Premature greying: reasons, possibilities

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November 15, 2022
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salt and pepper, silver, tin, charcoal. Whatever you call it, gray hair happens to all of us at some point. But why do some people turn gray in their 20s while others don’t see the first sign of silver until they are 50? If you turn gray early, what are your options?

What is “premature”

Hair turns gray when color-producing cells stop making pigment, says Dr. Jeffrey Benabio, dermatologist at Kaiser Permanente in San Diego. Naturally occurring hydrogen peroxide can also build up in hair and bleach color.

Typically, whites turn gray in their mid-30s, Asians in their late 30s, and blacks in their mid-40s. Half of all people have a significant amount of gray hair by the age of 50.

A white person is considered prematurely gray if their hair turns gray by age 20; Gray before 30 is early for blacks.

Medical problem?

Graying in itself does not mean you have a medical problem, except in rare cases.

Contrary to popular belief, stress has not been shown to cause gray hair. Scientists don’t know exactly why some people turn gray early, but genes play a big part.

A vitamin B-12 deficiency or problems with your pituitary or thyroid glands can also cause premature graying, which is reversible if the problem is addressed, Benabio says.

Some research has suggested a link between premature graying and lower bone density later in life. But in 2007, a study of about 1,200 California men and women showed no such link.

“Your bone density is related to activity level, your weight, your height, your ethnicity. It has nothing to do with your hair or the things that control the color of your hair,” says researcher Deborah J. Morton, PhD, of the University of California, San Diego.

Not ready yet?

Maybe you love the new hair color that nature gives you. But if you don’t, you have many options.

There are many ways to conceal gray, says Ron King, owner of Ron King Salon and bô Salon in Austin, Texas, and national spokesman for L’Oréal Professionnel. They include:

  • Semi-permanent or demi-permanent colour: The color lasts a couple of weeks, and King says it’s a good option for people just starting to see gray. “If you’re going through a lot of your natural colors, you don’t want to take them away,” says King. “You can just mix it up without disturbing what you already have, which is already beautiful and natural.”
  • highlights: Stray strands are lightened to blend the gray with the rest of your hair.
  • Lasting color: King suggests using it once you have 45% to 50% gray. Some customers leave some gray around their face to make a statement.
  • hair products: If you don’t want to color but still want to camouflage the gray, King recommends a coloring tool like Airbrush Hair Makeup that shampoos out and sprays on.

Embrace the grey

More and more people are choosing to “go gray,” says Diana Jewell, author of Go grey, look great.

“The myth that gray hair makes you old is just that — a myth. If you were young, vibrant, active and healthy you will still be like this. It’s all in the attitude that makes you do it,” says Juwel. “If you think of it as just another color choice, you won’t be afraid of grey.”

Journalist Anne Kreamer went gray at 25 and spent an estimated $65,000 on salon color treatments over the next 20 years. In the book, she chronicled her journey back into the gray at the age of 49 Going Grey: What I Learned beauty, sexWork, motherhood, authenticity and everything else that matters.

“Look at an Anderson Cooper or a Steve Martin or men who historically grayed early,” says Kreamer. “I think they look amazing and it’s almost becoming an iconic distinction for them.” The same can apply to women. But, she says, women have been brainwashed into believing that gray is unattractive and undesirable.

These simple tips can help you go gray in style:

  • If you’ve been colored, consider going “cold turkey” with a chic, short haircut.
  • Work with a colorist to weave in highlights and use toner to minimize the transition line between your natural hair color and your previous hair color, says Kreamer.
  • Get a modern haircut. King recommends a style with sharper edges, like “a graduated bob, really sleek bangs, really nice bangs.”
  • Take care of your hair. Blue-based shampoos can help prevent gray hair from developing a yellowish cast, says Jewell, who has a listing of products at goinggraylookinggreat.com. Using a conditioning mask once a month will keep hair well moisturized.
  • Use a flat iron to make your hair look smoother and shinier. Gray hair tends to frizz, and “a flat iron on your hair will bring back the shine,” says King.
  • Enjoy your life. “Beauty isn’t determined by a woman’s hair color,” says Cindy Joseph, a silver-haired model for Ford Models Inc. and CEO of Boom! From Cindy Joseph makeup line. “The ability to enjoy life is what makes a woman truly beautiful.”



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