When it comes to the hair on our heads, a touch of gray isn’t just a fun summer jam or one of the infamous fifty shades. For some of us, it’s nuisance that makes us feel older; but for others, its distinguished and chic (after all, going gray is a recent fashion trend embraced by the likes of Westworld actress Evan Rachel Wood, singer Ciara, and the Mother Monster herself, Lady Gaga).
Whether we spend hours at the salon or rock our silvery locks with pride, we’ve no doubt heard some of the old wives’ tales about gray hair — specifically that certain lifestyle elements (like, ahem, stress) can lead to or prevent gray hair or that plucking away one stray gray hair will give rise to a whole slew of others.
That looming deadline at work, those bills that won’t pay themselves (and the useless lottery ticket at the bottom of your bag that, sadly, won’t help on the front) and the check engine light flicking on in your car in the middle of the oh-so-many trips between your kids’ doctor’s appointments and karate try-outs may make you more vulnerable to anxiety and depression, higher blood pressure and headaches, but it won’t strip the color from your hair.
“Gray hair occurs when the hair’s natural melanin starts to decrease,” Tony Cola, Goldwell National artist and director of education for Darrell Barrett Salon and Spa in Timonium, Maryland, told SheKnows.
Two types of melanin within the pigmentation of our hair follicles determines our hair color. They’re called eumelanin and pheomelanin, and the more eumelanin we have, the darker our hair will be.
As we age, we can lose some of this pigment and melanin through a completely natural process called achromotrichia — which, surprisingly, can start in our mid- to late 20s, depending upon our genetics and heredity. Though the old wives like to claim that those of us with darker hair will go gray faster than our blond brethren, the truth is that the achromotrichia doesn’t move more quickly for one hair type over another.
“Lighter [hair] may experience a ‘slower’ showing of gray due to less contrast between gray and natural pigment,” Cola explained. “Darker [hair] may experience a ‘quicker’ showing of gray due to higher contrast between gray and natural pigment.”
And Cola is quick to add that plucking out your individual gray hairs won’t have you looking like Meryl Streep’s steely, silver-coiffed magazine maven from The Devil Wears Prada. “Pulling the grays out will not make a second gray appear,” he noted.
Of course, plucking out your hair still isn’t advisable — and neither is using cheap boxed dyes, which may offer you the quick fix of a new color, but do some lasting damage to your hair.
“I would stay away from box hair colors from the drugstore [since] you are not getting the best [or] most gentle product,” Cola said.
If you do decide to go Merida red, Snow White black or Elle Woods blond, Cola recommended seeking out “professional hair color, [which] works with the lowest concentrations of ammonia to give optimal gray coverage. Permanent and demi-permanent hair colors give great gray coverage with little to no stress on the hair.”
Of course, there’s great power in embracing your gray hair and all the wisdom and sense of purpose that can come with getting older.