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There are many urban myths about why our hair turns grey. Is there a link between grey hair and stress? Can a single scare turn a person’s hair white? Are smokers more prone to going grey early? It’s a fact of life that sooner or later we all end up with grey hair. Or is it? We’re busting the myths about grey hair causes and separating fact from fiction, revealing how to keep your hair healthy and young-looking for as long as possible.
Fact. There’s no escaping it forever. Your hair colour is created by melanin, a naturally created chemical in hair follicles. Melanin-creating cells begin to die as we age and without the same levels of pigment, hair strands get lighter and lighter, thus becoming silver, grey, and, once no melanin is left, white.When a hair follicle finally stops creating melanin, it won’t be able to grow coloured strands again. Certain outside factors can contribute somewhat to premature greying, but the odds are good that everyone will go grey eventually, if they live long enough.
Fact. Multiple studies have shown nutrition to be a deciding factor in when your hair turns grey. One study in particular linked a lack of dietary vitamin B, folic acid and biotin to premature greying.1 Another unrelated study discovered a possible connection between a lack of iron, calcium, and vitamin D3 and greying hair.2We know that once hair follicles stop creating pigment, they never will again, so switching to a healthy diet now probably won’t bring your colour back but it certainly seems possible that maintaining one could help prevent premature grey hairs from showing up in the first place.
Fiction. This is one best saved for the movies. Once the melanin in your hair follicles stops being produced, it stays that way. The only way for your hair to change colour is to dye it. It’s common to hear people blame their grey hair on a single stressful event or a big fright but greys are far more likely to come as a result of your genes. If your parents went grey early, there’s a good chance you will too.3
Fact. Grey hair and stress do seem to be related. Parents who blame their grey hair on years of dealing with unruly children may be correct. A recent study undertaken in Turkey found numerous risk factors associated with premature grey hair. One thing they all had in common is they were all factors that caused an increase in oxidative stress in the body.4
Fiction. Just like the myth of a single stressful event causing grey hair, dye will not permanently make you go grey either. Again, your genes are responsible for deciding whether or not your hair goes grey early—not dye, harsh shampoos, stress or frights, although as noted above, chronic oxidative stress may well contribute to early greying.Cigarettes turn hair grey. Fact or fiction?
Fact. It’s another reason to put down the cigarettes. Unlike a single stressful event and hair treatments, cigarettes are an outside factor that can contribute to premature greying but studies have shown that smokers tend to have earlier onset of hair greying. One study in particular found smokers were two and a half times more likely to develop premature grey hair than nonsmokers.5
Fiction. Don’t worry, you’re not going to go to bed and wake up having suddenly gone grey. Your head has somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 individual hairs on it. Each one has its own individual cycle of growing, falling out and regrowing at a rate of roughly one centimetre per month. On top of this, once a strand of hair grows out from the scalp, its colour will not change. For your hair to turn grey overnight, every hair would have to fall out at once and regrow with no melanin.
The most important thing to remember with grey hair is that it will eventually come to all of us and is a natural part of living. If you’re really not happy with it speak to your hairdresser about a good-quality, safe dye, but if you can embrace it, you might find it suits you more than you expected.
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