Premature greying? An expert explains why it happens
Can it really be reversed?
I first spotted grey hairs when I was 19. Leaning over the bathroom sink, I’d contort my neck just right so I could pluck them out (‘elders’ blessings’ be damned) in the mirror. “Pluck one out and five more will grow”. That’s not scientifically correct but it did happen for me as a few random strays turned into a very pronounced Indira Gandhi-style streak. At 27, my hair is still mostly brown but premature greying has got me good with about 30 per cent (and counting) of it shining silver.
Embrace it or dye it – my mother, who also suffered from premature greying, presented me with two choices. While other kids got ‘the talk’ about sex, I got one about premature greying. It’s the bane of life for a growing number of young people. Beauty companies have capitalised on this fear with various potions and lotions claiming to reverse and cure this forsaken phenomenon.
For some, the boom of grey hair occurs rapidly, and in a short amount of time. Just look at Barack Obama. Side-by-side comparison portraits of President Obama became a publishing trend when he left the White House. It showed how his hair ‘drastically’ greyed during his tenure as the leader of the Free World. Working eight years in perhaps the most stressful job in the world can do that to a man. The silver fox himself pointed out that this so-called ‘White House effect’ didn’t spare him.
With all the mystery surrounding premature greying and its causes, I spoke to Dr Kavita Rohilla, senior consultant trichologist at Trica Hair Clinic, at Jean-Claude Biguine Salon and Spa. “I have people starting from the age of 14 to 35 asking me how they can fix premature greying,” she laughed. “There are no definite causes but trigger factors that help us understand what’s causing it.”
What causes premature greying?
Unfortunately there’s not much we can do about our genetic make-up. “If your mother or father had started greying very early in their life, then it is highly likely that you’ll repeat the trend,” says Rohilla.
There has been a lot of debate regarding the link between high levels of stress and premature greying of hair. “High levels of stress can make your follicle use less melanin (which gives your hair pigment)) and cause hair to go into premature greying,” says Rohilla. The stress hormone can interfere in the signals between melanocytes to deliver melanin to keratinocytes (which construct hair), in turn hindering the pigment of in our hair, as Jennifer Lin, dermatologist conducting molecular biology research at the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center, also noted.
Vitamin D deficiency
Rohilla states that people with low levels of Vitamin D will also find premature greying, linking the vitamin to the production (or lack thereof) of melanin in the hair follicles.
Too much exposure to the sun can lead to acidic damage causing hair to grey much faster than the natural progression of ageing.
So, can we do anything about premature greying?
Rohilla says that when it comes to genetics, there’s not much we can do. The only thing is to push hair greying as far back as we can by nourishing your hair at the roots. However, we cannot change the whole trend because genetically, at the follicular level our hair will age a lot faster than other individuals. “If it starts very early, at age 14-15, and we can detect it, then we can take care of it and prevent other hair from going grey.”
Vitamin deficiencies, stress and too much sun exposure – these are causes that we can address and counter. Eating vitamin-rich food (or supplementing it if required); controlling our stress through coping mechanisms and meditation, and using a shampoo with sunscreen if we’re going to be in the sun for long periods of time. What Rohilla does make clear is that, sadly, once a hair strand goes grey, there’s no undoing it.
What about home remedies for greying hair?
I love a nourishing hair mask as much as the next Indian. We’re thrifty DIY-ers who find the cure to all our ailments in our masala drawer. In regards to premature greying, Rohilla says, “Home remedies can work if you incorporate them into your diet and lifestyle. Application-wise, I don’t see any change it actually brings to the hair. It’ll only help in maintaining your hair, not in treating your hair.”