Get out of the grey area – and how to make the most of your grey hair
What works and what doesn’t in preventing greys? And what can you do if you want to go grey gracefully?
You’re blow-drying your hair and suddenly you spot it. There – in the midst of all that black hair – is a singular strand of grey.
Not the most self-affirming way to start the day but there it is.
Some would swiftly deal with the situation by plucking the offending hair off. Others would schedule a hair appointment for highlights to hide it.
A few may make a mental note to grab a box of DIY hair dye at the pharmacy, because as you know, when you see one, more will follow.
So, what is it about grey hair that makes it so undesirable, despite many celebrities and models rocking the silver look – and when even youngsters are spending hours in the hair salon bleaching their hair the right shade of grey.
“It’s a physical reminder we’re not going to be around forever. So, for some people, there can be an element of denial of the ageing process by dyeing their hair,” said Patrea O'Donoghue, a coaching psychologist registered with the Psychology Board of Australia.
“Peer pressure and societal expectations also play a role. In a business context, very few women go grey,” she noted.
Indeed, the pressure to look one’s best is amplified when you’re working in industries, such as sales and retail, that require interacting with people.
“Grey hair can make one look mature, so some people still want to cover their greys,” said hairstylist Ryan Yap from Passion Hair Salon.
But turning grey isn’t always a bad thing because “if you are in the insurance or property business”, looking mature can convey “stability and reliability” and give your career a boost, he said.
WHY DOES HAIR TURN GREY?
It’s not stress or trauma that causes hair to grey. And neither does the colour transformation take place overnight.
What makes your hair black in the first place is the presence of a pigment called melanin that is produced by the hair follicles, said Dr Eileen Tan, a dermatologist with Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital.
“With ageing, the follicles produce less melanin, and hence, the well-known greying effect. Body and facial hair can also turn grey, but this usually happens later than scalp hair.”
Dr Joyce Lee, a senior consultant dermatologist with the National Skin Centre (a member of the National Healthcare Group), said that “50 per cent of people will have 50 per cent of their scalp covered with grey hair by the age of 50”.
If Mum or Dad is snowy haired, the odds of you facing the same fate are even higher.
“Greying often begins in the 30s to 40s,” said Dr Tan, although there may be exceptions.
Hair stylists have been seeing younger people with grey hair. For instance, Yap has encountered teenage customers as young as 12 years old with visible grey hair.
As for reversing grey hair, sorry, that’s not possible, unless your grey hair is the result of a medical condition.
“For example, some automimmune hair loss conditions such as alopecia areata may present with sudden hair loss and premature greying,” said Dr Tan.
This happens when the body attacks the pigment-producing hair follicles, resulting in a sudden greying effect, she explained.
A Vitamin B deficiency may also lead to grey hair but diet is less likely to play a role in Singapore, said Dr Lee, where food is generally not scarce.
“But if a person were to suffer from malnutrition and has deficiencies in his iron, copper or Vitamin B levels, hair greying can occur,” she said.
What about extreme grief affecting hair colour? “Sudden grief and extreme stress can trigger an immune dysfunction,” said Dr Tan.
“I have encountered patients who developed a sudden onset of alopecia areata under extreme stress.
Massive hair shedding can happen, with the loss of pigmented hair, and this can lead to sudden greying.”
Balding and early hair greying, though, are not directly correlated, said Dr Tan.
MAKING THE MOST OF GREY HAIR
Even though grey hair is generally irreversible, it hasn’t stopped the haircare industry from rolling out a myriad of solutions.
From temporary spray-on colours to permanent hair dyes, the products for the grey population also encompass supplements and home remedies.
“If the person’s hair greying is due to nutritional deficiencies, replacing the deficient mineral or vitamin will help to treat the hair-greying process, said Dr Lee.
“However, if there are no nutritional deficiencies causing the hair greying, taking supplements has not been shown in medical literature to prevent or treat hair greying.
"At the moment, there is no scientific evidence that salon treatments or home remedies can prevent hair greying,” she said.
That leaves you with the option of colouring your hair. Those who DIY dye their hair or get it done in the salon to cover greys usually have to do it once every few months.
Ask for non-ammonia formulas that are kinder to hair, said Edward Chong, Evolve Salon’s hairstylist.
And don’t be afraid to try colours other than black or dark brown “if less than 30 per cent of your hair is grey”.
“But if more than half of your hair is grey, I would suggest darker colours with some highlights,” he said.
If you have a dark complexion, Yap recommended avoiding orange-based hair colours as you can look “dirty”.
“Dark hair colours such as jet black, blue black and dark brown generally work well with Asian skin tones, and they can look fresh, too,” he said.
Fair-skinned women, who wish to lighten their hair colour, could wear makeup if they want to avoid looking washed out, Yap suggested.
GO GREY GRACEFULLY
But if you’ve had enough of dyeing your hair, letting nature go its grey course is not a bad idea either.
During the transition phase, “keep your hair short to make the in-between grey phase less obvious,” said Yap.
To neutralise the yellow sometimes seen in grey hair, he suggested using a purple shampoo, the kind recommended for bleached hair.
“Grey hair also tends to be drier, so make sure you get a hair treatment done preferably every two weeks or at least every 1.5 months.”
Going grey gracefully doesn’t take any more effort than what you would do with regular hair to look chic and fresh: A good haircut and styling, said Chong.
“For men, just keeping it short will be good.
"For women, go short unless your grey takes up almost 80 per cent of your head, in which case, you can try keeping your hair long.
"But make sure it’s in good condition,” he said.