Originally appeared on Real Simple
Not feeling so foxy about your silver strands? If you've got less gray hairs than pigmented ones, coloring your hair at home may be the best bet. Keep the renegades under control with these expert camouflaging techniques. If gray hairs are sprouting long before you’re ready to embrace them, you’re not alone. According to a recent British survey, about 32 percent of women are under 30 when they find that first gray strand. A bottle of hair color isn’t always enough to send it undercover: Gray hair is stiffer and drier, making it difficult to mask. (There’s a reason it’s called “stubborn.”)
Why Does Hair Go Gray?
As new hairs form and grow, pigment-producing cells called melanocytes inject them with color (a.k.a. melanin), turning them blond, brown, or red. Melanin production slows as we age; when it comes to a complete halt, we go entirely gray. For some people, it never totally stops. That’s why a 40-year-old might have a full head of grays and an 80-year-old might have salt-and-pepper strands. Experts have mixed opinions about whether melanin production is determined solely by genes, but the majority agree that genetics plays a role. For the most part, everyone will get gray hair—there will just be differences in when and how much. A little comfort: “Technically, your hair isn’t turning gray,” says Eric Spengler, the senior vice president of research and development at the hair-care company Living Proof. “What we call ‘gray hair’ is just hair that lacks pigment. It’s the contrast of that noncolored hair against the rest that gives it a clear, grayish cast.” Eventually, science may offer a way to beat back that silver: Researchers at New York University Langone Medical Center, in New York City, have pinpointed the mechanism that can make black mice gray. But until there’s some breakthrough that applies the discovery to humans’ mousy grays, here are some lower-tech camouflage strategies.