It’s become incredibly en vogue to have grey – or silver hair – and it’s no longer the reserve of older people.
It’s one thing, though, to voluntarily embrace the greys. It’s quite another when they creep up on you, especially if you’re not keen on the current trend.
To help you either embrace, or get rid of grey hair, we’ve taken a look at the science about what causes white hair in the first place, and how to stem the tide.
As we age, so do the cells in our hair follicles and what happens here is that they produce less melanin (pigment), which causes strands of our hair to become less coloured.
And while it is true that as we age, we’re more likely to get grey hair, it’s not just ageing that causes us to lose the pigment in our hair. If your parents or grandparents developed grey hair at an early age, chances are you will too. It’s in your genetics.
A study from 2009 found that grey hair itself, though, is a buildup of hydrogen peroxide in your hair particles. Hydrogen peroxide is a chemical that your hair cells make naturally and just as hydrogen peroxide in bleach and hair dye help your hair go blonde, when levels of it build up in the hair, it effectively dyes it from the inside out.
Usually, an enzyme called catalase breaks down the hydrogen peroxide produced naturally in our hair into water and oxygen. As we get older, we produce less catalase and hydrogen peroxide builds up.
Other, external factors, can also cause the production of catalase to slow down or become disrupted.
This includes stress – including sleep problems, anxiety, change in appetite and high blood pressure; autoimmune diseases, like alopecia and vitiligo; a lack of Vitamin B-12; hormonal changes caused by a thyroid problem — such as hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism; and there have been links found between smoking and premature grey hair.
In addition to catalase, there is another enzyme called glutathione peroxidase – an antioxidant produced in the liver – that does a similar job and you can buy glutathione supplements. Eating grass-fed whey as well as foods rich in Vitamin C will help.
As will increasing Vitamin B-12, stopping smoking and exercising more. Working out boosts your body’s antioxidant levels, including glutathione.
The Inkey List also sells a scalp treatment designed to reactivate the pigment in the hair follicles. Called the Amino Acid Anti Gray Scalp Treatment, it contains 1% Darkenyl, 1% Betaine and 1% panthenol to maintain moisture levels.
This is an overnight treatment which The Inkey List very boldly claims that it not only helps to pre-empt but restore loss of pigment.
If you’re actually ready to embrace the grey, or they’re getting out of hand and you just want to go all in, celebrity hair stylist Paul Edmonds recently told mamabella to start off with highlights and gradually increase the dye job over time.
The top tip if you want to make more of a bold change – and to even out the grey – is to make your grey colour all one shade with less dimension. This is the best way to turn this sign of ageing into more of a style statement.
If you’re, instead, looking for a short-term fix, Edmonds recommends changing the tone of your grey highlights by pre-lightening the ends.
This will remove any colour residue from previous dye jobs.
If you’re a bit more committed to this trend/process, make your grey growth look less noticeable by lifting the hair line and making it lighter.
If you’re ready to embrace the greys – and why the hell not! – you need to be aware that the changes that mean it loses its pigment also change the texture and feel of the hair.
Grey hair tends to feel more dry because your sebaceous glands, which are attached to your hair follicles secrete less oil than usual. Grey hairs can also sometimes feel thicker and coarser.
This means that, just as you change your skincare as you get older, or even buy new shampoos and conditioners when you go from blonde to brunette (as an example), it’s worth switching things up to manage and nourish your greys.
Investing in volumising and moisturising shampoos and conditioners are your first step; the former because your hair also becomes finer with age and the latter to rehydrate and nourish your hair. Check out our guides to the best shampoo and best conditioner.
If you’re used to having more bounce in your hair naturally, try using styling tools to create extra volume from the heat. We’ve recently started using the GHD Rise and can, so far, vouch for it. If you do opt for this, don’t forget to use heat-protective products to keep your hair in its best condition.
It’s also worth shopping around for some hydrating hair masks, enriched with natural oils to keep that soft and supple feel to your hair. You can find out more in our best hair masks guide.
If you’re actually going grey and are here for it, the key thing to remember is that grey hair comes with a different feel to the texture of your hair lines.
This means that upkeep has never been more important; pamper your hair with cuts and styling treatments. Smoothing and shining is also crucial to keep the appearance of a soft and light texture to your hair.
Victoria is founder and editor-in-chief of mamabella, freelance journalist and Mum. She has a passion for empowering people to feel beautiful whatever their age, size, skin type and budget