LONDON — An international team of researchers has for the first time identified a gene for graying hair, confirming graying has a genetic component and is not just environmental, according to a study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.

The study analyzed a population of over 6,000 people with varied ancestry across Latin America to identify new genes associated with hair color, graying, density and shape.

The gene identified, IRF4, is known to play a role in hair color but this is the first time it has been associated with the graying of hair. This gene is involved in regulating production and storage of melanin, the pigment that determines hair, skin and eye color, according to the study.

Hair graying is caused by an absence of melanin in hair so researchers want to find out IRF4’s role in this process. Understanding how IRF4 influences hair graying could help the development of new cosmetic applications that change the appearance of hair as it grows in the follicle by slowing or blocking the graying of hair.

“We have found the first genetic association to hair graying, which could provide a good model to understand aspects of the biology of human aging. Understanding the mechanism of the IRF4 graying association could also be relevant for developing ways to delay hair graying,”said Professor Andres Ruiz-Linares from the University College London, one of the study authors.

Another gene, PRSS53, which was found to influence hair curliness, was investigated by the University of Bradford’s Center for Skin Sciences as part of the study.

The team also found additional genes associated with hair including EDAR for beard thickness and hair shape; FOXL2 for eyebrow thickness and PAX3 for monobrow prevalence. PNA/Xinhua/