For a woman, it’s one of the most defining moments of getting older – that day when you peer into the mirror and spot your very first silver strand of hair.
In the past, this grey day may have arrived in their late 30s or early 40s. But the alarming news for women today is that we are losing our natural colouring much earlier.
In fact, according to a new study, almost a third of British women under the age of 30 have already started to go grey, and two-thirds of them blame it on stress.
Just 20 years ago, the proportion of women who spotted their first grey hair before the age of 30 was just 18 percent.
John Frieda, the haircare brand that carried out the research, thinks it’s so significant it has come up with a name for this new consumer demographic – Ghosts – Grey Haired Over Stressed Twenty Somethings.
One person who is not surprised by the appearance of Ghosts is Nicola Clarke, creative colour director for John Frieda.
“I’ve noticed an increase in younger clients coming into the salon asking for colour to cover their grey. It’s not unusual for me to see a client aged 25 with grey hair, and, frequently, they put it down to stress.”
Trichologist Philip Kingsley hears this a lot. Greying hair is synonymous with ageing and in our youthful culture, we delay the appearance of ageing as much as we can, he says.
While men get given the silver fox sobriquet when they start to show signs of salt and pepper, when it comes to women, grey equals grandma. From society’s perspective, a woman with grey hair is over the hill and has reached the end of her reproductive life.
What an irony, then, that the same generation that is deferring motherhood until they are far older than their own mothers, were paradoxically going greyer far younger than their mothers did. They may be attributing this to stress, but does this really cause us to go grey or is this just an old wives’ tale?
Grey hair is actually hair that has no pigment and is the result of the melanocytes (the cells that produce pigment) becoming damaged or dying. This happens naturally as we get older, and some scientists argue that exactly when is governed by your genes, rather than by your lifestyle.
Early onset of greying is usually genetically deter-mined.
For the majority of people, greying hair is not down to something you’ve done, but to genetic factors. Generally, lifestyle does not greatly impact on when your hair loses its colour.
However, other experts argue that premature greying is the result of stress. In his book The Hair Bible, Philip Kingsley wrote: “
We know stress uses up vitamin B, and experiments with black rats deprived of B vitamins resulted in their hair going white.”
Similarly, some studies in humans have shown that certain B vitamins taken in large doses can begin to reverse the greying process.
Japanese research suggests that hair follicles are susceptible to the same sort of stresses that damage DNA.
This type of stress, known as oxidative stress, is caused by exposure to cigarette smoke, UV light and pollution. There is also an association between emotional stress and oxidative stress.
So, what can be done? Well, at the moment, the choices are pretty stark; you could dye it, or you could dare to go au naturelle.
Researchers at the beauty giant, L’Oreal, noted that while both skin and hair have melanocytes, those pigment-producing cells, skin doesn’t lose colour with age in the same way that hair does.
When they looked more closely at the two types of cells, they discovered that those in hair lacked an enzyme that was present in skin.
Their theory is that it could be possible to develop a treatment that mimics the effect of this enzyme and thus keep the melanocytes producing pigment for longer.
It is hoped that within 10 years it might be possible to create a food supplement or a shampoo that either contains the missing enzyme or something that has a similar effect, and so either prevent or even reverse greying hair.
But until then, Ghosts will continue to walk among us... – Daily Mail