Gray, gray, go away?

On casual Fridays and laid-back weekends, I often forgo my wash-‘n’-go for a quick-and-easy pony puff. Just pull my hair through a satin scrunchie and voila! Instant style! It was a perfect plan for years, until the day I saw something – rather, a few something’s – shiny coming from my temples. Lint, perhaps? Or too much product buildup? It couldn’t be gray hair, could it?

It certainly was the latter, and on my head of brunette ethnic hair, the grays stood out. While the rest of my hair had a familiar coil pattern I’d learned to recognize and style, the gray hairs were a lot more wiry and a bit unruly. Maybe I was just getting old. I was in my 30s, after all. Or maybe it was genetics — the men in my family went gray early, and my father sported a huge salt-and-pepper Afro on his wedding day when he was just 26 years old.

Whatever the reason, I wasn’t ready for gray hair just yet. I wanted to know how I could prevent more gray strands from popping up and hide the few I already had. And, I wanted to know more about the reasons why hair color changes from brown or red or blonde to gray, and why it was now happening to me.

Here are the facts:

Nearly all of us will go gray at some point in our lives. Our hair follicles contain pigment cells that produce melanin, which in turn gives us our natural hair color. Because those pigment cells die as we age, less melanin is produced, meaning that my brunette strands will start emerging from my scalp lacking color.

Scientists agree that genetics play a role in the timing of gray hair emergence. If your ancestors went gray early, the changes you’ll go gray early are high — but most of us will begin seeing those first gray strands in our 30s or 40s. It can then take about a decade from that point for an entire head to turn gray.

What about factors such as stress, health, hormonal changes, nutrition and other culprits blamed for graying hair? It depends on who you ask. Many scientific articles and studies will say there’s no link between gray hair and stress, for example, but individuals might swear that their first gray hairs popped up in response to a difficult situation at home or work. How many of us have heard our parents jokingly blaming us for all of the gray hairs they developed over the years, especially during our tumultuous teen years? Exactly.

In my case, I saw a significant growth of gray temple hair when I was pregnant. After the pregnancy, the gray went away. Many women will also report their gray hair is more wiry and dry than their pigmented tresses, which was true for me, especially during pregnancy.

Here are a few options to get rid of grey hair that don’t involve pulling it out:

Strategically placed highlights can create a natural look that minimizes the appearance of white or silver hair. A semi- or demi-permanent color is a good option if you only have a few strands in one location, such as your temples, and you don’t want to apply color to your entire head. Permanent color is preferable if you want to cover a significant amount of gray.

Or, you can just embrace it. I’ve seen some fierce heads of curly gray hair on YouTube and Google by women who’ve decided to celebrate the process of going gray. It’s certainly a money and time saver; no need for hair color and processing time, and the look is usually quite striking.

As with all hair, proper moisturizing and styling techniques are a must, but don’t skimp on either with curly gray hair, which could be prone to looking more wiry and frizzy hair because of the differing textures. Use shampoos designed for gray or silver hair to prevent discoloration (yellowing can be an issue) and dullness.

I decided to stick with demi-permanent hair color for now, but when more than half of my head starts turning silver, I might just rock my gray with pride. Check back with me in about 10 years!

Written By: Shannon Shelton Miller
Since going natural in college more than 10 years ago (wow, time flies), Shannons hair journey has taken her through life in humid and dry climates, product junkie-ism, hair show modeling, wedding-hair styling and now, the world of “mom” hair. Shannon lives in Ohio with her husband and 1-year-old son, and continues to enjoy exploring the world of curly hair.

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