Why Do Men Get Gray Hair?

George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Like women, most men start to develop gray hair in their 30s and 40s. However, some men may notice a few gray strands as early as their teen years while others may not turn gray until well after middle age. Genetics play the predominant role in determining when a man's hair will start to turn gray, but other factors can contribute to the process as well. (1)

The Graying Mechanism

Oxidative stress brought on by the aging process causes a decrease in four important enzymes within the hair follicle; catalase, tyrosinase and MSR A and B. This causes an over-abundance of hydrogen peroxide within the hair and disrupts the synthesis of melanin, the pigment that gives hair its color. The excess hydrogen peroxide and low levels of melanin within the hair causes the strand to literally bleach itself from within. (2)

Contributing Factors

In addition to genetics, certain medical conditions can spur the onset of gray hair. Thyroid disorders, anemia and vitiligo, a condition in which the production of melanin in the skin and hair dramatically slows, can all contribute to gray hair. Additionally, nutritional factors can play a part, particularly deficiencies of the amino acid phenylalanine, protein, or vitamin B-12. While stress is commonly believed to contribute to gray hair, the scientific community has yet to confirm a direct link. (1)

Gray Hair Care

A gray head of hair can flatter men with olive or darker skin tones, but it may leave men with paler skin looking a bit washed out. Additionally, since gray hair is translucent, it can make thinning hair appear even sparser. Therefore, many men opt to restore a bit of their natural color with a dye product. While an allover application of a single, flat shade tends to look conspicuous, there are several at-home and salon color treatments specifically designed for men that subtly blend in the grays for a more natural look. Whether you decide to keep the grey or blend it away, it's important to keep your hair hydrated with a quality moisturizer, since the lower levels of melanin in gray hair make it dryer and more brittle. (4,1)

A Pound of Prevention

Several beauty and supplement companies are working on potential medical treatments in pill form that they hope will keep enzyme levels in the hair follicle at optimal levels, thereby preventing the hair from losing its color. For example, L'Oreal has announced that the company plans to introduce one such treatment to the market in 2015. Their product, L'Oreal researchers said, would have to be taken before the onset of gray hair. It would not likely be able to reverse the graying process once it has begun. (2,3)