It is generally accepted that hair loses its pigment and turns grey with age although there is also a commonly held misconception that this can happen as a result of shock. Shock can make a person’s hair fall out, but it won’t turn it grey. Before we go on to look at the science behind greying hair or graying hair, let’s just sort out the small issue of spelling. Both spellings are correct; if you are using the English spelling, you will have grey hair and if you are using the American spelling, you will have gray hair.
It is the substance known as “melanin” that is responsible for our hair colour and simply put, the more we have of it, the darker our natural hair colour will be. Naturally fair or blonde haired people have less melanin in their hair follicles than red, brown and black haired people. Regardless of our natural hair colour though, the amount of pigment or melanin stored in each hair follicle decreases with age and as this pigmentation declines, our hair turns greyer until eventually, if genetically programmed to do so, it turns white.
If your greying hair goes on to become white, this is a sign that there is no longer any melanin left in the follicle at all. This does not necessarily mean that you will experience hair loss ; it simply means that it will no longer display a natural colour and will revert to being as white as it was, when you were born. Even those born with a head of dark hair, had white hair originally; the colour of their hair at birth is a reflection of the amount of melanin stored in their hair follicles.
In both men and women, hair normally starts going grey between the ages of 35 and 50 but in some cases this process will manifest much earlier. The exact point at which your hair starts to turn grey is genetically programmed and will vary tremendously, from person to person. As with hair loss, which is passed down genetically, you should look to your parents and grandparents for any recurring patterns.
Early greying of the hair can be a symptom of a premature aging syndrome, it can be the result of gene or hormone related factors, it can be down to external factors like climate, pollution and toxins or medical conditions like Poliosis. Poliosis causes localised patches of white hair to appear in streaks across the head. This condition is also known as the “Mallen Streak” and is famously sported by TV presenter Dickie Davies.
So what should we do about grey or graying hair?
There is a school of thought that says “Going grey is a natural part of the ageing process and a sign of maturity and wisdom”. This phrase is often followed by another which speaks of “Growing old gracefully”. These are wonderful concepts which many people adhere to, but it cannot be denied that in this modern age, where youth and beauty are held as Gods in their own right, going grey just like hair loss, can strike fear into the hearts and minds of many people and therein lies the problem.
There are many hair products on the market today that profess to be able to turn back time; reverse the effects of ageing, eradicate grey hair and make you look young again. Some of these products, including hair sprays, mousses, gels, hair dyes, leave-in conditioners and shampoos are very effective and work well, others, it must be said, do not. Some can cause damage to the hair strands or even hair loss, if used too often or in too great a quantity, so if you are going to re-colour your hair, whichever product you use, always read the label and do your research.
About hair dyes
Among the most damaging treatments used when trying to cover grey hair are hair dyes. Many hair dyes contain harsh chemicals which can often have severe after effects leading to possible hair loss. Always check the label for the product’s list of ingredients and do your research. It is fair to say that an ingredient that might be harmful to one person’s hair, may not be harmful to another’s, but it is equally fair to say that if there is a groundswell of opinion out there about a particular ingredient, you might do better to avoid it, better still, ask your trichologist.