Gray hair happens to just about everyone. For some, it can happen sooner rather than later, but how can you know when your hair will turn? What makes it happen? If you have a stressful adulthood, can that make your hair go gray sooner? For such a common phenomenon, not a lot is commonly known about what causes gray hair. There are a lot of myths about the mechanics behind changing hair color. The truth, however, may bring you some peace of mind.

Follicle Facts

Hair, no matter where it is on your body, grows from tiny pockets in the skin called follicles. Follicles are tiny glands that produce hairs, and depending on your hair color, your head may have more or fewer active follicles on it than your friend. All of us are born with about 100,000 active hair follicles on our scalps. Depending on your DNA, that number may change over time. Blondes tend to have the most hair, with around 150,000 active follicles at any given time. People with brown or black hair are next up, with about 110,000 to 100,000 hairs on average. Redheads are last in the lineup, with about 90,000 hairs on their head.

Whenever a hair falls out, it takes the follicle with it. If you check your hairbrush, you can sometimes even see it as a light patch at the scalp-end of the strand. Whenever a follicle falls out, a new one grows in its place. Follicles produce less melanin over time, causing the hair to lose color. Each regeneration slowly wears down the follicle’s ability to produce color, eventually leading to gray hair. How quickly someone goes gray is largely dependent on their genetics. Some people’s DNA causes them to go gray sooner than others, though, for the average person, the melanin produced by their follicles starts to diminish after age 35.

The Main Myths

There are two predominant myths when it comes to gray hairs. The first is that, if you pluck one, two will grow in its place. The second is that stress¬†makes you go gray sooner. While genetics is the main factor when it comes to determining when your locks will begin to turn frosty, there is some truth to the two main myths about gray hair. Plucking a gray hair won’t make two grow back in its place, but it will sprout another one. The fact that your follicles are a bit like a printer that’s low on ink means that if you toss a lighter print in the hopes that the next one will be darker, you’re in for a disappointment. If you want to get rid of those gray hairs, your best bet is to color them not pluck them.

The second myth is that stress causes more gray hair to grow. This particular myth has a lot of backing. Take a look at presidents and other people who live high-stress lives. By the end of their term, they’re often grayer than before. A lot of this shift in color has to do with the person’s age, but while stress doesn’t cause your hair to turn gray, it can cause something else. Telogen effluvium is a common condition that can be triggered by stress. It causes the sufferer’s hair to fall out at a faster rate, which means that the follicles have to regenerate more often. If the person has passed their peak color production, the rapid regrowth of hairs can mean seeing those grays come out sooner than they might otherwise have. Maintaining lower stress levels won’t necessarily save your hair, but it does have plenty of other proven benefits.