Salt and pepper hair looks distinguished, writes Elisabeth King, and a lot of men agree with her.
Forget toiletries, one of the fastest growing grooming categories for men is hair colour. But things aren’t as straightforward as they look. The market is fairly evenly divided between younger men colouring their hair for fun and the washing-away-the-grey crowd.
But for men in the latter category the sheer frequency of application could be turning many guys off. According to AC Nielsen, men buy to 10 to 12 boxes of at-home hair colourants, on average, over a year while women only have to buy four to six boxes. The reason is obvious: most men have short hair and grey roots start to show after a couple of weeks.
The George Clooney effect aside (he started to go grey in his early 30s and has been voted US People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive — twice), the current media frenzy for praising men for going platinum has many other role models. CNN’s Anderson Cooper have been lionised in the past for passing on the bottle.
Many men start going grey at 30, about five years ahead of women. And let’s get one myth out of the way: it’s an old wives’ tale that fading locks are due to stress. In reality, scientists don’t fully understand the causes behind the loss of melanin, the pigment that keeps our hair blond, black or brown. Genetics is thought to be the major reason some people go grey as early as their teens. Like baldness, grey hair is mainly linked to heredity. Check out your immediate family and if your father or mother went grey early, chances are you will. The number of grey hafts you have is also dependent on race. People of European descent go greyer much earlier and faster than those of other races.
To further explore grey’s anatomy, individual hairs don’t actually “turn” grey. They grow out of the hair follicle that way, becoming more visible as the darker hairs around them fall out (most people lose between 50 and 100 strands of hair each day). As people age, melanin production eases off and the hair loses colour. Grey hair still has low levels of melanin but white hair has none. The decrease in melanin also makes hair coarser and drier, so you can end up with less manageable hair and flyaways (individual strands that won’t conform to styling). Another reason to enjoy prematurely grey hair is that quite often it is resistant to colourants and dyes, which is probably why talk show host Jay Leno and Steve Martin (who started to go grey decades ago) stopped fighting an uphill battle.
Anderson Cooper, has been turning steadily white since he was a teenager revealed, in his recent autobiography, his initial discomfort at being labelled a silver fox at such a young age, but he now celebrates the fact that in his job it’s a real plus. “In the TV news business,” he says, “grey equals gravitas. In fact, in just about any line of work for men, being prematurely grey is an advantage.”
He’s not wrong. A Sydney hairdresser who wished to remain nameless confessed she is often asked to add a little grey to the temples of boyish-looking men in their early 30s. “Doctors, lawyers and bank managers mainly because their clients and customers would often ask them, ‘How old are you?'”
Advertising has also played a major part by casting younger men with a touch of silver in their hair in ads for fashion brands, not just erectile dysfunction help lines. And let’s be honest, many men don’t like the obvious look of a dye job, whether it’s done at a salon or at home. They may try it once when they dye their hair back to its original colour but then decide they don’t look quite like themselves. Skin colour changes with age and a hair colour that suited you naturally at 21 may not be the right shade to years later.
Let’s leave the last word to Anderson Cooper. “On a guy, grey hair says I’m mature, I’m stable and I can be relied on. Give in to grey. Make the most of it while you’re still young.”