What Is Melanin And How Does It Affect Gray Hair?

What Is Melanin And How Does It Affect Gray Hair?
What Is Melanin And How Does It Affect Gray Hair?

If you have looked up anything about gray hair, then you have probably also at least heard about something called melanin. However, you may not know exactly what melanin is and how it affects your hair. This is important information for you to know if you are looking for ways to postpone going gray. 

What Is Melanin?

Melanin is literally what gives you color. This is not only the color in your hair but also the color in your eyes and even in your skin. Melanin is made by special cells near the surface that are called melanocytes.

These melanocytes cells store the melanin in what are called melanosomes, which are essentially tiny sacks that hold the melanin. Believe it or not, melanin is actually used for a variety of things. For example, when you are out in the sun a lot, you often get tan.

This is because the melanin is released in your skin cells in an effort to protect your skin from damage. In the example mentioned, melanin protects your skin by absorbing the sunlight and acting as a UV repellant.

This protects the cells that are in your skin and, more than that, the same feature protects your eyes as well. All in all, melanin may be partially helpful in preventing things like skin cancer on top of preventing your skin from aging. But that is only one of the benefits of melanin.

As mentioned, the melanin is stored in sacks called melanosomes. These melanosomes also serve as part of your immune system. However, as the melanosomes run out of melanin, they shrink and eventually die. This loss is one of the reasons why as you get older your immune system does not work as well.

Not only is your colors affected by the amount of melanin that you have, but by what type of melanin your body makes. The more melanin you put out, the darker your coloring will be, and the less melanin the lighter your coloring will be.

What Is Melanin And How Does It Affect Gray Hair?

Melanin And Your Hair

All three primary colors go into the melanin that makes your hair, including blue in small amounts. However, these three different colors are created by different melanin cells. Eumelanin is what makes a yellow color. In concentrated amounts, it makes your hair brown as well.

Pheomelanin is the type of cells that make red colors, and it is found in large amounts in red hair. It doesn’t take a lot of red pigment to make really red hair since the molecules that make up the color red are the largest molecules out of all of the different colors.

Hair that is rich enough in melanin is black, and hair that has virtually no melanin at all is white. Typically, hair will turn gray before it turns white. This is because the melanin is decreasing but is still there in small amounts.

In your scalp, the hair follicles that make up your hair essentially have two parts to them. One part forms the strand of hair while the other part which is the melanosomes and which adds the melanin to your hair.

As you get older, the melanosomes eventually run out of melanin. When this happens, not only does your hair lose its color, but it also tends to stick up differently. This is because a piece of what makes up your hair is literally missing.

Also, as you age your hair follicles themselves may start to shrink. This makes your hair thinner and can eventually lead to hair loss. Trying to avoid gray hair may actually help you to avoid both of these scenarios in a small way.

What Makes You Run Out Of Melanin

Your melanosomes are meant to run out of melanin as a part of the aging process. However, there are things that can speed up the process and which can cause you to burn through your melanin at a faster rate.

When this happens, you will end up graying faster than you otherwise would have. The one thing that you cannot affect is your genetics. There are two parts to your genetics that can affect your hair.

Your race is one part of your genetics that does this. Certain ethnicities gray faster than others do with Caucasians being one of the ones that gray the earliest. Africans and Asians are often the last to start showing gray hairs.

Your parentage is the other genetic factor that can affect the age at which you start to gray. If one or both of your parents grayed especially early, then you are far more likely to suffer the same fate.


Stress is one thing that can make your run out of melanin faster than you should. There are two types of stress, both of which are bad for the melanin of your hair in different ways. These two types of stress are mild, long-term stress and extreme, short-term stress.

With extreme amounts of stress, your adrenaline is accessed. This activates your ‘fight or flight’ response in a milder amount. One of the things that this response does is it inadvertently triggers your body to let go of more of its melanin.

The melanosomes that hold the melanin don’t have as much of their color left after this happens. While you might not see a noticeable difference soon, if this happens often you may notice graying at a younger age.

With the mild stress over a longer period of time, your adrenaline is still present but in smaller amounts. It, therefore, does not burn through your melanin in the same way as the extreme stress does. However, having any amount of stress over a long period of time to affect your melanin.

What low amounts of stress does is it negatively impacts your immune system. This makes you that much more likely to get sick, of course, but in particular you may end up getting a sickness that can affect your hair.

What Is Melanin And How Does It Affect Gray Hair?

Vitamin Deficiencies

Your hair follicles might store the melanin, but your body does make melanin too. In order to make the melanin, you need to have certain vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. If you get deficient in any of these things, then you won’t be able to make your own melanin.

This forces your hair follicles to use up the stored melanin solely when it could be partially using melanin that it makes. Therefore, you will run out of melanin faster.

Beta-carotene is one thing that is used particularly in the making of red hair. Protein is another one of the building blocks of your hair, so if you are a vegetarian you may not be getting enough protien. Copper and the B vitamins are also absolutely needed for your hair to make the melanin it needs.

In fact, Iron, Copper, and Zinc are three key parts to your hair and to your melanin. Low levels of any of these, and of Copper in particular, can negatively impact your melanin.

