grey hair what cause grey hair

Grey hair: What causes grey hair and how to get rid of it – or embrace it

24th March 2024 | Author: Victoria Woollaston-Webber

Grey hair is a wonderful sign of ageing but if you’d rather delay its arrival – or even if you’re looking for ways to properly embrace it – we’ve got everything you need to know

It’s become incredibly en vogue to have grey – or silver hair – and it’s no longer the reserve of older people. As of the start of 2024, grey hair has remained a trending topic on Pinterest, with a 556% increase in search volume.

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.

What causes grey hair?

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.

Does stress cause grey hair?

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
  • There have also been links found between smoking and premature grey hair

FURTHER READING: What stress does to your skin and hair – and how to reduce and combat it

How to stop grey hair

In addition to catalase, there is another enzyme called glutathione peroxidase – an antioxidant produced in the liver – that does a similar job.

The good news is that you can buy glutathione supplements, such as the Feel Amazing Liposomal Glutathione Liquid (£18.99).

Another way to stop grey hair in its tracks is by 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. You can read more about the best foods for skin and antioxidants in our skin food guide

How to “go grey” properly

how to get rid of grey hair or dye hair greyGetty Images/iStockphoto

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 hairstylist 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 hairline and making it lighter.

According to Nick Drewe, Trends Expert at WeThrift, getting your hair cut can also help.

“An easy way to make going grey a bit simpler is to bite the bullet and go for the chop, at least when you start out. Having shorter hair makes it easier to blend your natural grey hairs into the rest of your hair than having them sticking out like a sore thumb. Not only this, but you’ll actually find that having shorter hair makes the upkeep of grey hairs a lot easier to manage and style as you go through the transition phase.”

How to look after grey hair

What does hair toner do to hairGetty Images/iStockphoto

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 when you buy new shampoos and conditioners after going from blonde to brunette (as an example), it’s worth switching things up to manage and nourish your greys.

“There’s nothing worse than spending lots of money on new hair colour to find it starts going yellow after only a few weeks,” continued Drewe. “The trouble with going grey or a platinum shade of blonde is that highlights will start to get a bit brassy looking between your trips to the salon. To avoid this without having to have more salon visits than necessary, consider buying a purple shampoo that helps keep the yellowing look at bay. ”

Investing in volumising and moisturising shampoos and conditioners are also a good 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. We also talk more about this in our guide on How to get volume in hair.

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. We also highly rate the Revlon One-Step Hair Dryer and Volumizer.

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 hairlines.

This means that upkeep has never been more important; pamper your hair with cuts and styling treatments. Smoothing and shining are also crucial to keep the appearance of a soft and light texture to your hair.

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