Age-induced hair greying - the multiple effects of oxidative stress

Int J Cosmet Sci. 2013 Dec;35(6):532-8. doi: 10.1111/ics.12090. Epub 2013 Oct 10.


An obvious sign of ageing is hair greying, or the loss of pigment production and deposition within the hair shafts. Numerous mechanisms, acting at different levels and follicular locations, contribute to hair greying, ranging from melanocyte stem cells defects to follicular melanocyte death. One key issue that is in common to these processes is oxidative damage. At the hair follicle stem cells niche, oxidative stress, accelerated by B-cell lymphoma 2 gene (BCL-2) depletion, leads to selective apoptosis and diminution of melanocyte stem cells, reducing the repopulation of newly formed anagen follicles. Melanotic bulbar melanocytes express high levels of BCL-2 to enable survival from melanogenesis- and ultraviolet A (UVA)-induced reactive oxygen species (ROS) attacks. With ageing, the bulbar melanocyte expression of anti-oxidant proteins such as BCL-2, and possibly TRP-2, is reduced, and the dedicated enzymatic anti-oxidant defence system throughout the follicle weakens, resulting in enhanced oxidative stress. A marked reduction in catalase expression and activity results in millimolar accumulation of hydrogen peroxide, contributing to bulbar melanocyte malfunction and death. Interestingly, amelanotic melanocytes at the outer root sheath (ORS) are somewhat less affected by these processes and survive for longer time even within the white, ageing hair follicles. Better understanding of the overtime susceptibility of melanocytes to oxidative stress at the different follicular locations might yield clues to possible therapies for the prevention and reversal of hair greying.

Keywords: BCL-2; aging; catalase; grey hair; melanocyte; oxidative stress.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / metabolism*
  • Genes, bcl-2 / physiology
  • Hair Color / physiology*
  • Hair Follicle / cytology
  • Hair Follicle / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Intramolecular Oxidoreductases / metabolism
  • Melanins / metabolism*
  • Melanocytes / cytology
  • Melanocytes / metabolism*
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase / metabolism
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism


  • Melanins
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • PTEN Phosphohydrolase
  • PTEN protein, human
  • Intramolecular Oxidoreductases
  • dopachrome isomerase