Genetics play a major role in the process, but your diet and general scalp care are factors, too.

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There is one aspect of the aging process that is universal: We all go gray. Exactly when this begins, however, is what varies from person to person. While some women start to see silver strands at 25, others go salt-and-pepper later in life, around 50. To get to the bottom of why the process seems to be premature for some and delayed for others, we turned to a trichologist for answers.

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Credit: Getty / Westend61

How is hair color determined in the first place?

You likely already know that your hair color—red, blonde, black, brown, and their dimensional variations—is determined by your genes. What's lesser understood is the final hue is also a result of the amount of melanin within each follicle. "The hair on your head is actually created by a finite amount of follicles from which your hair grows," explains trichologist and the founder of Colour Collective, Kerry E. Yates. "You will find melanin within those follicles, which gives your hair its natural color ranging from black, brown, and red to the lightest blonde."

What causes strands to turn gray?

Throughout the course of your life, hair grows from the follicles, falls out, and regrows again. Each time a new growth forms within the follicle, your melanin source is depleted. It is this process, says Yates, that is ultimately responsible for silver strands. "Unfortunately, there is no way to 'replace' spent melanin to prevent the hair from going gray," she explains. "However, there is a way to potentially control your hair life cycle, extending your natural color's life." This comes down to diet and scalp and hair care, she explains.

Why do some women go gray before others?

It's simple: genetics and lifestyle. According to Yates, there is no defined date or age for the graying process' onset. "However, research has found that by the age of 50, 50 percent of people will have 50 percent gray hair," she shares. And while genetics does play a major role—some women simply have faster hair life cycles than others—it's important to keep in mind that your overarching health is involved, too. "If you have a fast hair life cycle that is constantly regenerating new hairs, you may end up going gray quite quickly as you are utilizing melanin with each new strand," she explains, noting that nutrient-rich diets and healthful lifestyle habits should reduce the rate of shedding. At the end of the day, however, salt-and-pepper hair happens to all of us—and growing old and gray is a blessing. Thankfully, there are products to keep gray hair looking smooth and shiny and dye options if you prefer to cover it up completely.

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