We never really had a good answer to why hair turns gray, other than a simple “it loses pigment,” but we do now! In the process of researching malignant melanoma, cancer researchers have discovered exactly what makes hair turn gray. It is a stem cell thing, but rather than me mucking it all up, let me show you what they say:
Melanocytes, which manufacture and store the pigment that combines with hair-making cells called keratinocytes to color the hair, are specialized cells spawned by colorless melanocyte stem cells.
What actually happens during the graying process is that the melanocyte cells not only become depleted, they also make errors as they age, turning into ‘fully committed’ pigment cells that position themselves in the wrong part of the hair follicle, thus leading to a loss of pigmentation. [source]
This group of researchers is not going to stop their important melanoma research to go into repairing our gray hairs, but hopefully someone will take their discovery and run with it in the beauty sector. Can some of you imagine keeping your youthful hair color forever? I can’t – I am far too hooked on coloring my hair. But it would be mighty nice to just be able to accentuate what I have rather than fight with those wiry gray hairs, no? This sounds like another good reason to be supportive of stem cell research to me. ;)