How Much Can You Blame Your Parents for Your Gray Hair?

By
Silver fox Kristen McMenamy.
Silver fox Kristen McMenamy.Photo: Venturelli/Getty Images

If you’re from a family where people go gray early, you’re probably worried about suffering from the same misfortune. Now, researchers think they’ve found the first gene connected to gray hair, supporting the idea that the unceremonious death of pigment is at least partially genetic.

For a study published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers at University College London documented the hair types of more than 6,300 Latin American people of European, Native American, and African descent and compared that info to their genomes. They found that European people who had a certain version of the gene IRF4 went gray sooner than people without the variant. They believe this gene is one of several that might play a role in the rate at which your follicles run out of color.

So, how much of this is your parents’ fault? The authors estimate that it’s responsible for about 30 percent of graying, while pesky environmental factors are to blame for the other 70 percent.

But back up — why are people spending precious science dollars looking into this topic at all? One, to understand how hair types and colors changed over time, and two, because way off into the future, knowledge like this could help forensic experts build rough mugshots of criminal suspects just from their DNA.

Of course, there are also possible cosmetic applications that could delay graying or prevent it altogether by targeting the hair before it ever comes out of your scalp. Until those are invented, at least we have dye.