Sicknesses And Diseases

You might know that some diseases directly affect your hair, even the ones that don’t are bad for your hair. Long or severe illnesses in particular can weaken your body and can cause you to get deficient in the vitamins that you need.

When you are sick, your body focusses all of its energy and all of the nutrients you get into trying to get you well again. Your hair color and thickness, along with other things like your nails, are at the bottom of your body’s list of priorities.

Therefore, anything that can make you sick or lead to some form of disease can make you gray a little sooner. This includes bad habits like smoking and drinking and things of that nature.

However, some diseases are well-known for causing you to gray. Hyperthyroidism is one example of something that doctors know can make you gray. If you have other symptoms of hyperthyroidism and gray hair, even though you are still young, you should get yourself tested for this disease.

What Can Help You Keep Your Melanin

Since losing your melanin results in gray hair, it is only natural that you would want to do things that will help you keep your melanin as long as possible. Most of these methods for keeping your melanin make common sense once you know what makes you lose your melanin.

However, even though these methods are common sense, they are still extremely important. Though you cannot change your genetics, you can still do something to make a difference.

Avoid Stress

Since stress is unquestionably one of the main things after genetics that can make you go gray, avoiding stress is important. However, depending on your job and other factors, avoiding stress entirely might be practically impossible for you to do.

So, you need to practice dealing with stress and find ways to relax. There are many ways that you can relax when you are stressed. Herbal teas are a great option since they can not only help you relax, but they also often contain some vitamins and minerals that you need.

Getting a massage, doing yoga, and other things can be quite relaxing as well. Sometimes reading a book or playing a musical instrument just for fun can be relaxing. The same can be said for other hobbies, like knitting or sewing.

Finally, to help deal with stress one of the best things that you can do is to make sure that you get enough sleep. When you are too tired to think properly, you will be that much easier to get stressed over even small things.

Take Vitamins

While there are many different kinds of vitamins out there, there are also vitamin supplements that are specifically for gray hair. These supplements are formulated to have everything your body needs to make your melanin.

In particular, certain amino acids are needed for your body to make melanin. One amino acid called tyrosine is actually a precursor to melanin, meaning that melanin is made out of tyrosine the same way that DHT is made out of testosterone.

Most supplements to prevent gray hair also contain other vitamins like beta-carotene and Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E. A Vitamin B complex can give you all of the B vitamins that you need for your hair and then some.

As for Copper, many daily vitamin pills have this in it. However, you can also get Copper from certain fruits and vegetables as well as certain seafood. Seafood also has plenty of Vitamin B in it, especially Vitamin B-12, which is one of the most important ones for your hair.

Stay Healthy

Staying healthy is very important to not graying early. While it is true that some medications can cause you to gray early, you should not stop taking the medications that your doctor prescribes to you.

Instead, if you think that the medication you are on is causing you to gray faster, talk to your doctor about it. Ask them if you can switch to a different medication that won’t affect your hair. However, you should try to eat healthily and live a healthy lifestyle so that you do not have to take medications if possible.

Along with eating right, you should also avoid things like smoking and drinking. Both smoking and drinking are not only bad for you, but they can also lead to various diseases.

Home Remedies

What Is Melanin And How Does It Affect Gray Hair?

While women are more likely to fret over gray hair, it is unfortunately women who are also more likely to gray at a younger age. This is because women are far more likely to be deficient in iron due to their menstrual cycle.

However, there are remedies that you can do at home to try to further postpone gray hair. Some of these are nothing more than old wives’ fables, but some of them genuinely work. One example is a berry called Indian Gooseberry.

This berry has been used in India for a long time as a remedy for various hair problems, including helping you have enough melanin for your hair. You can use it in a hair mask, or you can add Indian Gooseberry to your diet.

Brewers Yeast is another home remedy you can try. It has a lot of nutrients in it, and it can be added to all kinds of foods. Coconut oil supposedly revitalizes the cells that make your melanin if you apply it topically and rub it into your scalp.

Other than those home remedies, there is always the option to hide your gray by dying your hair. However, you should know that the chemicals that are in most hairs are not good for your scalp. In fact, some of these chemicals may make you finish graying faster.

Final Thoughts

Gray hair on its own is one thing, but it is how those gray hairs can stick up at odd angles that many people hate the most. This is only partially to do with the lack of melanin though, and it is perfectly possible to have gorgeous gray hair.

As you age, your hair makes less of the natural oils that give your hair its shine and keep down the frizz. This, along with the missing melanin, is what makes gray hair more unmanageable. However, if gray hair is healthy then it can still have that shine and that silky feeling.

Your hair can look great even when it becomes gray. So, consider going natural and picking a new hairstyle that shows off your new color.

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Christopher is the founder of Hair Loss Geeks, which launched back in 2011. At the time there wasn't any credible information on the internet about hair loss. As someone suffering from hair loss himself, Christopher began his extensive research journey. After launching the site, he later graduated from Boston University in 2012 with his PhD in Biochemistry. What started off as a hobby project quickly became a bigger focus as it grew. Christopher hopes everyone can learn from both his experience and research.

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