 30 at nearly 5 times the rate of black-haired participants.
- Theories suggest red hair may gray faster because it contains less eumelanin to start with, so pheomelanin fades out sooner.
- Redheads also may have genetic factors that lead to faster telomere deterioration and quicker cell aging in hair follicles.
However, more research is still needed to definitively establish if and why red hair grays faster than other shades.
Other Factors That Can Affect Hair Graying
- Age: Graying often begins in a person’s 30s and 40s and progresses with age. Nearly 50% of 50-year-olds have 50% gray hair.
- Genetics: People with a family history of premature graying are more likely to start graying early.
- Stress: High stress levels may accelerate graying by increasing oxidative stress and shortening telomeres.
- Diet: Vitamin B12 deficiency can prematurely gray hair. Anti-oxidant rich diets may help preserve melanin.
- Smoking: Toxins in smoke can damage DNA and contribute to premature graying.
Hair Graying and Health
Certain medical conditions like vitiligo, alopecia areata, and thyroid disorders can cause premature graying.
But in most cases, hair graying is a natural part of aging and not directly associated with medical issues. While undesirable to some, gray hair itself does not negatively impact health. People can embrace their natural gray hair or color it according to personal preference.
What color does your hair turn before grey?
Hair often develops reddish, coppery hues before turning fully grey. This is caused by a shift in melanin pigments, as the red pheomelanin shows through more prominently when the darker eumelanin starts to fade during the graying process. The red color is not due to hair actually turning red before becoming grey.
How does grey hair start?
Grey hair starts when pigment-producing melanocyte cells in hair follicles begin to die off. This causes a progressive loss of melanin pigments in the hair strands. Hair goes through transitional reddish or silvery phases before becoming completely grey. Grey hair tends to start at the temples, then the top of the head and sideburns for men.
Why did my gray hair turn red?
If your grey hair has turned red, it is likely due to a shift in melanin pigments rather than your hair reverting back to its original color. As hair grays, the balance of red pheomelanin and darker eumelanin changes.
Occasionally, environmental factors like sun exposure or traces of hair dye can cause pheomelanin to become more prominent, making grey hair look reddish. This red color is temporary and will fade back to grey over time.
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Andriya Ruth, is a beauty specialist with more than 10 years of experiences. She loves to test new beauty products and techniques to innovate novel beauty procedures for her clients and knowledge. Further, she contributes to several beauty magazines and blogs as a leading author/reviewer.