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Grey matter

Should men colour their grey hair or celebrate it?
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Celebrities, like Hugh Grant and Peter Capaldi have been lauded by the press for eschewing hair dye and embracing their natural grey look. Even Olympic athlete, Tom Daley, has been photographed sporting grey hair. Grey hair-whether natural or dyed-seems to be gaining cachet, at least among the rich and famous.

But not everyone feels the same about going grey.

A survey of British men by market research firm, Mintel, found that three-quarters of men (75%) aged between 45 and 54 worry about their hair turning grey. In fact, men in this age group are more likely to report being worried about going grey than about losing hair (52%), being overweight (51%), or sprouting ear and nose hair (50%).

man looking at gray hair in mirror

What makes hair turn grey?

"Hair goes grey when the pigment granules, called melanin, stop forming in the hair shaft," explains Philip Kingsley, a trichologist and founder of the Philip Kingsley trichology clinic.

The age at which you go grey is largely determined by your genes. "It can start at any time," says Dr Kingsley, "including early teenage years."

Although the age at which hair starts to go grey is mainly inherited, ethnicity can also play a part.

"Caucasians generally see the first white hair appearing from the early thirties," says Dr Kingsley, "and 50% of the population have roughly 50% grey hair by the time they are 50 years old. Afro-Caribbeans start to go grey later, with the first white hairs usually appearing in the early 40s."

Grey hair folklore

When you see the first grey hair appear on your head, your instinct will probably be to pull it out. But you may pause and recall the folklore that says if you pull a grey hair out, two grow back in its place. Although it's never a good idea to yank a hair out by the roots-because you can permanently damage the follicle-this folklore lacks scientific evidence.

"The action of pulling out the hair can rupture the hair follicle and the replacement hair that will eventually grow takes longer to regenerate, by which time another, mostly grey, hair is beginning to grow next to it," says Dr Kingsley. "When the hair that was originally pulled out does regrow, you have two grey hairs."

Other folklore says that stress can make hair turn grey. While scientists dismissed the idea for many years, new research reveals that there may be some truth in it.

"We know stress uses up vitamin B, and some studies have shown that certain B vitamins taken in large doses have begun to reverse the process of greying within three months," says Dr Kingsley. "But the hairs revert to white when the vitamins are stopped."

Experiments with black rats showed that depriving them of B vitamins turns their hair white. On reintroducing the vitamins, their hair regained its colour, an indication, says Dr Kingsley that B vitamins may have a role to play. "But I haven't experienced this colour change with massive vitamin B doses," he says.

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