Grey hair is an acceptable sign of an old age, but when young people in their 30’s are seen with natural grey hair, what is it? Asks Ebere Nwiro
Seun Aribisala, an engineer with one of the telecommunications companies looks different amongst his peers. The hairs on his head are turning grey just as his beard now has same colouration. But Aribisala is not aged. He was 31 last December.
He says, “I first noticed these grey hairs when I was 28. I had gone to cut my hair when my barber poked fun at me. He said you are now an old man. I chuckled at his statement. Then, I used the big mirror on the wall to look at my head and truly a part of my hairs were grey.”
That sense of an old look with grey hair can be disturbing. At least Aribisala admitted, “I am not married and of course it’s also strange because my knowledge of people with grey hairs on their head has been those in their 60s. I was worried initially and I was trying to cover it up in some ways, but now I am living with it without shame since it’s not just me. It has become a phenomenon in the country. I can’t explain it, but I have seen more young people with grey hairs.”
Stress, heredity and medicals are some of the reasons already advanced for premature greying. But, going grey, by itself, does not mean there is a medical problem somewhere, except in rare cases and contrary to popular belief, stress has not been shown to cause grey hair. Scientists don’t know exactly why some people go grey early, but genes play a large role.
According to a medical practitioner Dr. Collins Enebeli, the first silvery strands usually pop up around age 30 for men and age 35 for women, but greying can begin as early as high school for some and as late as the 50s for others.
“Greying of the hair starts inside the depths of the scalp. A human head is characterised by about 100,000 teardrops like shaped cavities called follicles,each of these follicles are capable of sprouting several hairs in a lifetime.
“Grey hair is actually the hair that has no pigment and is the result of the melanocytes — the cells that produce pigment — becoming damaged or dyeing. This happens naturally as we get older, and some scientists argue that exactly when it’s governed by your genes, rather than by your lifestyle,” he said.
THISDAY spoke to different people experiencing premature greying, and they expressed different thoughts. For Joyce Nwachukwu, a single parent, she said, “At my most recent hair appointment to retouch my hair, my stylist noticed "grey highlights." Since I only recently turned 32 years of age, however, I was a little bit surprised and I thought if I am greying at a fairly young age like this, then what would be my look when I am 40.”
THISDAY findings revealed, poverty, prolonged sickness, mental stress and some genetic factors also explain why people’s hair turned grey at early age.
Deji Morenikeji, a Medical Director at Triumph Hospital, Ikeja, Lagos, believes stress is a major cause of grey hair in Nigeria, even though research has not proved it. “People are too emotional about money and they stress themselves too much,” he said.
He also added that grey hair could be natural and that is why we may see a few youth and children growing grey hair today in our society. He agreed that grey hair constitutes no medical threat to the body mechanism.
To corroborate his statement, Charles Madu, a Journalist, disclosed that his grey hair wasn’t as a result of stress, since he has always had it right from the primary school.
“I have always had grey hairs right from my childhood days. In my family, it is hereditary; all my uncles had grey hairs right from their youths,” he said.
According to Madu, at first, he was uncomfortable with it but as time passed by, he became
more comfortable being seen with grey hairs on his head.
Perhaps, it is explainable when people like Presidents Goodluck Jonathan and Barack Obama who came to the office with complete black hairs are now spotted with grey hairs. But, for those without the challenge of the office of a president such as young people on the streets in their early 20s, greying early can be a challenge with all its social impact.
Henry Enwerem, an engineer, who started greying at early age said, “people tend to look at those who have grey hair with respect, but if you’re a man and you haven’t got married by the time grey hair start to come, you might face some challenges with women. They will first look at the physical appearance before they are convinced about you. Some will say you too old whereas you are just a young man.”
He is of the opinion that going grey at a young age is as a result of hormonal imbalance, “back in the days, we don’t see our youths with grey hairs on their heads, what has changed now? I believe many of our youths are going grey early because of what we eat today and the kind of live we are living today.”
According to Bimbo Olayemi, 27, “Grey hair signifies wisdom and commands respect in my culture. It can come as a result of stress, age, worries or it can be plain hereditary. It goes well on some people and it makes them look dignified and regal, while on some especially the poor or unkempt people, it portrays a worn out look.”
Promise Eremosele, said, having grey hairs at an early stage can be a challenge. “As a young man in my prime, I cannot see grey hairs on my head and leave it there; to me it goes to show that I am getting old and if I do people might mistake me to be an old man when I am barely 33 years old. I always scrape my hair to the last because some unwanted grey hairs are starting to appear. When you see me, I totally shave down, because I really don’t want to dye my hair as some people do.”
Generally, the most common cause of premature graying is genetic. Men and women who have a family member who greyed at an early age are more likely to also begin greying at an early age as well. This is thought to be the most common cause of premature greying, but what if you don't have a family member who began greying at an early age?