Most of us dread the idea of going grey, but for most it’s an unavoidable reality.
By the age of 50, 50% of the population has at least 50% grey hair.
In fact, most people usually notice their first grey hair in their early 30s, says trichologist Anabel Kingsley.
“However, women and men can begin to turn grey as early as 18, while others experience their first white hairs much later in life,” she adds.
Hair goes grey when the follicle that it grows from stops producing melanocytes, a type of pigment-forming cell that gives hair its colour, Kingsley explains. The rate at which this happens is governed largely by our genes – meaning we have little control over whether we’re affected.
READ MORE: More women than ever turning grey under 40
But whether we choose to embrace our grey strands or not is another story. Actor Jennifer Aniston, 50, declared in a recent interview that she would not be going grey, telling InStyle she would never quit her monthly dye appointments: “I’m not gonna lie — I don’t want gray hair,” she said.
Meanwhile, singer Jennifer Lopez, also 50 – who first went grey aged 23 – says she dyes her hair once a fortnight to keep the grey at bay. Many of us choose to cover our greys, with the UK boasting Europe’s largest hair colourant industry, valued at an estimated £317 million in 2017, according to Mintel figures.
However, there’s a growing trend for embracing our naturally grey strands. A number of A-listers, including Jamie Lee Curtis, 60; Diane Keaton, 73; and Helen Mirren, 74 have all gone grey gracefully.
As for the gentlemen, George Clooney and Patrick Dempsey are leading the way for the silver fox brigade, with 33-year-old ‘The Bodyguard’ star Richard Madden popularising grey among the younger generations.
Then there’s the one-in-20 hair dye users who choose to colour their hair a grey or white shade.
Our attitudes towards grey hair are changing: there’s been a 39% rise in searches for “natural grey hair” since 2012, according to Google Trends data.
‘I went grey at 13’
Elizabeth, 32, who has asked for her last time not to be mentioned, is one of the younger women pioneering the grey trend.
“My mum found my first grey hair when she was putting curlers in my hair when I was 13 years old,” she tells Yahoo UK.
From the age of 17, she coloured her hair every month for a decade, but has eschewed hair dye for the last four years.
Posting from the Instagram account @young_and_gray29, Elizabeth has accrued over 9,000 followers with her grey hair pictures and updates. While many men and women bemoan going grey early, Elizabeth believes it was an “advantage” to go grey young.
“I get so many more compliments on my hair hair than I ever did with dyed hair,” she says. “Pretty much everyday a stranger tells me they love my hair.”
Jennifer Smith, 46, who goes by the handle @silverfox40tales, is another example, sharing her “journey to grey-tness” with her 13,000 followers on Instagram.
She tells Yahoo UK: “I was 19years old when I noticed my first greys popping and I didn't decide to go grey until I was 45. Just prior to my decision to go natural, I would have said never ever!”
“I was colouring every 2-3 weeks regularly and having to use root concealer in-between. Without a doubt, I always said I won’t let myself go grey until I am really old!”
However, this all changed last year – and Smith has never looked back, with some fans of her grey hair referring to her as a “goddess”.
“In September of 2018 I decided to quit everything and just let it grow completely dye-free,” she adds. “Believe it or not, I get way more compliments now on my hair than I have ever had! It has become a little joke in my family on how many comments I get out and about.... I was once referred to as a goddess by a waitress.”
However, not everyone is so keen on grey hair, with the majority of female respondents admitting it made them feel “frumpy” in a Lancome survey published last year.
Changing attitudes towards grey hair
“Grey hair was typically considered undesirable for women as it was a clear and unavoidable signifier of age,” says Rachael Gibson, a freelance hair editor who goes by the handle @thehairhistorian on Instagram.
She adds: “Historically, women were widely viewed as baby-making machines and not much else – and grey hair suggested that this would no longer be a possibility. This type of depressing messaging has been around since the advent of commercial home hair colour in the 1950s.
However, this is changing for two reasons, she says.
The first is the popularity grey as a hair colour trend: steely, icy and ashy blondes, as well as pastel grey tones.
The second is the popularity of natural grey hair. “This is part of the larger trend of diversity and acceptance, and the idea that we're slowly coming towards that people should feel happy and confident to be themselves, regardless of size, skin colour and hair colour,” she says.
It’s exciting that the grey hair trend is taking off in the UK, says Gibson, because unlike the cultures of India and China where grey hair is associated with wisdom and garners respect, grey hair has never previously been celebrated here.
“The closest we have come to grey hair as a trend is perhaps the powdered wigs of the 17th and 18th century, decorated with hair powder in pastel shades, including white and grey but also pinks, purples and blue,” she says. “Aside from this brief dalliance, we haven't really ever seen grey hair embraced either as a trend of an 'acceptable' beauty choice, so it's really exciting that it's finally starting to happen.”
How to look after grey hair
Grey hair styling depends on the texture of your hair. If coarse, Kingsley recommends a layered cut, while finer hair should be worn in a blunt cut.
Unless you are blessed with thick hair, she would advise against longer styles: “As grey hair tends to be dryer, and also may not be able to grow as long, longer styles can become wispy looking at the ends.”
You should also invest in a special shampoo to keep your grey strands looking their best.
“To improve the appearance and condition of grey hairs, I suggest using a shampoo and conditioner that contain violet hues and optical brighteners. Such products help to counteract any yellow or discoloured tones and make hair look healthier and shinier,” says Kingsley.