Melanin; that's the stuff. If you're going grey, it's a lack of melanin that's to blame. Without wanting to blind you with science, there are two types of pigment that result in hair being a certain colour: eumelanin and pheomelanin. Pheomelanin colours hair orange and red, and all humans have some pheomelanin (so maybe we're all redheads at heart), whereas eumelanin is responsible for the browns and blacks. Generally, if you have more eumelanin your hair will be darker; more pheomelanin and it will be lighter.

Grey or white hair is not coloured by melanin; it's caused by a complete lack of pigment. Think of a glass tumbler, fill it with a coloured liquid – blackcurrant juice, for example – and the glass takes on that colour; it looks red. Fill it with nothing at all and it looks grey or white because of all the light reflecting off different surfaces. That's what we mean by grey hair: a whole bunch of pigment-free follicles reflecting light and appearing grey or white.

What can be done about it?

Not a lot; you're pretty much in the hands of your genes. We are pre-programmed to go grey, just as we are pre-programmed to turn from bald babies into wild-haired toddlers. Age is the biggest factor; the older you get, the more grey you're likely to look. In simple terms, melanin production slows down or stops altogether as you age. There's very little you can do but cross your fingers.

A healthy diet, 'clean' living and a stress-free existence may delay the inevitable but very, very few people reach their 70s without at least a few grey hairs. Most of us face-up to greying a lot earlier. Our salvation? Hair colour.

It's nothing to be ashamed of. People have been colouring their hair for a long time. The ancient Egyptians used vegetable dyes such as henna to camouflage their greys. For all we know, Cleopatra was very grey.

Colouring grey at home made easy

If you have only a few greys, colouring at home is probably the best option: practical, inexpensive and remarkably effective if you follow the instructions carefully. The thing to remember is that covering grey is not like adding a few highlights to your existing hair. Grey is the hardest hair to colour, so you'll need a permanent dye (permanent doesn't mean forever, though – this is not a dyed and gone to heaven scenario; you have to keep working at it!).

Expert colourists recommend a darker shade of dye for your roots and a lighter shade, that matches more or less your natural hair colour, for the rest of your hair. Start by applying the darker dye to the roots up until an inch or so down. Then, use the lighter shade for the rest of your hair.

Don't be tempted to choose a hair colour that is a drastic departure from your natural shade; if you want it to look relatively natural go for a colour that is a maximum of one or two shades lighter or darker. This will not only prevent permanent damage to your hair – frequent dyeing can leave hair dry and brittle –but also means that when your roots grow through they will be less visible.

Really want to know how to cover up grey hair, go to a professional?

If you have more grey hair than just a few unpigmented strands, your best option might be to see a professional hair colourist. Grey hair tends to be wiry and less susceptible to soaking up hair dye, which means you'll need more dye, and all that dye could go horribly wrong without an expert in charge.

Stylists will have advice on the best-suited colour to not only demonstrate how to touch-up your hair colour but how to match your new hair colour with your skin tone. If you're worried about damaging your hair, a professional dye will last longer, look brighter and leave your hair feeling healthier. If you don't want to dye all of your hair, highlights and lowlights are best done by a professional and can cover your grey hair just as well as a full dye would. Then, make sure you keep your hair in top condition by retouching your roots every 4 to 6 weeks.

Or, touch-up your hair colour and your roots

In the past, the tell-tale emergence of grey roots was a depressing thought for many of us; now, no longer. You don't need to call your colourist in a state of high anxiety or wear hats until you can afford to visit the salon next. No, you need to keep your calm and use a touch-up hair colour products.

Express Retouch by Garnier is one such product. It's an instant grey concealer that can be used on the go, with very precise application and no mess. The results are natural-looking and instant, with five different shades to choose from. Just shake, apply and brush through. Brilliant!

What not to do

Unless you're experimenting with colour, avoid semi-permanent hair dye when covering grey. The dye may blend in better but, as the colour fades, it can leave a yellow tint on the grey hair.

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