Why Am I Turning Fifty Shades of Grey?

Why Am I Turning Fifty Shades of Grey?

Many perceive ageing as an unparalleled privilege, for it brings forth the richness of life's experiences. Although intertwined with this journey are the gentle reminders of time passing, manifested in the subtle emergence of silver threads amidst one's locks. One or two is somewhat manageable as this can often be camouflaged, but when they start popping up left, right and centre, it sobers you right up. 

Grey hair is a natural part of the ageing process, but that doesn’t mean we can't feel glamorous during this wild ride. Said absolutely no one ever. Trips to the hairdresser become more frequent, you start to reevaluate your stress levels because apparently that's a contributing factor, especially if they begin surfacing earlier in the piece. Your pals have less than you do, then there’s the lucky blonde’s who are immersed in concealment. So, what gives?

Forget 50 shades of grey, it's more like 50% of us sporting 50% grey hair by 50, or so they say, but recent studies suggest otherwise. Men start the grey parade at the temples, while women see it creeping in from the scalp's edges. While genetics play a significant role, lifestyle factors such as oxidative stress, hormonal changes, and nutritional deficiencies also influence the onset and progression of greying.

Let’s take it from the top

Grey hair is not actually grey but is an absence of colour in the shaft, making it white or opaque - what the what. The colour of our hair comes from a pigment called melanin. Melanin is made by special cells called melanocytes, which come from a part of our body called the neural crest.

Inside our hair follicles, there are two main types of melanin: eumelanin, which is dark, and pheomelanin, which is reddish-brown. The different colours we see in hair come from the amounts and proportions of these two types of melanin. So, if you have a lot of dark eumelanin, your hair might be black or brown. If you have more pheomelanin, your hair could be red or blonde.

There are various differences between pigmentation in the skin and that of hair. Each melanocyte is associated with five keratinocytes in the hair bulb forming a ‘hair follicle-melanin unit’. Hair is actively pigmented in the anagen phase and is ‘turned off’ during the catagen phase and absent during telogen.

Think of the pigmentary unit as a tiny black structure at the base of hair. In hair that's turning grey, this structure changes shape and the cells responsible for giving hair its colour become fewer and less effective. Instead, some other lightly pigmented cells start showing up nearby.

During the active growth phase of hair (anagen), there's a big decrease in the number of colour-producing cells in hair follicles. This happens because these cells break down and disappear, causing the hair to lose its colour. This process is believed to be a key reason why hair turns grey. As time goes on, there are no more cells left to produce colour in the base of the hair. RIP.

Premature Greying

So, what about those that are experiencing grey a little earlier than the rest of the gang? Research suggests that a decreased level of thyroid hormones causes premature greying, alopecia, and changes in hair morphology. Thyroid hormones T3 and T4 act on hair follicles directly to increase melanogenesis - this is when our beloved Power Activist becomes of service. A Vitamin B12 deficiency can also contribute to the early onset of silver strands as well as a copper and zinc deficiency - vegans, be on high alert for this puppy.  

Reversible hypopigmentation of the hair can be seen in nutritional deficiencies, protein-energy malnutrition and diseases of chronic loss of protein. 

Studies revealed that there was a significant correlation between smoking and premature hair greying. Smoking exposes the body to prooxidants, substances that promote oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can lead to increased damage to the melanocytes, the cells which are responsible for producing pigment in hair follicles. When these melanocytes are damaged, they are not able to function properly, resulting in the premature loss of hair colour. Well, to puff or not to puff, that is the question?