To Gray or Not to Gray
Ladies, have you reached the point where you're counting every gray hair? Are you pouring money and effort into covering them up?
Going gray is a normal part of life, but whether you choose to embrace it is a personal choice.
Overview of graying
Melanin, which gives hair its color, is produced by pigment cells in the hair follicle. As we age, pigment cells become fewer in number, producing less melanin and resulting in light strands of hair—typically gray, silver or white.
A growing hair typically won't change color, but when that hair naturally falls out as a normal part of the hair cycle and is replaced, more and more of the new hairs will be gray. Genetics play a significant role in the process so, yes, you may be able to blame your gray hair on mom and dad. In addition to aging, causes of graying hair include vitamin B12 deficiency, thyroid disease, neurofibromatosis, vitiligo, alopecia areata and tuberous sclerosis.
While there's no hard evidence showing stress makes you gray, stress can increase the appearance of gray hair by causing a condition called telogen effluvium, in which hair sheds three times faster than normal. When the hair regrows, it may come in gray rather than your previous color if you've lost pigment cells in that hair follicle.
Most women begin finding gray hairs in their 30s, some even earlier. In a 2011 study from the United Kingdom, 32 percent of women under age 30 said they had already started going gray.
Trends in grayness
Altering the natural color of hair has been done for millennia. In modern times, covering up the gray exploded when hair companies began running ads targeting women in the 1940s and '50s, suggesting gray hair would be the end of their love lives.
A research poll published in 2017 reported 75 percent of American women ages 18 to 59 color their hair, with 37 percent coloring their hair at least once every month. Research from 1950 tells us that only 7 percent of women in the United States colored their hair.
Not everyone is covering up, of course. The gray hair trend is growing, supported by ladies such as actress Jamie Lee Curtis, the novel "Going Gray," by Anne Kreamer, and the global #gombre movement.
Pros of going gray
Going gray is real and authentic. Embracing gray means freedom from worry about roots showing, the costs of coloring, and negative thoughts about concealing your natural appearance.
It's no secret that coloring is expensive, and a visit to the salon is typically required every four to seven weeks to keep roots covered. Covering up your natural color can also take an emotional toll. Some women report feeling fraudulent or having difficulty embracing their natural look after years of coloring.
Finally, coloring may have negative health implications. A 2019 study from the International Journal of Cancer reported the use of permanent hair dye was linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.
How to embrace the gray
If you want to go gray, the in-between phase can be awkward. Gray hairs tend to grow more slowly, so embracing your new look will take patience—plan on at least six months, even longer if you have long hair. If you have a special event on the calendar that you don't want to cancel during the transition, rely on headbands, scarves and other accessories to make the necessary cover-up.
You may also benefit from changing longtime hair products, as gray hairs tend to be more brittle and wiry. Conditioners with a silver or violet tone base can help hair shine and prevent lackluster gray hues.
It takes a strong and confident person to buck convention and wear their gray proudly. And I'm talking to someone like that right now...