Grey. Silver. White. Hair colours you may associate with old age, but did you know that some people can go grey as early as their teens? Dr Ang Chee Beng, a consultant dermatologist at Ang Skin & Hair Clinic at Mount Alvernia Medical Centre, Singapore, describes premature greying, in The Straits Times, as “greying that usually occurs before 20 years of age”.
In the same way that hair loss is often a result of genetics, grey hair can run in families. “The age at which greying begins seems to be due to genetics,” says Dr Neoh Ching Yin, a consultant dermatologist at the National Skin Centre, Singapore. “Human hair colour is determined mainly by melanin pigmentation within the hair fibre cells. The greater the amount of melanin, the darker the hair,” explains Dr Neoh. And as the production of melatin pigments within the hair fibres is regulated by a set of genes, there are people who will inherit grey locks.
Grey hair can also indicate certain genetic or autoimmune diseases. Dr Neoh said that genetic diseases such as albinism and piebaldism may be linked to the condition. Albinism is an abnormality in the production of melanin that usually leads to lighter skin and hair and affects vision. Piebaldism occurs in patches of skin or hair that have no pigment.
Premature graying can also be a result of autoimmune disorders such as pernicious anaemia, said Dr Ang. Pernicious anaemia occurs when the body is unable to absorb vitamin B12, which is needed for the production of red blood cells. This results in a shortage of red blood cells, which can make the person feel tired and short of breath.
Thyroid disorders, such as hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, can also be linked to premature greying. Other symptoms of hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) include constipation, depression, tiredness, muscle aches, dry skin, and brittle nails and hair. Other symptoms of hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) include itchy skin, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, fatigue and patchy hair loss.
For those affected by vitiligo, a pigmentation disorder, Dr Ang said there may be a whitening of hair in the affected scalp area. “This condition results in white hair rather than grey or lighter pigmented hair.” Vitiligo is the condition Michael Jackson was reportedly diagnosed with in 1986. It wasn’t until 1993 that the late Jackson said publicly he had the condition on the Oprah Winfrey show. The singer helped raise awareness of the condition, which was until then relatively unknown.
Although it was thought that stress made people go grey early, it seems to have more of an indirect effect. Dr Neoh said, “Stress is not directly related to the development of white hairs, although there is an autoimmune condition known as alopecia areata in which stress is thought to be a triggering factor.” If a person with this condition re-grows hair, it may be white. There is no treatment to reverse or prevent grey or white hair; hair dye is the only option at present.
While grey hair may not be treatable, it can look very distinguished on men and elegant on women. So if you want to make the most of your silver locks, and are concerned about losing hair, then contact the Belgravia Centre for a free consultation to discuss hair loss treatment. To book an appointment, call 020 7730 6666 or message the centre. Alternatively, complete the online diagnostic form and a treatment advisor will contact you to discuss matters in more detail.