Why, How And When Will My Hair Turn Grey?

Many people react to the greying of their hair as if it were a disease or a condition. The truth is, greying hair is just a natural part of maturing. When you grow older, you hair may naturally turn grey, white or silver. This is a sign of maturity, and remember that in George Washington’s day, it was also a sign of wisdom. That’s why important men and leaders in those days wore powdered wigs.

Why does hair turn grey?

Every hair on your head consists of three parts:

  1. The shaft is the coloured portion of the hair that you can see.
  2. The root is the anchor of your hair.
  3. The follicle surrounds the root and provides pigment (melanin) to the hair.

The colour of your hair is, in part, determined by the amount of melanin the follicle supplies. You may have red, brown, black, blonde or grey hair depending upon heredity and your hair follicles’ melanin production.

As you age, your hair follicles naturally produce less melanin, so it is quite normal to begin going grey with the passage of time. In fact, dermatologists use a rule of thumb to describe this phenomenon. They call it the “50-50-50 Rule”. This means that 50% of people will have 50% grey hair by age 50.

Some people go grey earlier than that, though. Dependent upon heredity, diet and general lifestyle habits, some begin to see grey hairs in their teens, twenties, thirties or forties. Look to your ancestors to get an idea of when you will begin to go grey.

Melanin isn’t the only culprit

Your ethnic background may also determine how soon and how much you go grey. If you are Caucasian, you are more likely to have grey hair at a younger age. If you have red hair, you are even more likely to go grey young, but you won’t notice it as much.

Although it may seem as if people with dark hair go grey earlier than people with light hair, the fact is it is just more noticeable in brown or black hair than in red or blonde hair.

If you are Asian, you will keep your smooth black tresses longer, and people of African descent seem to avoid going grey until well into their later years.

Take good care of yourself to avoid grey hair

Lifestyle also seems to have some effect on the speed at which you go grey. You can’t do much about your heredity, but you can take positive, measurable steps to live a healthy lifestyle by exercising regularly, eating right, avoiding smoking, sleeping well, managing stress and practicing good personal hygiene habits.

Stress or shock will not turn your hair white overnight, but it can take a toll and accelerate the rate of greying. If you are undergoing tremendous stress (e.g. chemotherapy or distressing life events) be sure to take your vitamins (especially B vitamins) and eat a balanced and nourishing whole food diet to help you cope.

Maintaining a positive lifestyle can help prevent going grey, and it can also help you cultivate a positive outlook so that grey hair doesn’t distress you so greatly!

Good personal care habits can help

In addition to reduced melanin production, the natural production of hydrogen peroxide in the hair follicles can contribute to the greying of your hair. Our bodies naturally produce hydrogen peroxide, and it can build up in your hair follicles with the passage of time.

Chemicals from hair care products can also build up on the scalp and cause follicles to become blocked, contributing to both greying and hair loss. Be sure to use gentle, natural products on your hair and scalp (try sulphate free shampoo, for example) to promote healthy follicles, roots and hair.

Stimulating treatments such as massage, hot oil treatments laced with bracing essential oils such as tea tree oil and regular, daily exercise can help increase blood circulation in your scalp. This can help prevent the buildup of hydrogen peroxide in your hair follicles.

Can you put off greying indefinitely?

The speed at which you go grey is dependent on so many factors that no one can say whether or not you can stave it off forever. Even with the very best of care, sooner or later the melanin forming cells or the hair stem cells may wear out. If and when this happens, you are far better off if you can exercise a mindset that accepts greying as a natural sign of maturity and a badge of honour.

If this just doesn’t seem possible to you, you may wish to try colouring your hair. Be aware that grey hair can be resistant to colour, and you may have better success using a shade that is a bit lighter than your natural colour. This is also a good idea in terms of how it will look with your skin tone. When melanin production changes in the hair follicles, it also changes in the skin. This can result in a lighter complexion.

Also, be advised that you should not pluck grey hairs when you initially see them. Doing this can change the texture of your hair because it damages the hair follicles. This can result in coarser hair growing out. Coarse hair is more difficult to style and manage and more difficult to colour.