Why does hair color change during puberty?

Why does hair color change during puberty?

My child was a very bald baby but she morphed into a towheaded two-year old. Her hair stayed a beautiful blonde shade for years but it's slowly been darkening. I noticed that it didn't get nearly as light over this past summer as it did in the past. When she brought home her school picture last week, I was a bit taken aback by just how very not blonde her hair is. I'm now parenting a brunette.

This should not surprise me. The exact same color change happened to my hair when I was a tween. In fact, it is a common phenomenon. But why do children enter adolescence with one shade of hair color and exit it with another? What is it about puberty that makes hair darken?

Short answer: Genes.

Longer answer: The genes for hair color don't really switch "on" fully until kids age and hit puberty. Genes control the amount of pigment and the less pigment, the lighter the hair. When genes switch "on," that triggers pigment production and child's hair starts to darken.

Genes also control the timing of this change, hence why my parents pointed out on our latest visit that my daughter's hair is the exact shade that mine was at her age.

Scientists do not quite know exactly what it is that activates, or turns on, the genes. Scientists guess, though, that it's hormones. Isn't it always hormones?

Hair color can continue darkening for well into adolescence. My hair continued to darken and I was asked in high school why I was coloring it darker. I wasn't. This USA Today article said it can continue well past puberty and sometimes even into one's 30s and 40s. That's about the same time that hair can start turning gray, so it's feasible that hair will always be changing color.

Does this happen to both boys and girls? Yes. Researchers have found similar hair darkening in both genders.

What should a parent do? Talk about it with your child. Assure him/her that it is completely normal. Talking about the color of hair on a child's head can be a good way to initiate a conversation about the many body changes that come with puberty, and perhaps a less awkward start to such conversations than others.

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