Noticed more grey appearing? The trichologists reveal what actually causes grey hair and why chocolate might help.
We’re lucky silver hair is on trend, as the last few months have seen our previously vibrant hair colour fast forward to grey. Normally, we’d just book an appointment, but with salon slots rarer than the white peacocks we’re starting to resemble, many of us are taking matters into our own hands. We’ve learnt - with the right colour products, tools and tricks - covering grey hairs at home can be surprisingly successful, plus temporary solutions are available to make your salon colour last until that next hairdresser appointment.
If you're embracing the switch to silver, growing grey out can be a positive experience. As the person who actually started the metallic hair movement, Josh Wood knows a thing or two about how to make a graceful transition to grey. Just look at his client, super model Kristen McMenamy - a prime example of Josh's support of the shade. What's Josh's advice for those looking to follow in Kristen's footsteps? "Grey hair tends to be more wiry or coarser than naturally pigmented hair, so if you’re going to wear grey, it’s all about knowing how to manage it," says Josh. Most of all, "If you going to do it, own it." That we will, thanks Josh.
But first, we have some questions. What actually causes grey hair? Is there a way to prevent it? How about our genetics? Are certain hair colours more susceptible to silver? And what on earth does chocolate have to do with it? Spoiler alert - the magic ingredient could actually stop us going grey!
To fill in the grey areas in our knowledge, we turn to two experts in the field of trichology - Eva Proudman, Vice Chairman of The Institute of Trichologists and Ricardo Villa Nova, trichologist and founder of 212.2 Hair Doctors. Let's learn about turning silver...
Proof is in the pigment
"Grey hair has no pigment at all. It’s gone," Josh Wood reveals. But our hair doesn’t start that way. The once-vibrant colour we sported pre-silver was surely loaded with pigment. So what happened? It’s all to do with cells called melanocytes, and the melanin (or pigment) they produce Ricardo Villa Nova explains. When we’re young, melanocytes are purposed with pumping our hair full of colour, resulting in the natural red, brown or blonde locks we know and love. The problem is, these melanocyte cells have a limit, and need to renew in order to keep working. That’s where age comes in. "Once our body’s cellular regeneration gets obstructed, some melanocytes can stop producing pigment altogether," Ricardo explains. "Hair then changes to a white/grey colour," he tells us. Is there anything else that can cause the switch to silver?
Shocking stuff: how stress causes grey hair
Is grey hair caused by stress? We’ve all heard rumours a sudden shock can turn your hair white, but with a recent study by Nobel prize winner, Robert Lefkowitz actually proving chronic stress is linked to DNA damage, and ultimately grey hair, we’re curious to find out more. "The medical name for the sudden whitening of the hair is canities subita,” says Eva. "The best explanation for it is not that the hair changes colour, but that the pigmented hairs fall out," she explains. "Hair loss can also be exacerbated by stress," Eva adds, "So, a severe shock could trigger hair loss, but with only the coloured hairs falling out, leaving someone who already has some grey with a whole head of white hair." Does grey hair indicate poor health? No, not necessarily. Ricardo adds that "a trauma can really have an impact on your whole body’s metabolic rate and can weaken cellular performance, including melanocytes," causing less pigment production. So, all we need to do is avoid terrifying situations, right? Oh, and find a way to prevent those greys from appearing in the first place.
Can you reverse grey hair? "Grey hair is a natural process that can’t be stopped," Eva clarifies. However, there may be a few things we can do to try and pause the process. What is the average age to go grey? There's no 'right' age to go grey. "We often forget to really look after our scalps, but scalp health is an essential for any healthy hair," Eva highlights. If there was ever an excuse to invest in a good scalp scrub and serum, this is it. Just be sure to handle your scalp with care, especially those with sensitive skin conditions, who can be more susceptible to the scalp-health-to-silver-hair link. "Skin conditions, such as vitiligo (an autoimmune skin disease), eczema, or scalp infections may also cause greying," Eva explains. As can thyroid disease and a vitamin B12 deficiency, which we're relieved to discover can be managed through diet.
