Real reason why you should stop plucking grey hairs

Few women enjoy spotting a new grey hair that's secretly sprouted up, but while it's tempting to comb through your locks and pluck out any silver strands, experts say that reaching for the tweezers can actually do more harm than good.

Contrary to popular belief, pulling out a single grey hair will not make more pop up in its place.

The colour of any individual strand of hair is based on the melanin produced by pigment cells in that hair follicle. We get a grey hair when that follicle stops producing melanin - a natural process that happens with age - so plucking out that strand won't prevent it from being grey when it eventually grows back, and it similarly won't change the pigment cells in the surrounding hair follicles.

Woman is checking hair for greys in a mirror
Plucking grey hair will do more harm than good. Photo: Getty Images

What plucking may do, however, is contribute to hair thinning in the long run if you let it become a habit.

"Plucking can traumatise the hair follicle, and you can damage it to the point where it will no longer grow any hair," says Trey Gillen, hairstylist and creative director of education at Sachajuan.

"If you're a serial plucker, repeated 'plucking trauma' can even cause infection, scar formation, and bald patches.”

As London hair stylist and founder of 3 More Inches Haircare, Michael Van Clarke, puts it, "If you make plucking a habit when less than 1% of the head is grey, you'll have less hair to work with in a few years' time, when 10% of the hairs are grey.”

So, what can you do about grey hair?

If you only have a few grey hairs and the temptation to pluck is overwhelming, you could instead carefully cut those hairs out. As with plucking, it won't stop the strand from growing back grey but it will temporarily hide it.

Back of a young blonde woman with her hands clutching her wavy hair
Highlights may do a better job of disguising greys, depending on your hair colour. Photo: Getty Images

Colouring your hair is another option, but if you don't have a significant number of greys, adding highlights rather than a blanket colour may do a better job at disguising them as you won't have a severe line of grey regrowth.

Your hairdresser can chat to you about the best way to tackle greys based on your specific hair colour and the number of greys you have.

Of course, another option is to just embrace it - grey hair is a normal and natural part of life and there's absolutely nothing wrong with it.

What causes grey hair?

While many blame stress for bringing on a new crop of greys, for most of us, stress is the least of our worries.

We get a new grey hair when a hair follicle stops producing the pigmentation that normally colours our hair. This happens naturally as we age, starting for most people around their 30s and leading to about half of our hair being white or grey by the time we're in our 50s.

Asian woman brushing her grey hair while looking at reflection in mirror
When you'll go grey is largely based on genetics. Photo: Getty Images

Genetics is the single biggest factor that determines how soon you start going grey, so it may be worth thumbing through some old family photo albums to see when your parents started going grey before blaming them on your new job or the kids.

The jury is still out on how much of a role stress actually plays in contributing to greys, however smoking has been linked to premature greying.

Some illnesses, including thyroid disease, and a number of vitamin deficiencies, including vitamin D and group B vitamins, can also contribute to early greying.

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