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Early shades of grey

PHUKET: Having grey hair, for many, is a hardly bearable physical transition. Yet probably the best way to deal with it is to welcome it.

By Bangkok Post

Tuesday 30 July 2013, 09:11AM

Kofi Annan

Kofi Annan

"Although grey hair is preventable to a certain extent, we must accept the fact that our hair tends to turn grey as we age," said dermatologist Dr Supanee Sugkraroek.

Age-related grey hair is one thing. But premature greying is another. While many start showing grey hair in their 40s, others might start going grey in their 30s or even 20s. So the question is, how early is too early?

Hair turns grey when melanocytes _ the colour-producing cells _ stop producing pigment or melanin, explained Dr Supanee. Hair colour has a lot to do with genetics and consequently the age people start going grey depends largely on race, as well as each individual.

Basically, Caucasians start getting grey hair in their early 20s whereas Negros can have the sign of silver hair in their 40s. Typically for the Mongoloid, hair starts to turn grey when they step into their 30s. But regardless of racial difference, everyone tends to have an increasing amount of grey hair as they age.

So according to Dr Supanee, if the hair turns grey before such an age-related benchmark, it is likely to mean premature greying. Nevertheless, premature grey hair is not a medical complaint. If a white person, for instance, has only a couple of grey hairs in their 20s, it is not considered abnormal given the small number and should not be taken too seriously.
The actual cause of grey hair is yet to be scientifically pinpointed, added Dr Supanee. But free radicals are believed by medical specialists and scientists to stop melanocytes from producing melanin and that subsequently leads to grey hair.

"The connection between free radicals and grey hair is regarded as a logical explanation to this subject," noted Dr Supanee, who is also an anti-aging specialist.

"Every cell inside the body uses energy so that it can function properly. After it is used, the energy turns into waste called free radicals. This process is somewhat similar to when a car consumes fuel and the combustion causes exhaust fumes. And free radicals are a hydrogen peroxide-forming substance.

Cigarette smoking is linked to premature greying.

"So when hydrogen peroxide builds up in the hair follicle, it causes the hair to bleach itself from the inside out and therefore turn grey."

Cigarette smoking and exposure to UV rays especially from strong sunlight are believed to be associated with the increase in the number of free radicals. In other words, smokers and those who are often exposed to UV rays are more likely to have more grey hair or to have grey hair earlier than non-smokers and those who protect themselves from the Sun.
"Stress also triggers free radicals," Dr Supanee said. "When you are stressed, cells inside the body work harder and because of this they consume more energy, which means they produce more waste."

Some sorts of physical abnormalities can also lead to premature grey hair. They include vitiligo, as well as problems with the thyroid gland, but in such cases, the grey hair will return to normal once the disease is cured.

Interestingly, hydrogen peroxide used for teeth whitening is claimed to bring about grey hair in some cases, added Dr Supanee, but this is rarely found.


Some people may also experience sudden greying of the hair almost overnight. This, according Dr Supanee, is caused by an extreme level of stress resulting in sudden loss of black hair, leaving only grey hair on the head.

"But such a case only happens if a person's ratio of black hair to grey hair is 50:50," noted the doctor. There are also quite a few myths and ambiguities surrounding grey hair. Among the most popular that coconut juice can help prevent greying, which of course it can't.

"There is no scientific connection between drinking coconut juice and preventing the hair from going grey," Dr Supanee stressed.

And will plucking grey hair cause more to grow? Is it true if one grey hair is pulled out, two or more will grow at the very same place?

"This is not possible," he said. "Each hair on the head grows from its own follicle. And it is this hair follicle where the cell is programmed. If a hair is pulled out, the follicle can only hold one replacement. And if a grey hair is plucked, the new hair will also grow grey."
There are several techniques to conceal the grey hair and these include hair colouring. Permanent hair dying and semi-permanent hair dying are among the favourite options but such a use of chemical dye comes with some downsides too.

"To colour the hair, it needs to be bleached first," said Dr Supanee. "And bleaching causes damage to the hair coating resulting in the hair becoming dry, weakened and less shiny."

Therefore, one of the best ways to prevent grey hair is to prevent free radicals.
Avoid risk factors that lead to the production of free radicals including stress, cigarette smoking and exposure to strong sunlight.

"Too much stress is likely to shrink the arteries and when the arteries become smaller in size, they cannot transport nutrients to the hair as much as they are supposed to do," the doctor advised.

"Also remember that physical health affects the health of the hair. So taking care of your general health also means you are taking care of the hair too. Take good care of your health by having regular exercise, having enough rest and drinking enough water.

"It is also vital to eat a lot of fruit and vegetables as they are a good source of antioxidants _ the body's most important weapon in the fight against free radicals. By following these approaches, not only your hair but also your overall body will become in good health."

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