Camouflage or worship? The Implications of “Going Gray”
Regardless of age, gender or ethnicity, when a person discovers their first gray hair, it is a shocking reminder that youth is not infinite and old age in inescapable. As the gray strand of hair silently taunts its owner, as if it is crying, “you’re getting old”, reactions can be infinitely different, and so can the plan of attack to disguise the unsolicited aging omen.
In an interview with Ellen Degeneres, Jennifer Aniston admitted to being “flipped out and brought to tears”, when she found her first gray hair just before her 40th birthday. Reactions from celebrities like Aniston, whilst they may be a natural response to the prospect of resembling their Grandmother, they enhance the social stigma surrounding ‘going gray’ and cause even more worry and distress the day the inevitable finally arrives.
Why do we go Gray?
As people become older, the pigment cells on their hair follicles slowly begin to die. A follicle which contains fewer pigment cells will produce less melanin, the chemical responsible for giving hair its color. With a gradual decrease in the amount of melanin, the strand will eventually become transparent and look silver, white or gray.
Hair becoming gray is a natural response to becoming older and usually affects people in their 30s onwards. Research has revealed that gender can also affect the age we are likely to first notice gray hairs appearing. The average man starts to become gray at the age of 30, whilst in women it is slightly later at the age of 35.
Although regardless of these averages, ‘going gray’ can affect people of all ages. Even school children can be faced with the despair of premature signs of aging and often become a victim of ridicule, by discovering a gray strand has appeared on their hair.
Although the age in which we start to turn gray is determined by our genes, generally speaking, the chances of hair becoming gray increases by 10 – 20 percent each decade after the age of 30. Although turning ‘completely gray’ is a very slow process and usually takes about ten years for gray to dominate the whole head since a person notices their first wisp of gray. Although genes and the laws of age-related probability are not the only factors at stake which influence our ‘graying pains’.
Many scientists assert that a deficiency of B12 can cause gray hairs to appear. Smokers are also said to be at a greater risk of becoming prematurely gray, as smoking is known to decrease the production of melanin in the hair. Not only has smoking been categorically linked to the hair turning gray, but it has also been suggested that smokers are four times more likely to have gray hair than non-smokers.
Once you are aware of this fact it is extraordinary how many smokers you know who are going gray. Other underlying health problems such as Werner’s syndrome and thyroid imbalances can spur on the onset of gray hair.
Gray Hair Myths
Like many beauty related matters, the issue of gray hair and how we become gray has several myths and old wives tales attached to it. A trauma or shock can ‘turn you gray overnight’ is a popular misconception about ‘going gray’. In reality, only a rare condition known as alopecia areata can cause this phenomenon to occur. This condition causes the darker and thicker strands of hair to stop growing before it affects the gray strands.