Can you prevent grey hair? Experts reveal the reality of grey hair

It's a fact of life that as we get older, the dreaded grey hairs start to set in

How to prevent grey hair

For most people, it doesn't happen until our 40s, 50s, or even 60s, but for some getting grey hair can happen quite young.  We asked an expert for their view on why exactly we go grey and if we can prevent it.

Grey hair is an inevitability for us all, but if we can't control if we get grey hair, can we have any control over when? Going grey is completely normal, but that doesn't mean those first few greys are a welcome surprise. Whilst it is an accepted part of getting older, losing your natural hair colour can really knock your confidence.

Anabel Kingsley, trichologist and hair expert at Philip Kingsley, tells GoodtoKnow that while most of us notice our first few grey hairs in our 30s, for some people the discovery of greys may come much sooner: "Women and men can begin to turn grey as early as 18, while others experience their first white hairs much later in life."

So, what exactly causes grey hair and is there any way you can prevent it? We've asked experts to share their thoughts.

What causes grey hair?

Going grey is caused by a lack of melanin, which is what gives your hair its colour. We typically produce less of this as we get older. Anabel explains, "Grey hair isn’t actually grey – it’s white. It just appears grey as it is interspersed with pigmented hairs."

For many years it's been assumed that stress might cause early greys and new research has proved it can definitely play a role. Researchers behind a study, published in Nature, found that stem cells that control skin and hair colour became damaged after intense stress. They tested mice and found that stressed black mice turned white within a few weeks.

Prof Hsu - who worked on the study - said that this was a serious concern, mainly because the damage from the symptoms of stress is permanent. He said, "The detrimental impact of stress that we discovered was beyond what I imagined. "After just a few days, all of the pigment-regenerating stem cells were lost. Once they're gone, you can't regenerate pigment any more - the damage is permanent."

Going grey is natural, and should be embraced, but depending on your lifestyle it could creep up earlier than expected - especially if you're under periods of intense stress.

Can you prevent grey hair?

Celebrity hairdresser Phil Smith explained that, unfortunately, grey hair is impossible to stop, meaning there's no actual way of preventing it before it sets in. He reveals, "As of right now, there is no easy cure or prevention for greying hair. It’s a combination of our genetic makeup, our DNA and other determining factors that research is still trying to understand. 

"There’s been advancements in understanding hair trait genetics but this needs to be delved into in even greater detail to fully understand how this could be changed. In any case, it is unlikely that there will be an ‘easy fix’ like eating more of a certain food or drinking more water."

How can you care for your hair to stop greys coming early?

Lifestyle factors such as smoking can cause any greys you may have to look worse than they should.

Anabel explains, "In terms of smoking, it can discolour grey hairs and make them appear yellow – similar to what happens to your nails when you smoke."

Knight & Wilson hair expert Scott Cornwall says that hair styling products could have a similar effect.

"Heated irons and even styling products can also cause this discolouration. Therefore, those wishing to display pure grey or white hair, must use shampoos and conditioners that contain cool violet pigments to neutralise this yellow back to white," he says.

grey hair

Plucking them out is a big no no/credit: Getty

And when it comes to that all important question - should we pluck out our grey hairs? - what actually is the right answer? Anabel says, definitely not. "You definitely should not pluck. Consistently plucking out hairs can damage the hair follicle and eventually lead to permanent hair loss. However, pulling out one grey hair will not cause two to grow in its place. If this were true, pulling out grey hairs would be an excellent way to get thicker locks." 

There are holistic options which claim to prevent grey hair. But, can these techniques magically stop their appearance? It turns out, there is some truth to the old rumour that things like olive oil and drinking lots of water can help with greys. It all has to do with increasing your hair's moisture, which will make grey hairs less visible. However, it's important to realise that it won't stop them coming through altogether. 

Scott explained, "Grey hair is actually white and completely void of pigment. It will often have a tendency to become very course and wiry, a causing factor being the hair lacks moisture. Therefore if you have grey hairs (and even if you colour it) be mindful your hair could be deficient in moisture.

"Use moisture based shampoos and conditioners. Ingredients such as Shea Butter are great for bringing moisture into the hair. Lack of moisture can cause hair to become brittle, so the Pureplex products at Knight & Wilson are ideal for strengthening."

Anabel also agreed, "To improve the appearance and condition of grey hairs, I suggest using a shampoo and conditioner that contain violet hues and optical brighteners. We make Pure Silver Shampoo and Conditioner. As hair becomes finer as we get older, grey hair is also often finer and more fragile. To strengthen strands, use a weekly pre-shampoo conditioning treatment, such as Philip Kingsley Elasticizer."

According to hair expert Madeleine Preston, some food can also help to lessen the greys at the top of our heads. Walnuts could be a great way to hold off grey thanks to the trace amounts of copper they contain. This is because the nuts could boost the production of melanin (the pigment that gives hair colour).

You could also try taking a multi-vitamin daily as most of them contain copper. Or other foods that are rich in copper include turnip greens, lima beans, yams, spinach, and most meats. But as our experts have explained, there really is no way to avoid greys in the end - meaning there's no reason not to embrace them!

Phil Smith believes that instead of fearing the greys, we should be embracing them as we get older. "In my opinion grey hair should be embraced," he said. "It’s a distinguishing feature that is being embraced more and more by leading style icons like Vogue’s Sarah Harris."

We couldn't agree more!

Aleesha Badkar
Lifestyle Writer

Aleesha Badkar is a lifestyle writer who specialises in health, beauty - and the royals. After completing her MA in Magazine Journalism at the City, the University of London in 2017, she interned at Women’s Health, Stylist, and Harper’s Bazaar, creating features and news pieces on health, beauty, and fitness, wellbeing, and food. She loves to practice what she preaches in her everyday life with copious amounts of herbal tea, Pilates, and hyaluronic acid.