Health & Fitness

Why it's ok to freak out about your first grey hairs

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one having a meltdown in the bathroom.

By Laura Capon

"Don't move", two words you really don't need to tell me when I'm in the midst of a Sunday sofa recovery session. But from the way my friend said them, I knew something very bad had just happened. As she grabbed my head and told me to stay still, I instantly started shrieking "WHAT IS IT?", convinced that the mother of all spiders was weaving a nest in my scalp.

But it was worse than a black widow. As she rooted through my hair in some kind of weird primate ritual, one that only friends with a history that goes into the double digits can do, she finally told me, "I just saw a grey hair". Spider or grey hair, my reaction was the same "get rid of it".

THE INITIAL PANIC

This isn't the first grey hair I've found sprouting from my own head, I am 31 years old after all. But this is the first time someone else has noticed one, or at least notified me that they noticed one. In fact, I can tell you exactly where I was when I found my first grey. I was in a public toilet in Vancouver and it was there, under the harsh public bathroom lights, that I spotted it, shining brighter than an alien abduction scene in an episode of X-Files.

First came the instant panic, swiftly followed by embarrassment. 'How long had it been there?' 'Who else had seen it?' 'How many others were there?' 'Why me?' 'Oh my god I'm literally dying in front of my own eyes.'

That was three years ago, and it's only in the past year that I've discovered my white-haired intruder has managed to obtain a few more unwanted pals along the way. But while my greys might have matured, my attitude to them definitely has not.

Rather than just accepting the fact that out of the hundreds of thousands of hair follicles on my head, five of them are a colour I don't want, I inspect my scalp on a weekly basis with the same kind of precision as an army corporal during bed inspection. Which is why I decided to subtly question my family about their own hair history, without revealing the true reason for my sudden interest in their follicles of course.

IT'S ALL IN THE GENES

Being completely grey at the age of 61 (apart from one strip of black hair at the back), my dad seemed like a natural place to start. As with most things, my mum answered for him, telling me that "he turned grey overnight when your Grandad had his stroke". Now I'm not saying I don't believe Jan, but I just can't imagine that he went to bed as Kris Jenner and woke up as Judi Dench.

GETTY IMAGES
GETTY IMAGES

After years of blonde highlights, my mum couldn't remember when she found her first grey hair and when I asked my older sister, she smugly told me that on her last trip to the hairdressers they actually remarked that she had no grey hairs at all, eye roll.

That left my brother who, at 24, is going through the same process as me, in that he's discovered his first grey hairs. And if you thought I was being dramatic, his reaction wasn't much better. "I'm not proud of them. It was a realisation that I'm getting old, I hate it". Yeah, we're clearly a 'glass half full' kind of family.

THE EXPERT'S OPINION

The thing is, as well as feeling embarrassed about my greys, I'm also ashamed at my attitude to them. By admitting how much I hate them, I feel I'm failing women and indeed the code of feminism. Why can I look at a man with a sprinkling of grey hair and find him deeply attractive, but at the first sign of a Storm from X-Men streak on my own scalp, I reach for the tweezers? Going grey is a natural part of the ageing process, so why can I accept a wrinkle, but not a white-coloured strand of hair?

"If you continuously pluck out a hair you run the risk of damaging the hair follicle and this can result in distortion of strands and even permanent hair loss". Anabel Kingsley, Trichologist at Philip Kingsley is definitely not a supporter of my grey hair plucking. I'd only emailed her to see if the old wives tail of plucking a grey hair causing more to grow back was true (it isn't) and now I'm imagining both a balding and grey future for myself, great.

"When our hair goes grey, is mostly down to the genetic hand we are dealt. Some people will start going grey in their early twenties, while others will be well into their fifties when their first grey appears. If either of your parents turned grey early, it's probable that you will too."

I didn't mention to Anabel that I'd already tried unsuccessfully to do some family hair history. But sounds like my mum's theory about stress speeding up my dad's silver fox process might not have been a load of baloney after all.

"Grey hair occurs when the hair follicle stops producing melanocytes (pigment cells) that give hair its colour. Certain factors can speed up this process. The most common trigger of premature greying is Vitamin B deficiency – and these levels can be depleted by stress."

Essentially, she's saying that if I keep stressing about going grey, I'm going be looking like the old lady in Titanic way quicker than I originally thought.

EMBRACING THE GREY

While I'm not yet quite at the stage where I'm ready to embrace my greys, I do want to get to that point eventually, which is why I think it's so important to talk about it.

When I found that first grey hair, I would never have dreamed of telling anyone. Instead, I plucked it out and discarded it with the same kind of repulsion I save for people who spit in the street. But if I'd just spoken to my friends about this part of the completely natural ageing process and shared my fears, I would have realised that freaking out about your first grey hair is completely normal and doesn't make you any less of a feminist.

After vowing to stop my plucking habit (thanks Anabel) and my new found 'lets talk about grey hairs' attitude, I thought I'd ask one of my male friends how they felt about it, to see if guys have the same dramatic reaction. After admitting that at first he felt the same feelings of embarrassment as me, he told me that he had finally come to accept his greys because "they are like the distinguished members of the group, keeping all the young shiny ones in check" and that's exactly the kind of attitude I want to adopt.