Hair color appears to come in a variety of shades but there are actually only two main pigments of melanin in our hair that determine hair color: Eumelanin and Pheomelanin.
Eumelanin is a black/brown pigment that in large amounts colors hair black, in medium amounts turns it brown and in lesser amounts turns hair blonde. Pheomelanin is a red/yellow pigment that adds red color to our hair and is also present in those with blonde hair. Mixtures of both types of pigments create the diverse hair colors we see in people and determine why brown hair may be more auburn-red or golden-brown.
This next part is a little more complicated to explain. Eumelanin and pheomelanin are both made up of proteins that rely on an amino acid called tyrosine, a substance needed in the chain of reactions that produces the pigmented melanin in our hair. We get tyrosine from eating protein foods such as eggs, milk and chicken. Pheomelanin gets its red/yellow color from another amino acid called cysteine which is made with the element sulfur and tints the pheomelanin into give women red hair.
What is interesting to note is that women with true red hair mostly have pheomelanin not just in their hair, but in their skin as well. Their eumelanin is “blocked” so women with red hair are usually fair complected. Eumelanin pigmented melanin acts to protect our skin from the harmful effects of UV rays. Since they are less able to produce eumelanin these women tend to burn more easily when their skin is exposed to the sun.
Gray hair typically makes us think someone is aging or maybe has had a stressful experience or illness. However, scientists have recently discovered that the real cause of gray hair has nothing to do with any of these thoughts. Researchers have discovered that gray hair is really caused from a build up of hydrogen peroxide that blocks the normal production of melanin in our hair.
Apparently our hair follicles normally makes small amounts of hydrogen peroxide but as we age, our production of hydrogen peroxide increases and acts to bleach out our hair similarly to the way blondes use peroxide to keep their locks looking light.