Why Does Facial Hair Go Grey Before Head Hair?

Nobody knows. But we have some theories.

Blame your kids—you’re going grey. It’s not so bad. Silver foxes are still in style and, hey, anything beats being bald. But why are you going grey like that? Why does grey hair start at the temples? Why do beards change hue? Why can’t your eyebrows just match your chest hair?

Scientists aren’t sure. There have been almost no studies on hair greying patterns, and preliminary surveys suggest we may not even really go grey at the temples first. But there’s a lot of research out there on what makes hair go grey in the first place, and the differences between body hair and head hair. Just as good? You decide. Here’s what we know about going grey.

The Science Of Going Grey (What We Know)

You may be grey, but you’re not alone. Studies suggest that three-quarters of people between the ages of 45 and 65 have grey hair covering at least one-third of their scalps. Men go grey before women, on average, and Asians and Africans have fewer grey hairs than Caucasians.

Your hair’s erstwhile hue came to your scalp courtesy of cells called melanocytes, which produce either eumelanin pigments (black and brown) or pheomelanin pigments (yellow and red). Eyelashes contain the most eumelanin, which is why they tend to be the darkest. Pubic hair, underarm hair, and beard hair skew lighter, because those hairs contain the most pheomelanin. Melanocytes wear out as time goes on, and they’re usually replenished by a stem cell reservoir conveniently planted near each hair follicle. Eventually, those reservoirs die. That’s when pigment production stops, and salt and pepper begin seasoning your scalp with impunity.

Why And Where We Go Grey (An Evolving Science)

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Genes are probably a big part of the mystery. One 2016 study of 6,000 genomes highlighted the first gene ever associated with hair greying. This gene appears to be involved in maintaining melanocyte stem cell reservoirs and protecting the hair follicle against chemical stressors.

Genetics may also explain why your brain and the hair near your temples tend to go grey first. Different regions of the scalp have different genetic origins in the womb, and researchers have linked this quirk of development to male pattern baldness. In an interview with VICE, Dr. Paradi Mirmirani, regional director for hair disorders at Kaiser Permanente, suggested that we may go grey in waves for the same reason — the skin on our faces and heads are simply not on a single genetic schedule. It’s also possible that hairs in the temples and beard are more sensitive to hormones, Mirmirani says, which increase the speed at which melanin needs to be replenished.

Then again, the premise itself may be off. True, a lot of men seem to go grey at the temples and beard first. But when L’Oreal asked trained evaluators to examine the heads of 4,000 adult men and women from around the world in 2012, they found no indication of this trend. And when VICE asked hair stylists to weigh-in, they were unequivocal. “I haven’t seen that,” said Quentin Gholar, a career barber in New York City. “In my experience, it tends to come in all over.”

How To Stop It (A Pseudoscience)

We know a lot about the biology of grey hair. We know considerably less about the reason why our hair follicles don’t simply transition from color to colorless in one fell swoop. But what we really don’t know anything about is how to prevent grey hair or rejuvenate it. Natural remedies are a sham and, and while legitimate studies have had promising results, rumor of a burgeoning cure for grey hair is just that — a rumor. But don’t let that get you down. Embrace your greys.

“There are lots of grey role models out there,” The Record points out. “Gandalf the wizard, for example. He’s grey and he’s great. Then there’s, uh, um, Dumbledore the wizard. Also grey-t. So there you go. If grey is good enough for…two fictional wizards, it’s good enough for me.”