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In recent research involving mice, scientists say they may have discovered why stress could be turning our hair white - sometimes prematurely.

At the same time, their studies have found a potential way of preventing our hair turning white but perhaps one that we would prefer to avoid as it involves developing a new drug.

This is what the scientific research has found

In experiments on mice, stem cells that control skin and hair colour became damaged after intense stress - with those mice with dark fur turning completely white within weeks.

The USA and Brazilian researchers said this avenue was worth exploring further to develop a drug that prevents hair colour loss from aging.  Perhaps instead of a drug as a solution, preventing or combatting the stress in the first place would make more sense...

Men and women can go grey at any time from their mid-30s, with the timing of parental hair colour change giving most of the clues on when.

Although it's mostly down to the natural aging process and genes, stress can also play a role.

Unfortunately, these same scientists were not clear exactly how stress affected the hairs on our heads although they believed the effects were linked to melanocyte stem cells, which produce melanin and are responsible for hair and skin colour.

During their studies, they found that mice when stressed triggered the  release of adrenaline and cortisol, making their hearts beat faster and blood pressure rise, affecting the nervous system and speeding up the depletion of stem cells that produced melanin in hair follicles.

They found that once the pigment-regenerating stem cells were lost, the damage was permanent.  

As far as prevention was concerned, treating the high blood pressure was one solution while by comparing the genes of mice under stress with other mice, they could identify the protein involved in causing damage to stem cells from stress.  When this protein - cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) - was suppressed, the treatment also prevented a change in the colour of their fur.

But why such concern about premature hair whitening?

Fashions come and go but, at this time, there is a trend for even young people to change their hair color to white even if it is not happening naturally...

In addition to stress, here are other reasons why hair turns gray or white.

1. Growing older is of course the main reason. Dr Anthony Oro (Professor of Dermatology at Stanford University) points out that 50% of us have 50% gray hair by the age of fifty. The texture of our hair will also change as we age.

2. Our ethnicity is another reason with redheads being the first to go gray, followed by other Caucasians. Asians are next on the list and bringing up the rear African-Americans and of course Africans themselves.

3. As in so many other things, our lifestyle is important too. Smoking is never advisable while low vitamin B12 levels are known to cause loss of hair color.

4. Hair and its color are separate. Hair stem cells make hair while pigment-forming stem cells make pigment. They usually work together but either can wear out for a number of reasons.

6. Our hair does not turn gray. A single hair grows for 1 to 3 years before being shed. A new hair then grows but that new hair could be gray or white. Apart from aging, the use of unsuitable hair products and even chronic colds, sinusitis and thyroid disorders can be factors.

Looking after your hair when it turns gray or white

Unpigmented hair (that is white or gray hair) requires extra maintenance due to the lack of melanin in the hair. The melanin in pigmented hair protects the hair from sun exposure and styling products by coating the hair follicle in a protective barrier. With white or gray hair, the hair follicle is weaker and can become damaged and brittle if it is not maintained. 

Keep your white hair clean as it shows dirt easily but be careful not to overwash as this can strip those oils and vitamins that are necessary for healthy hair.  Be aware that the hair can get a yellow tinge caused by smoke, weather exposure and even product styling.

Using natural products, condition the hair after washing. Avoid products with alcohol as an ingredient as this dries out the hair, giving it a thin appearance and even causing breakage.

Our Simply Hair Oil is the perfect rich, non greasy hair care formula for white or gray hair whatever its hair type.  Add a few drops to your hair and leave overnight to do its work before washing out the next morning.