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Pro's and Con's of Dyeing Grey Hair

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 4 Sep 2010 | comments*Discuss
Dye Grey Hair Cover-up Pros Cons Risks

For many people, one of the most obvious signs of ageing is grey hair and deciding how to tackle this can be a tricky question. There are some who may jump for the hair dye the minute they find one grey strand – others who live uncomfortably with grey streaks for a period before succumbing to a cover-up and still others who wear their ‘salt n pepper’ look proudly, even from an early age. For those who have just discovered their first grey hairs, making the decision to dye or not can be a difficult one – so a careful consideration of the pro's and con's can help to make the decision

Why Does Hair Go Grey?

It can be helpful to have an understanding of why hair goes grey in the first place. In actual fact, all hair is white (or colourless) – it is only coloured by the presence of a pigment called melanin and the concentration, distribution and type of melanin determines the shade and colour of your hair and provides the amazing array of hair colours seen around the world.

Over time and with ageing, the amount of melanin produced by your body naturally decreases, leading to your hair losing its colour as the levels drop. Scientists are still unclear as to the exact process but one theory is that each hair follicle has a ‘melanogentic clock’ which can slow or stop the activity of melanocyte cells which produce melanin, thus decreasing the amount of pigmentation that the hair shaft receives. A combination of ageing and genetics means that different hair follicles have clocks operating at different rates, which is why some turn grey sooner than others. In addition, in some people, the shut-down occurs very rapidly across all the hair follicles – leading to premature greying at a young age – while for others, it can take several decades to complete the shut down and achieve a full head of grey or white hair.

Everyone’s hair turns grey eventually – the rate just depends on your genetics and your lifestyle – factors such as toxins, pollutants and chemical exposure may speed up the arrival of grey hairs. Certainly smokers are well-known for going grey prematurely.

To Dye…

For most women, grey hairs will usually make them look older and most choose to dye it. Having said this, there are more and more celebrities and fashion icons nowadays who are choosing to adopt a natural, salt-n-pepper look and proving that this can be just as sexy, fashionable and attractive. For men, the choice can be less clear-cut as many men look more distinguished and sophisticated with grey hair and many women find this look particularly attractive.

For either gender, however, if one feels very self-conscious about one’s grey hair, then it is probably worth dying it. This can be achieved with in-home DIY treatments although most salons noawadays will have stylists specialising in covering grey hairs and it may be worth the expense, especially initially, to find a shade suitable to your complexion and which does not look “fake”.

If you are considering dying your hair, then it is important to know and understand the potential risks. While most hair dyes are considered safe, the application of chemicals always involves the possible risk of side-effects, however rare. In fact, certain hair dyes have even been suspected as being carcinogenic (causing cancer) and the World Health Organisation has banned 22 hair dye substances while The Cancer Research Society’s advice is blunt: don’t dye your hair. Even without the risk of cancer, other side-effects can still occur such as burning, stinging, itching on the scalp and hair loss, as well as allergies and skin irritations. Newspapers have reported various cases of bad side-effects from hair dyes, such as the 16 year old girl who suffered a bad reaction following a home dye, causing her head to swell up and requiring hospitalisation for a week.

…Or Not To Dye

For those who opt for the natural look and not to fight Nature, there can be negatives too although these tend to relate to society’s perceptions rather than any health aspects. Ironically, for men, this can work in reverse – grey hair on men tends to make them look more mature and sophisticated, even successful. In some industries and fields, this can be a distinct advantage – for example, Bill Clinton’s prematurely grey hair helped mask the fact that he was a very young President at the age of 46 and probably helped people have more confidence in him. Similarly, George Clooney is one famous celebrity who has not suffered in career opportunities from having a head of grey hair. Sadly, double standards do generally apply and women with grey hair undoubtedly look older and to many people, less attractive – this can be seriously detrimental to a woman whose career depends very much on looking young and attractive.

One thing to remember for those who choose to age gracefully and embrace their grey locks and that is that they may need to adjust their wardrobe colours accordingly to complement their new lighter hair colour.

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