Grey hair, a.k.a natural highlights or Granny hair
Posted on 8th February 2023 at 07:34
We’re sure, like us, when you were a child you enjoyed gently teasing – or, more accurately, winding up (!) – older members of your family with seemingly innocuous statements or questions that were far from easy to answer. While the “why” question is probably the perennial favourite – and always completely exasperating on the receiving end (!) – we’re sure there were plenty of others in your family. And, we’ll pause for a moment so you can remember some of your favourites, as well as some of those you’ve been on the receiving end of…
One of the favourites in our families involved grey hair or, more accurately, pointing out that someone was starting to go grey. Perhaps offering to pull out or dye the offending hairs… Depending on the family member involved, the response was guaranteed to go along one of the following lines. Outright denial, by far the most popular. Quickly followed by the logic that their parents / grandparents went grey at a similar age and so they were going to too. Or, finally, to blame whichever younger member of the family had made the remark for the stress they caused which, in turn, led to their hair going grey. As so often is the case, there is some truth in all these replies, even the outright denial. Yes, really!
So, this week, we’re going to ask the questions ourselves and start with the obvious one.
Why does hair go grey?
The colour of hair is all down to a pigment, Melanin, produced in hair follicles; the root just below the skin surface from which hair grows. As a quick aside, Melanin also governs the colour of our Skin and Eyes too. We’re born with millions of hair follicles in our skin, more on the hairier part of our bodies such as the Scalp, fewer on the less hairy parts such as the Arms and Legs.
And here’s one myth that’s easy to dispel. When you pull out hairs, whether by plucking or waxing, only the hair is removed, the hair follicle remains as before. This is why hair regrows in time. However, if the hair follicle is damaged, perhaps from repeated or less than careful hair removal, this can result in the hair not regrowing or doing so less strongly.
As we get older, hair starts to change colour and lighten quite naturally as less Melanin is produced, finally becoming grey and then white. Grey hair still contains a little Melanin, white hair does not. If your hair is darker to start with, it’s not surprising that the lighter colour hair is much more obvious. Hence it often seeming that those with black, or dark brown hair, go grey more quickly than those who are naturally blonde. The reality is they don’t, it’s just more obvious at an earlier stage, although explaining this to younger members of the family can be somewhat of a challenge (!).
So, the million dollar question, what makes hair go grey?
While genetics can play a part, particularly in those who go grey at an early age, this isn’t guaranteed. True, Melanin loss starts to occur quite naturally once you reach your thirties, but much depends on diet, lifestyle and whether there are any other health issues going on.
A big factor – and one we’ve already mentioned – is stress. Why you may ask? Well, for the simple reason that the stress response – adrenaline – burns up huge amounts of energy as well as nutrients. Added to this, with adrenaline being produced by the Adrenals – which sit on top of the Kidneys – and the Kidneys also governing the Hair, Skin and Nails it’s easy to see how stress can affect the hair.
Following on from this are Thyroid disorders, particularly an underactive Thyroid, as it controls the body’s metabolism and function. There is also a very close link between the Thyroid and Adrenals, with the Adrenals helping to plug the energy gap from an underactive – or sluggish – Thyroid.
Many other health issues can also play a part in greying hair particularly Autoimmune Diseases – where the Immune System attacks the body, rather than defending it. Alopecia is an example of this.
Not surprisingly, nutritional deficiencies can also play a part, whether due to digestive issues – so nutrients aren’t absorbed in the first place – or them being burnt up elsewhere, such as Vitamin B 12 deficiency, which brings us back to stress. This is because B Vitamins provide the fuel for the Adrenals and the production of adrenaline. Just to compound matters, B Vitamins are also needed to help maintain healthy red blood cells, which carry oxygen round the body to the cells, including hair cells.
On a similar note, smoking can also lead to grey hair. Not only does it strip out nutrients, but also reduces oxygen levels in the blood, so reaching the cells. At the same time, the toxins in cigarettes – and that includes e cigarettes too (!) – can lead to cell damage, including hair cells.
And, finally, the other important question.
What can be done to help, not involving hair dye?
The first thing to say is that if there are any underlying health conditions, these will also need to be addressed. And, while this may often be easier said than done – or require more long term action than we’d like – there are always things that can be done to help.
If stress is an issue, again, taking steps to address this will make a big difference as well as to overall health and quality of life.
With nutritional issues playing a part, directly or indirectly, taking a good quality multi vitamin and mineral on an ongoing basis is a simple and sensible step, along with a Vitamin B Complex if stress is an issue.
To help minimise any further damage, using a natural and gentle plant based shampoo and conditioner will also help, as will not washing hair too often and using the low heat setting on hair driers.
Before we go, a word about hair dye. And, yes, we know it can seem like a very simple solution to the “grey problem.” Regardless of what the advertising may say, hair dyes contain a cocktail of chemicals, even the more “natural” products. Many people don’t realise that, before hair can be dyed, any remaining natural colour has to be stripped out of the hair before the chosen dye colour can be applied. This means that the hair is subjected to two different chemical processes to produce the necessary colour. And, if you’ve ever dropped bleach onto clothing and seen how the colour is stripped out, this is exactly what’s happening to the hair as the first stage of this process. If you stop and think that the Scalp is – relatively – quite thin, contains a network of fine blood vessels and covers the Skull and Brain, this may give a rather different perspective on this seemingly simple solution…
And, finally, when doing the research for this post we were amused to find out that grey hair is “in” this year. Not as “natural highlights” which is how we prefer to describe them (!) but as “Granny hair”, although none of the pictures showed a Granny as we remembered them…
As always, the choice is yours.
Picture by unknown author
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