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Obama's Other Gray Matter

After just 44 days on the job, the 47-year-old president is showing a bit of gray in his hair.
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 5, 2009; Page C01

Forty-five days to a grayer you!

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Are times so stressful -- a plummeting economy and two wars -- that our young president is going grayer a mere six weeks into the job?

Maybe 754 days is more like it. That's how long it's been, if you can believe it, since a baby-faced senator stood in the winter chill in Springfield, Ill., to declare his candidacy for president. With each debate, after every primary fight, it seems Barack Obama's tightly clipped hair became just a dash saltier.

"The gray, it's not a whole lot, but he has a few strands," explained Zariff, the president's Chicago barber for 17 years, who goes by a single name. "It's quite normal for his age group."

And it's an article of faith, backed by photographic evidence, that the Oval Office ages the men in it. Look no further than George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Obama, 47, foresaw his own arrival at a stage of hair life many men prefer to describe as "distinguished."

"Seniors, listen up. I'm getting gray hair myself," Obama quipped at a campaign stop in Indiana last spring.

"The gray is coming quick," he told supporters a few months later in Colorado. "By the time I'm sworn in, I will look the part."

The gray came so quickly, in the midst of his general election battle against 72-year-old John McCain, that the blogosphere was abuzz that Obama might have been dyeing his hair to appear more seasoned. But Zariff dismissed that rumor, saying he never dyed Obama's hair -- "100 percent for sure," he said.

Well, there's always the kitchen sink, and some keen-eyed Obama watchers have pored over pictures and wondered whether some weeks, that gray had been washed away.

Obama's gray hairs are most prominent around his temples and atop his head, visible more clearly just before his regular trims. Theories abound as to why human hair turns gray, and a team of European scientists advanced the latest one last week: Going gray, they say, is caused by wear and tear of hair follicles, which creates a massive a buildup of hydrogen peroxide that blocks the normal synthesis of melanin, which is the natural pigment of human hair, which bleaches the pigment from within, which turns hair gray.

Phew. That's a mouthful.

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