These Are the Real Reasons Your Hair Turns Grey

Woman with Gray Hair

When you spotted your first grey hair (like us!) you may have panicked, thinking: “Um, am I officially old?!” It came seemingly out of nowhere in our twenties, and we feared the worst as a result. We’ve heard almost every explanation under the sun regarding why our strands lose color (it’s caused by stress, early onset aging, etc.), but the actual truth remains elusive. To get to the root — pun very much intended — of things, we talked to dermatologists and hair experts to break it down while debunking any and all myths. Consider this your definitive guide to greys.

How It Happens

Your follicles contain a certain number of pigment cells that produce melanin, the substance responsible for your hair’s color. As we get older, that melanin production slows down, turning it grey or white. According to Dove hair expert and dermatologist Francesca Fusco, MD, a single grey strand can appear in your twenties, but generally start popping up more regularly in your thirties. Anything earlier than that is called “premature grey,” which Fusco stresses is not something to worry over.

"No one should be alarmed if they notice their hair turning grey at what they think is an earlier age,” she says. “There is no one age where one can say it is normal for hair to grey."

It’s All In the Genes

According to a study in the British Journal of Dermatology, greys — and the rate at which yours sprout — can be linked to gender and genetics. Researchers found that men generally have more grey hair than women; and for them, greying usually begins at the temples and in the sideburns. In women, silver strands tend to start appearing at the perimeter of the hairline.

They also identified the rate at which any individual’s hair turns grey depends on genetics. Greying rates are slower for people of Asian and African descent, with participants of those backgrounds showing fewer silver strands than Caucasian counterparts of the same age. Furthermore, trichologist and director of communications of Philip Kingsley®, Anabel Kingsley, notes that if either of your parents had hair turn grey early in their twenties, it is probable that you will too.

Other Causes of Grey Hair

Beyond gender and genes, any other causes behind greying are all speculative. Dr. Dennis Gross, dermatologist and founder of Dr. Dennis Gross Dermatology says other health problems — such as a lack of vitamin B12, thyroid disease, and vitiligo — have been linked to hair losing its original color. (More on this later.) 

But what isn’t to blame for your strands turning silver is you. There are many misconceptions out there about grey hair, but none of them are backed up with any proof. “[Claims that] sudden stress or shock can turn hair gray overnight is not true,” Fusco says. “An old wives’ tale I‘ve heard is that if you pluck one gray hair, multiple gray hairs will grow in, but it’s not true; plucking of hairs has no influence on subsequent growth of new gray hairs.” So if you can’t resist the urge to pull one out, Fusco says you can pluck it — just know that you could be irritating your scalp and (of course) you’ll be down one hair.

“Treatment” Options

Gross explains that because the most common causes for greys are age and genetics, there isn’t much you can do to reverse or stop the effects. Instead, he says to use these silver strands as a sign to test for deficiencies. “If you are experiencing premature gray hair, it is important to visit your doctor to conduct blood tests so that you can determine the exact cause,” he says. “In rare cases, premature graying can be a result of health issues like thyroid disease or autoimmune diseases. A blood test will also help determine if you have a vitamin B12 deficiency.” Be sure to consult with your physician if you are concerned about the origins of your silver strands.

Dye is an obvious choice to cover them up — discover the multiple options for concealing grays here. However, as more grays appear, you might end up embracing them. And, if you want to maintain the white hair look, you have to take excellent care of it. Fusco recommends keeping silvery hair bright, hydrated, and soft (and the scalp dandruff-free) with the Dove DermaCare Scalp® Soothing Moisture Shampoo ($5), which is pH-balanced to help overall strand and scalp health.

Kingsley agrees that hydration is important for grey strands, as they are often finer and drier. She recommends using a volumizing shampoo to amplify them (we like R+Co® Dallas Thickening Shampoo, $26), a more moisturizing conditioner (such as Klorane® Conditioner With Mango Butter, $20) and a hair product containing SPF (try Clarins® Sun Care Oil Spray SPF 30, $36) if you’re sitting in the sun for a prolonged period of time. (Sun exposure will only dry out your hair further!)

You might also want to change some lifestyle habits in the name of protecting your strands. Kingsley says perms can cause discoloration and turn grey hair slightly yellow, as can smoking. “If such a situation occurs, use a blue or purple-colored shampoo such as the Philip Kingsley Pure Silver Shampoo ($14) to camouflage it,” she recommends. The cool tones of the shampoo will help to cancel out the look of any yellow in your strands, leaving them a vibrant, luminous silver.

Above all, it’s important to remember that grey hair is both completely natural and inevitable. You may not be able to stop it — or even slow it down — but you have plenty of options when it comes to covering or maintaining it. Ultimately, your approach to your silver strands is up to you.


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