Hair Clinic : Grey Hair 101

The causes and what you can do to slow the process, by expert Lucinda Ellery…

It’s been known for a while that the biggest influence in hair turning grey is hereditary, but scientists at the University College London have finally discovered why some of us go grey earlier than others - and why the process happens more speedily - and it’s all down to the gene IRF4. IRF4 influences melanin, which is the pigment that gives colour to hair, eyes and skin. “Now this has been identified scientists may be able to work on finding a protein or enzyme to up-regulate or down-regulate the activity,” says the team at top London trichologist clinic Lucinda Ellery. “But of course it’s different for everyone; generally speaking white Caucasian people go grey first, in their mid-30s, with Asians following in their late 30s, while many people of Afro-Caribbean descent hang on to their colour until their mid-40s.” While the scientists may take a while to crack the answer to influencing IRF4 to reduce greys, you can still effect the time and rate at which you grey through your lifestyle. Here, Ellery’s team explains the rules to live by if you want to stave off going grey for as long as possible…

Quit Smoking.Smokers are four times more likely to go grey earlier than those who don't smoke, possibly because smoking decreases many vitamins in the body as well as decreasing the production of melanin, which is the chemical that gives hair its colour and produces free radicals which contribute to cellular necrosis. Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient at the base of the hair to produce melanocytes, the cells responsible for producing the pigment that gives hair its colour, and smoking depletes it massively. Fill up on foods like chicken, oily fish salmon, sardines or mackerel and milk and yogurt to up your B12 intake - and quit smoking!

Have a handful of walnuts.Walnuts are rich in hair-boosting biotin, nourishing vitamin E and naturally moisturising omega oils. They also contain copper, which, when lacking, is a common cause of premature greying. Other foods that are great in helping slow down the process are prawns, which are packed with with high levels of zinc and omega 3 to keep the hair’s pigment and strength for longer. Broccoli and greens containing folic acid are also linked to hair health.

Don't stress.Though the age at which you’ll grey is genetically determined, premature ageing may occur as the result of stress which depletes those all-important vitamin B levels. There is no direct link between stress and grey hair, though stress can cause hair loss, after which a grey hair may grow in the place of a pigmented one, or hair can loose some of its pigment making those grey hairs you already have more noticeable.

Cut back on partying.We’ve all heard the warnings that hard partying hard makes you age faster and science has shown that there is some truth to this, late nights and consuming large amounts of alcohol promoting premature ageing and dehydration, while a lack of sleep can also contribute to the decrease of melanin in the hair which makes hair appear grey.

Get the right cut.As the grey grows down, don’t be tempted to add in highlights as lifting the colour can further dry out hair which has already become more frizzy and coarse, drawing attention to the greys. Instead, plough your energy into getting your hair cut into a really good shape and style. Top tips? Avoid a centre-parting and very sleek hair which will make the greys much more visible and prominent. Try going for a messier parting and go for a slightly choppier haircut to create movement in the hair, which will disguise the grey hairs much better.

Avoid yellow tinge at all costs. There are factors such as the environment or hard water with high mineral content which can turn grey hair a bit yellowy. To reverse this and to keep it from going yellow in the future, use shampoos and conditioners containing a purple hue to counteract yellow tones with optical brighteners, and stay out of the sun.

Go for root touch-ups.If you dye your hair you need to grow it out an inch so your hair colourist can see what they are dealing with. In the early weeks this means relying on a root touch up - which your stylist will simply brush on. In terms of colour there are some tips that help disguise the grey: lighter hair will be more camouflaging than dark hair, or if hair is dark avoid having a block colour which would cause a solid re-growth line as that colour grows out. Go for a mix of tones so the re-growth will be less obvious.


Lucinda Ellery, founder of Lucinda Ellery studios is a renowned industry hair expert with over 30 years experience pioneering unique solutions for female hair loss and hair thinning.
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