Two days ago, I was brushing my hair, as you do. While I don't normally pay too close attention to every strand of hair on my head, one immediately made me recoil in horror. Yes, I had found my first grey hair. In fact, that's incorrect. After lifting my top layer of hair up, I found an entire patch of grey hair just waiting to torment me.
The science behind hair going grey is pretty simple. Your hair colour is determined by how much melanin you have. As your body begins to age, melanin production slows down, leading to reduced pigment and a new grey/white shade.
There are a few reasons why some people experience early greying; the main one being genetics. If your mum and dad went grey at a young age, you're likely to as well. Your genes can even go so far as to determine how quickly the process will develop and the particular shade of grey you will end up with, Dr. Michael Eidelman of Chelsea Skin & Laser told the Huffington Post.
Everyone's heard that stress can also be a factor. That was the main thing I thought of when I noticed that pesky strand. However, there's no conclusive evidence to prove this theory, according to Scientific American. But, WebMD does report that medical issues like thyroid problems and vitamin B-12 deficiency can contribute to they greying process, too.
Anyway, back to me. My first reaction was to cry. Surely I was a little young to be noticing grey hairs? "People usually notice their first greys in their early 30s," trichologist at Philip Kingsley, Anabel Kingsley, recently told Refinery29. I'm only 23 and know all too well that societal standards tend to dictate that any woman with grey hair has "let herself go." A look back at the fact that Meghan Markle's barely visible grey strand was enough to create headlines answers that one.
After crying for a few minutes (and painfully attempting to yank out a few), I took a step back and called my mum. Considering she regularly dyes her hair, I don't know what expert advice I was expecting other than to enlist the help of a professional if I was that bothered.
Reaching for the bottle is an option many women chose, says psychotherapist Richard Nicholls, adding: "Three out of four women look to dye their hair as soon as they notice any grey." Although that that could get rid of the physical signs of my greying, it's a lot of maintenance for someone who has never dyed their hair. In the end, I decided that I didn't want to begin a life of throwing chemicals over my entire head just to cover up what was admittedly a tiny patch.
After thinking about it for a while, I came to the conclusion that I, myself, wasn't actually that bothered about the concept of having a few grey hairs. I was more worried about what other people would think. (Of course, it doesn't help that I have very dark hair so 10 strands on me is much more noticeable than on someone who's blonde.)
Turns out my discomfort there is informed by a predictable human response, says solution-focused psychotherapist Gin Lalli. She says that scientifically, having a full head of grey hair is "a visible sign that you are 'past your prime' for reproduction." Animals experience the same thing: "Lionesses manes go grey which indicates clearly to a prowling male that this female is not young and fertile anymore."
This results in the "fight or flight" response; something you've probably heard mentioned in countless David Attenborough documentaries. I don't think I'm past the point of being able to conceive, but this response can occur even when you notice one teeny tiny hair.
But why are we so scared of a change of hair colour? People dye their hair all of the time and there was even a trend to deliberately go grey not so long ago. "White hair has been (and may always be) associated with loss of youth and fertility," psychologist Dr. Vivian Diller tells me. "While it's become more stylish and can even express beauty defiance, those first white hairs can trigger a deep fear of ageing and, ultimately, our mortality."
I mean, I am terrified of dying so maybe she has a point. Living in a culture that still largely puts a one-dimensional view of beauty up on a pedestal doesn't help. "In a world of Instagram, Facebook, and an increasing need to 'keep up with the Joneses', women are finding more and more shame attached to what is a completely normal part of life," notes Nicholls. How many female celebrities in their twenties or thirties do you see strolling around with visible grey locks? I rest my case
It's perfectly understandable to have a bit of a meltdown when you notice your first grey hair. But if men can earn the title of "distinguished" from going grey, why can't women? And if people treat you differently because of the colour of your hair, do you really want to mix with them?
These are all questions I'm going to remember as I become the female Sweeney Todd. Yes, it still scares me that I may have more grey hair than black in 15 years' time but am I going to let it stop me live my life? Like hell I am.