Scientists have long known that genes determine our hair color -- and when that hair turns gray, it's believed that it's partly due to genetics and partly because our cells produce less and less of the pigment, melanin, as we age. But in a breakthrough new study, scientists have identified the specific gene that determines graying hair -- and this might just help them figure out how to prevent it.
"We already know several genes involved in balding and hair color but this is the first time a gene for graying has been identified in humans, as well as other genes influencing hair shape and density," the study's lead author Kaustubh Adhikari of the University College London said in a statement.
While factors like smoking and some vitamin deficiencies could lead to premature graying, researchers now know that genetics play a big part.
The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, looked at a diverse sample of over 6,000 Latin American men and women, with European, Native American and African ancestry. Genome analysis helped identify the graying hair gene, IRF4, which has previously been associated with hair color, but is now believed to control graying. It's thought that the gene plays a role in regulating melanin, which gives color to your hair, skin and eyes.
If you're struggling with embracing your grays and running through hair dye, this could be good news. Pinpointing the gene, they say, could potentially help scientists discover ways to prevent or slow graying hair in the future.
"These findings have potential forensic and cosmetic applications as we increase our knowledge on how genes influence the way we look," Adhikari said.
Genes for hair texture -- straight, curly, etc. -- as well as genes for beard thickness and eyebrow thickness were also found.
If you're already gray, it's important to take steps to care for your less-pigmented hair. As we age, the texture of our hair can become dry and brittle so it's vital not to slack on the hair care. And if you're graying prematurely, you might want to take a look at your health to make sure a thyroid problem or certain vitamin deficiencies aren't the cause.