Factor in food - some grey hair causes
"Poor diets that are low in iron, vitamin D and the complex of B vitamins can play a role in the process of hair turning grey," Eva tells us. And it’s not just vitamin deficiencies that are culprit to causing grey hair. "A good, balanced diet including foods with strong antioxidant properties can help to combat damage from free radicals," Eva adds. Why is that important? "Free radicals cause oxidative stress," Eva explains, and with that comes damage to the hair and a subsequent buildup of hydrogen peroxide in the hair follicle. "For example, people who smoke or are exposed to second-hand smoke may find their hair turning grey due to the damage from the free radicals in the smoke," says Eva. Luckily, our diet can help to combat this process. What should we be eating to fight greys from free radicals? "Foods such as dark chocolate, pecan nuts, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, kale, red cabbage, spinach and beetroot" says Eva. Ricardo supports the shopping list too, and one item in particular. “I personally believe good antioxidants such as chocolate can help, as it boots endorphins and allows cell excitement,” he explains. You heard it here first, people - chocolate really is good for you… or, good for your natural hair colour at least.
The colour link
Talking of natural hair colour, is it just us, or does darker hair seem to go grey faster than blonde? Both Ricardo and Eva are quick to clarify that there's no correlation between natural hair colour and our propensity to grey. The speed of greying is in our genetics, they tell us. It’s just a case of contrast, says Josh Wood. "The lighter you are, the more the grey blends in," Josh explains. "But when you’ve got a darker head of hair with a streak of grey in it, it looks very black and white, like piano keys," says Josh. However, for those with fairer hair, you might have noticed hairs turning darker before the greys appear. Eva delves into why this might be happening. "There are two specific types of melanin that together determine our natural hair colour - eumelanin and pheomelanin," Eva breaks down. “Eumelanin is responsible for how dark your hair is, meaning that people with lots of it tend to have dark brown or black hair. Pheomelanin, on the other hand, affects the warmth of your hair. Redheads, therefore, will have more pheomelanin than their ashy-haired friends,” she adds. So what does this have to do with hair turning darker before going grey? Eva says it’s simply a case of coincidence. “Eumelanin production increases as we age, and as we age we tend to go grey. Therefore hair may get darker before the greys take over,” she explains.
Coarse of action
For some of us, going grey isn’t actually the issue. Silver we can get on board with. It’s just, the quality of our hair seems to have deteriorated with the pigment. That’s because of elasticity, Ricardo tells us. "Some grey hair lacks elasticity and can have a coarser texture as a result," he explains. "Our sebaceous glands become less productive as we age, and sebum is the natural moisturiser for the hair," Eva adds. For that reason, "grey hair can change in texture. It is usually finer, but may feel coarse. Sometimes the hair may also develop a curl or kink," says Eva. What can we do to get the best texture out of our grey hair? "Protein and B5-rich conditioning treatments are recommended" says Ricardo, plus "omega 3 and 6, hyaluronic acid and gerovital supplements." He also recommends "a more frequent use of masks or repairing, hydrating formulas” and looking at the pH and hydration in your hair care, which can also affect cellular performance. The result is supported pigment production, but also "strength, density, shine, and hair growth," says Ricardo. The way you style your grey hair will make a difference, too.
"A great cut is the first port of call to keep any hair looking at its best," says Eva. "Talk to your stylist and look at maybe adding layers into the hair to keep the grey looking bouncy and full," she suggests. On top of a great haircut, Ricardo urges us to consider the sharpness of our grey or white tone. "Some grey can turn yellow and brassy, which can be ageing," he explains. Eva also encourages us to wash our grey hair more frequently, as "grey hair shows the dirt more quickly than any other hair colour," she explains. That’s why both Eva and Ricardo recommend a purple-based shampoo, toner or gloss for grey, white or silver hair. "Purple based shampoos can give the grey hair a nice bright tone and keep it looking shiny too," says Eva. "My particular favourite is the Milkshake Silver Shine. It smells wonderful, delivers a great, clean tone and adds a super shine to the hair," Eva reveals. The final step in your grey hair maintenance? "Grey hair is more susceptible to UV damage from the sun, so invest in a good SPF to add protection," Eva advises. Should you pluck grey hair? No! It'll only grow back the same, so it's best to colour it rather than remove it.
Not quite ready to embrace your grey? Grey hair solutions: here's how to cover up until your colourist is available again.
The simplest way to stretch out your colour between salon appointments is to use a root concealer, says Josh Wood. "If your hair is tinted brown and you have grey hair coming through, you’ll need quite a lot of root concealer, so layer up" he advises. "Start with a clean, washed, conditioned head of hair, paint our blending brush onto wet hair, and then dry it in with your hairdryer. You can then top it up with either a tinted dry shampoo or root marker. It really is about that density," Josh tells us.