It's a fact of life that as we get older, the dreaded grey hairs start to set in.
For most people, it doesn’t happen until our 40s, 50s, or even 60s, but for some getting grey hair can happen quite young. Anabel Kingsley, Trichologist and hair expert at Philip Kingsley, revealed to GoodtoKnow that while most of us first notice our grey hairs in our 30s, “women and men can begin to turn grey as early as 18, while others experience their first white hairs much later in life.”
However, whilst going grey is completely normal and an accepted part of getting older, losing your natural hair colour can really knock your confidence, and you may go through stages where you feel like you’d do anything to find out how to stop grey hair.
So much so, that the average woman will spend £28,520 on hair products in her lifetime – a large proportion of which is, we expect, spent on preventing grey hair, and keeping our hair a shade other than grey!
But what causes grey hair?
Going grey is caused by a lack of melanin, which is what gives your hair its colour. We typically produce less of this as we get older.
Anabel explained, “Grey hair isn’t actually grey – it’s white. It just appears grey as it is interspersed with pigmented hairs.”
Going grey is natural – and should be embraced – but depending on your lifestyle it could creep up earlier than expected, and it’s understandable that you may want to halt its appearance by a few years.
So can you prevent grey hair?
Celebrity hairdresser Phil Smith explained that, unfortunately, grey hair is impossible to stop, meaning there’s no actual way of preventing it before it sets in.
He revealed, “As of right now, there is no easy cure or prevention for greying hair. It’s a combination of our genetic makeup, our DNA and other determining factors that research is still trying to understand. There’s been advancements in understanding hair trait genetics but this needs to be delved into in even greater detail to fully understand how this could be changed.
“In any case, it is unlikely that there will be an ‘easy fix’ like eating more of a certain food or drinking more water.”
But Phil believes that instead of fearing the greys, we should be embracing them as we get older. “In my opinion grey hair should be embraced,” he said. “It’s a distinguishing feature that is being embraced more and more by leading style icons like Vogue’s Sarah Harris.” And we couldn’t agree more!
However, if you’d quite like to keep your grey hairs under wraps for as long as possible, there are ways to care for your locks to ensure that any white specks you have look their best – and, possibly, stop them from multiplying quite so quickly…
How can you care for grey hair – and stop it from coming too early?
According to Anabel, the old adage that increased stress and anxiety might be causing your greys to multiply could actually ring true.
“Stress may influence the greying process – but not directly,” she said. “Stress can affect vitamin B levels, which may lead to premature greying in those with a predisposition. However, the negative impact that stress can have on the body is more likely to cause hair loss than it is to result in changes to hair colour.”
Lifestyle factors such as smoking can also cause any greys you may have to look worse than they should, by discolouring them. Anabel explained, “In terms of smoking, it can discolour grey hairs and make them appear yellow – similar to what happens to your nails when you smoke.”
Knight & Wilson hair expert Scott Cornwall also told us that hair styling products could have a similar effect. “Heated irons and even styling products can also cause this discolouration. Therefore, those wishing to display pure grey or white hair, must use shampoos and conditioners that contain cool violet pigments to neutralise this yellow back to white,” he said.
And when it comes to that all important question – should we pluck out our grey hairs? – what actually is the right answer? Anabel says, definitely not.
“You definitely should not pluck. Consistently plucking out hairs can damage the hair follicle and eventually lead to permanent hair loss.
“However, pulling out one grey hair will not cause two to grow in its place. If this were true, pulling out grey hairs would be an excellent way to get thicker locks.”
But what about those more holistic options, which claim to prevent grey hair and magically stop its appearance in its tracks? It turns out, there is some truth to the old rumour that things like olive oil and drinking lots of water can help with greys. It all has to do with increasing your hair’s moisture, which will make grey hairs less visible. However, it’s important to realise that it won’t stop them coming through altogether.
Scott explained, “Grey hair is actually white and completely void of pigment. It will often have a tendency to become very course and wiry, a causing factor being the hair lacks moisture. Therefore if you have grey hairs (and even if you colour it) be mindful your hair could be deficient in moisture.
“Use moisture based shampoos and conditioners. Ingredients such as Shea Butter are great for bringing moisture into the hair. Lack of moisture can cause hair to become brittle, so the Pureplex products at Knight & Wilson are ideal for strengthening.”
Anabel also agreed, “To improve the appearance and condition of grey hairs, I suggest using a shampoo and conditioner that contain violet hues and optical brighteners. We make Pure Silver Shampoo and Conditioner. As hair becomes finer as we get older, grey hair is also often finer and more fragile. To strengthen strands, use a weekly pre-shampoo conditioning treatment, such as Philip Kingsley Elasticizer.”
According to hair expert Madeleine Preston, some food can also help to lessen the greys at the top of our heads. Walnuts could be a great way to hold off grey thanks to the trace amounts of copper they contain, which could boost the production of melanin (the pigment that gives hair colour). You could also try taking a multi-vitamin daily as most of them contain copper. Or other foods that are rich in copper include turnip greens, lima beans, yams, spinach, and most meats.
But as our experts have explained, there really is no way to avoid greys in the end – meaning there’s no reason not to embrace them!
A moderate-to-high protein diet is vital for your body including skin and hair health. Eat lean meats like turkey and chicken and try to balance meals with protein not just carbs. If you're having toast, balance with a poached egg for extra protein or try our high protein diet.
A vitamin B12 deficiency may lead to premature greying. Eat foods rich in B12 like eggs, cheese, beef, bananas, fish and lamb.
Circulation and blood flow is vital in the prevention of grey hair. There's no point eating all the vitamins and minerals if they can't reach your scalp and hair. To improve circulation exercise regularly as this will get the blood flowing. Also massage your scalp with your fingertips daily for 5-10 minutes to improve circulation.
A popular Chinese herb that is believed to stop hair going grey is called He Shou We, or Fo-ti. It means 'black-haired Mr He' in Chinese. This name refers to a legend of an older villager named Mr He who took Fo-ti and restored his black hair, youthful appearance and vitality.
It's not always easy in the UK, but when the sun does pop his hat on, you should get outside and make the most of it. Hair follicles contain vitamin D, so a blast of sunshine can do them a world of good. For a proper dose, get some bare skin in the sun for 20 minutes (once you've slathered it with suncream, of course!)