As sure as day follows night, grey hair awaits us. Not tomorrow morning, hopefully, maybe not for several thousand mornings but sooner or later you're going to wake up, look in the mirror and do a double take. Whether you're resigned to that inevitability, absolutely dreading the moment or in complete denial, you might want to be prepared.

Are there ways to prolong the inevitable, and what's the best way to cover up those offending grey, wiry hairs? Before we address those questions, let's consider why it happens...

Why do we go grey?

Grey hairs are the result of your cells – the cells responsible for producing pigment (melanin) – losing their ability to colour your hair, something that generally happens as we age. Because, as we age – as we are all too well aware – everything slows down a little.

Simply, our bodies are made up of gazillions of cells with lots of different responsibilities, but cells are not designed to last forever. Some die and are replaced by different new cells as we grow and develop; some replicate themselves; others are not replaced at all. In time, most cells, whether they are responsible for memory or taste or elasticity or pigmentation, lose energy and become less efficient.

Exactly how hair loses its pigment is not 100% certain but the evidence is clear; it seems that the cells collectively responsible for pigmentation – technically known as melanocytes – don't function as well as we age. Perhaps, the effort of it all becomes too much for the little fellas, or they become too thin on the ground to inject any meaningful pigment, or maybe the genetic necessity to produce pigment becomes less critical. Perhaps, it's a genetic thing to do with courtship rituals and hormones that trigger a little timer switch - nope, no pigment needed here folks.

The cellular science is pretty much irrelevant; all you need to know is that those melanocytes are working to their schedule, not yours, and you don't get invited to the consultation meetings.

Anyway, the bottom line is that hairs start to emerge without pigment and the rate at which they appear increases as the pigmentation function declines. All those colourless hairs look grey, thanks (or no thanks} to an optical illusion.

Premature greying

Sometimes, the grey comes earlier than expected, which is called premature greying. This is often due to genes – yes, you can blame your parents, and their parents if that helps! However, some have linked stress and poor lifestyle choices to grey hair appearing, mainly because these factors go hand in hand with skin and hair damage in general.

So, what can be done about it?

Well, the most popular option is to simply cover up the grey with a permanent hair dye to coat it in the colour you prefer.

Dyeing your hair is easy and it can be a fun thing to do; many people see the emergence of grey as a great opportunity to rejuvenate a look. Perhaps you've always wanted to be a rich, chestnut brunette rather than a mousey brown ‘nothing in particular’, or maybe the approach of ‘greydom’ is a great excuse to bring out the blonde bombshell that's always lurked inside? Maybe you want to try something wild and controversial just to see the expression on your friends' faces. And if you usually dye your hair anyway, nobody will need to know the real reason behind the sudden colour change!

Embracing the grey

Artificial colour, however, even if it is 'permanent' is only a temporary option, and not one you can step back from easily. It's a serious commitment; you might love your new colour, of course, and it might become the real you – in which case you'll stick with it at all costs, or you simply may not want to reveal your grey secret – either way, you're destined for a lifetime of dye.

Millions of us are in that boat and, in truth, it's no great hardship, especially with so many great home colour hair root touch-up products around, including the latest genius hair root touch-up products from Garnier (nobody need ever know). But grey is, according to many a style guru, increasingly fashionable and many choose to embrace their grey hair rather than having a hair root touch-up; go with the flow, don't swim against the tide.

If you do, the trick is to not let your pale grey hair wash out your complexion entirely, which will have the effect of making you look older than your years. That means looking after your skin. If your skin looks youthful, so will you, even with grey or partially grey hair. We can't stress enough the importance of having a great skin care routine so your natural, healthy-looking radiance brightens your face. A tan can also do wonders for creating a youthful grey hair look, but don't overdo it, and protect yourself from those damaging UV rays; deep wrinkles, sun spots and grey hair is probably not your best look.

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