There are few beauty experiences that will be as shocking as finding your first gray hair. That's not to traumatize you or give you undue anxiety—it's just shocking. Something that you always knew would happen, but didn't really think was in the near future. That’s how I used to categorize it for myself. But then at a soaring altitude of 40,000 feet, I found not one or two, but three. I honestly freaked because I had no idea how I hadn't noticed them before, but also started to panic a little because I had to wonder if this the official opening of the floodgates? That's a lot to process when you still feel like you're a kid, TBH.
Did gray hair mean I was rapidly aging? It's an unpleasant experience, to say the very least, but I can't help but assume that maybe I'm not alone in this experience. Inevitably, we will all find a gray hair or two. About two weeks later when I saw my colorist, Sarah Spratt, she found another and I nearly let out a guttural scream, were it not for her sage words of advice. "Finding a gray hair literally doesn't mean anything. Except for maybe when you find more than a few—and that just means it's the end of easy hair."
But what is the new reality of graying hair?! I had so many questions. I literally asked any colorist I had ever met about them. My first question was if plucking a gray really mean that three more will attend its funeral? Trichologist Anabel Kingsley gave me the scoop. "This is a myth. But wouldn’t this be a brilliant way to get thicker hair! What usually happens is if you notice and pull out one gray hair, you become more aware of color changes and therefore start to notice others. In fact, 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 loss of hair." OK, no more ripping out my grays.
My second question was if it is normal to find three gray hairs at the age of 25. Kingsley reassured me. "On average, most people will have a few gray hairs by the time they turn 30. However, some see their first grays as early as 18, while others do not experience graying well into their 40s,” she says.
But don't worry, I also asked the same thing to Rita Hazan, celebrity colorist and owner of Rita Hazan Salon in NYC, out of paranoia, and she agreed with Kingsley. "I think it depends on genetics. Some people gray at an early age of 18 or 19 and most women don’t start until they are in their 40s," Hazan explains. "The earlier you start, the more advanced it is. The later it kicks in, the less and less advanced it is. Natural redheads don’t typically get gray until late 40s or 50s."
A few grays at 25 are nothing to have a complete nervous breakdown over, but I did want to know why it was happening, regardless. Kingsley explained that gray hair occurs when the hair follicle stops producing melanocytes—pigment cells that give hair its color. When this happens is mostly down to genetics, however there are a number of factors that can contribute to graying. Among those, Kingsley names vitamin B deficiencies, diabetes, pernicious anaemia, and thyroid disorders.
While she says nothing can be done presently to prevent or reverse graying, following a healthy diet and managing your stress could help premature graying, but it’s not a done, proven deal.
And for those of you who have noticed a gray and wondered why it grew back in a different texture than the rest of your hair, turns out you're not imagining it.
"Gray hairs are usually finer because our hair gets finer as we age,” says Kingsley. But your hair may feel more coarse because, as we age, sebum production from the sebaceous glands on our scalp decreases. She says that gray hairs are more obvious when surrounded by pigmented hairs, and that’s often why we scrutinize their texture.
Want to cover it up with hair dye? The typical amount of time people go between touching-up color, according to Hazan, is 4-6 weeks, but if you don't have a lot you can wait 2-3 months.
I wanted to know what I could do to cover my grays, given my clear distaste for their presence. Sarah Spratt comforted me with the notion that you can do a number of things. You can go in and just spot treat the grays with color, or you can create a visual distraction.
"Another way to conceal grays is to add in highlights in strategic places to draw the eye there, instead of to the contrast between your natural hair color, and the gray hair.”
You don't have to start dyeing your whole head of hair, and going grey doesn't have to be the end of the world. You could even just own it and look great that way.
With that, my gray-induced panic evaporated and I was able to return to my regularly scheduled beauty programing.