A Cup of Coffee – To Dye or not to Dye

Welcome back! Last week we talked about being thankful for that which we would normally curse. If you missed that blog and would like to catch up, click HERE.

It happens to all of us, eventually, gray hair. But do we know why?

As I looked into this question, I was surprised by some of the answers I found. For example, both race and age may be a factor.

Premature Gray

Some people go gray 10 or more years earlier than the average person does. It’s premature if you’re gray before:

  • 20 if you’re white
  • 25 if you’re Asian
  • 30 if you’re African American

On average, white people start to gray in their mid-30s. Asians start in their late 30s. And African Americans usually don’t see color changes until their mid-40s. Isn’t that interesting?

Do genes matter?

It’s mostly your genes that dictate how early and how quickly it happens. So if either of your parents had a full head of gray hair in their 30s, there’s a good chance you will, too.

What does science say about my gray hair?

Your hair follicles have pigment cells that make melanin, a chemical that gives your hair its color. As you age, these cells start to die. Without pigment, new hair strands will grow lighter and take on various shades of gray, silver, and eventually white. Once a follicle stops making melanin, it won’t make colored strands again.

Can stress play a part?

News In Health wrote an article on just this question. They said, “Nerves in your sympathetic nervous system—which is responsible for the body’s fight-or-flight response—go throughout the body, including into hair follicles. The study showed that stress causes the release of the chemical norepinephrine into the follicle.

“Norepinephrine affects the melanocyte stem cells living there. It causes them to rapidly turn into pigment cells and move out of the hair follicles. Without stem cells left to create new pigment cells, new hair turns gray or white.

“When we started to study this, I expected that stress was bad for the body—but the detrimental impact of stress that we discovered was beyond what I imagined,” says Dr. Ya-Chieh Hsu of Harvard University, who led the study. “After just a few days, all of the melanocyte stem cells were lost. Once they’re gone, you can’t regenerate pigments anymore. The damage is permanent.

Can health problems contribute?

WebMD says they could. These conditions include:

  • Lack of vitamin B12 
  • Certain rare, inherited tumor conditions
  • Thyroid disease
  • Vitiligo is a condition that destroys pigment-making cells in the scalp

Alopecia areata causes patches of hair (usually the ones with color) to fall out. This can look like sudden graying because the hair that’s left is gray or white. When your hair regrows, it could be gray, white, or your normal color.

I’ve heard smoking can cause me to turn gray…

Smoking affects your body from head to toe, including the hair on your head. One study showed that smokers are 2 1/2 times more likely to gray before age 30 than nonsmokers. It also can make silver gray look yellow.

Should I pluck them out the minute I see them?

Well, you can, but you’re just delaying the inevitable — another gray strand will replace it. Besides, pulling hair out can damage follicles so much, they no longer grow hair. This can make your mane look thin over time.

But the gray hair makes my hair feel thin…

Gray hair is thinner than hair with natural color because its cuticle is thinner. Your hair needs that natural protection from water, ultraviolet rays from the sun, humidity, chemicals, and heat styling. Without that barrier, your hair loses water. So your gray will feel dry, fragile, and coarse.

This fact becomes very important when washing your hair. Don’t towel dry or blow dry afterward, to give your hair the best chance it can have to retain moisture.

My gray hair looks yellow.

As mentioned above, smoking can do this to gray hair, but so can heat and light from lamps or the sun. They “bleach” gray hair and make it look yellow. Ask your stylist how to prevent this. A purple-toned shampoo can help keep your tresses a vibrant silver.

To dye or not to dye…

That’s a personal choice. Do whatever makes you feel good about yourself. It’s your hair. If you are uncomfortable with the chemicals in hair dye, consider a natural option, like henna. It can add red, brown, or black sheen to any texture of hair. Powdered pigments from the leaves of the henna plant can work well to camouflage your gray roots.

Does my cut matter?

Yes. Your stylist might recommend a cut with lots of style and texture, and to get a trim every 6-8 weeks. Women who are 100% gray often wear their hair short but consider long layers. They can be beautiful and add movement to healthy, bouncy hair.

Embrace the journey

At the end of the day, we aren’t our hair…or our makeup…or our job title…or, or, or. We are the heart light that shines deep inside of us. We are who we touch with love and compassion. Enjoy this stage of your journey, because whether you choose to dye or not to dye, nothing about your internal love compass changes. You will always be you, gray or not.


As always, this blog is not a replacement for sound medical advice. I am not a doctor. Please make an appointment to see your healthcare provider and put a good plan in place that works for you and the needs of your body.

That’s all I have for you this week, dear reader. I’ll see you back here next Wednesday to share another cup of coffee. Until then, be good to yourself and each other.

Mind, Body, Spirit…Osteopathic Doctors treat the whole person, not just the ailment. Is your PCP a DO? Would you like to learn more about Osteopathic Physicians? Click HERE!

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