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PREMATURE HAIR GRAYING AND HAIR LOSS

Hair color is the pigmentation of hair follicles due to two types of melanin: eumelanin and pheomelanin. Generally, if more eumelanin is present, the color of the hair is darker; if less eumelanin is present, the hair is lighter. Levels of melanin can vary over time causing a person’s hair color to change, and it is possible to have hair follicles of more than one color on the same person. Particular hair colors are often associated with ethnic groups, while gray or white hair is associated with age.

Two types of pigment give hair its color: eumelanin and pheomelanin. Pheomelanin colors hair orange and red. All humans have some pheomelanin in their hair. Eumelanin, which has two subtypes of black or brown, determines the darkness of the hair color. A low concentration of brown eumelanin results in blond hair, whereas a higher concentration of brown eumelanin results in brown hair. High amounts of black eumelanin result in black hair, while low concentrations result in white hair.

Pheomelanin is more bio-chemically stable than black eumelanin, but less bio-chemically stable than brown eumelanin, so it breaks down more slowly when oxidized. This is why bleach gives darker hair a reddish tinge during the artificial coloring process. As the pheomelanin continues to break down, the hair will gradually become red, then orange, then yellow, and finally white.

One phenotype (brown/blonde) has a dominant brown allele and a recessive blond allele. A person with a brown allele will have brown hair; a person with no brown alleles will be blond. This explains why two brown-haired parents can produce a blond-haired child. However, this can only be possible if both parent are heterozygous in hair color- meaning that both of them have one dominant brown hair allele and one recessive allele for blond hair, but as dominant traits mask recessive ones the parents both have brown hair. The possibility of which trait may appear in an offspring can be determined with a Punnett square.

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