From using the term pro-aging instead of anti-aging to creating a more welcoming and aesthetically pleasing space for the menopausal market, the beauty industry is attempting to provide more options for those looking to embrace rather than escape the aging process—although until the day we can physically stop time, some might regard those escapist attempts as ultimately futile. Philosophical musings aside, this means that aging consumer segments are now split into two categories: those looking to support their bodies through the aging process, and those hoping to turn back the clock.
Gray hair is one such example. According to Spate NYC, there were 802K monthly searches for “gray hair” in the US on average, with the term “highlights” in conjunction with gray hair being searched 89.8K times. The searches for gray hair shampoo grew by 1.1% while those for gray wigs grew by 38.2%. Overtone, which offers silver conditions, has emerged as the most searched brand in the gray hair category, with 4.1K monthly searches.
The likes of supermodel Kristen McMenamy embracing their grays as a signature look have certainly made the look more fashionable. It’s also evidence of the undercurrent of the pro-aging movement. Life coach Michael Taylor recently announced his latest book I’m Not Okay With Gray: How to Create an Extraordinary Life After 50, which, despite what the title may suggest, is actually all about embracing the later stages of life, gray hairs and all. “I’ve met many people who dread getting older or who believe life is finished because they’ve entered another phase,” Taylor says. “I wrote this book to help people renew their mindset about aging and anticipate great things in the second part of their life. The second half of your life is the best part.”
On the follicular front, there is a similar sentiment. Hair stylist and Arkive Headcare founder Adam Reed tells BeautyMatter: “Attitudes are changing towards gray hair, and have moved on hugely over the last decade. Gray hair was seen as a sign of aging, more coarse, harder to condition—all very negative. In the last ten years as color has massively changed, gray hair and gray hair enhancement has become more popular.” He puts this down to the fact that “the perceptions of age, and how you look as you age, has changed. It’s about maximizing and embracing color, whatever that color is.”
While some might assume the silver path would ensure little to no maintenance, as Reed notes, brassy and yellow tones are more likely to show through on silver strands; therefore, maintaining a cool undertone with tinting and toning products is important. “From a product perspective, gray hair needs products that are designed to care and color. These should neutralize excess yellow or brassy tones in gray hair so that you get the clean, shimmering translucent gray that you want,” he remarks. “These products will need the extra added benefit of high-level nourishing, smoothing, and moisturizing to give gray hair the care it needs. As is, oils, co-cleanses, and masks are great because they will soften the hair.”
The science behind caring for and preventing grays is a complex science, according to the founder of hair, lash, and brow care brand Vegamour, Dan Hodgdon. “As our hair ages, we not only begin to lose melanin, which is what gives hair its pigment, but the hair follicles also begin to produce less sebum, the natural oils that hydrate hair, making hair feel drier, coarser, and at times more brittle,” he adds. Therefore diet supplementation and optimal nourishment can give an extra boost, in addition to hydrating and protecting products. Hodgdon explains that aging isn’t the only reason for the melanin loss that causes gray hair, citing vitamin deficiencies, daily habits, and genetics as other deciding factors. The IFR4 gene was identified in 2016, which is said to be the specific gene responsible for gray hair. “What’s most interesting about this discovery is that this IFR4 gene only accounts for approximately 30% of gray hair growth. The other 70% is often caused by factors such as diet and nutrition, and lifestyle choices. Further, as most recently revealed in a landmark study on graying, it has been discovered that poor sleep and chronic stress also contribute greatly to premature hair graying,” he proclaims.
Vegamour recently introduced a Gro Ageless collection featuring an Anti-Gray Hair Serum and Ageless Gray Delay Hair Supplement to preserve natural hair pigment and delay further gray hairs while also increasing shine and scalp health. The products are the results of several years of research into the causes of gray hair, including the science of melanin production. The hair serum uses vitamins, antioxidants, peptides, and glycoproteins to renew natural hair color production in new hair growth, protect hair bulbs from the effects of oxidative stress, and increase shine of hair follicles. Meanwhile the supplements, which contain B vitamins, iron, copper, selenium, L-theanine, and 5-HTP, aim to do everything from protect hair from free radicals to alleviate the stress that can contribute to gray hair production. This blend has gone through a microencapsulation process to ensure maximum bioavailability.
As for the customers purchasing these products, it’s a wider scale than one might assume. “We anticipate reaching consumers between their late 20s and early 50s, ranging from millennials to Gen Xers. For younger consumers, there is no hard or fast rule on when to begin gray hair prevention. However, similar to when you would begin a preventative skincare regime, we recommend starting even before experiencing the first signs of graying hair,” Hodgdon notes, who also sees a shift away from products meant to cover up or maintain grays to a less reactive approach, akin to the evolution of skincare. “We spend our lives trying to reverse and work against the effects of time on our bodies, but our studies indicate that it's far more effective to address hair concerns before they materialize through establishing a prejuvenation routine also known as preventative care regimen, designed to address the underlying root causes of various concerns early on,” he states.
For those less willing to make friends with their silver strands, beauty brands are hoping to not just offer surface solutions such as hair dye, but target the issue at the root of the problem. Amorepacific and LG Household & Healthcare introduced new products that claim to not only cover up gray hairs with nature-derived tinting and toning complexes, but strengthen hair roots and reduce hair loss. Modamoda’s Pro-Change Black Shampoo, a winner in the hair category at this year’s Cosmoprof North America, uses the same natural antioxidant properties of polyphenol that are responsible for the browning of fruits and vegetables to dye gray hairs brown or black.
According to Jay Small, co-founder of hair and supplement brand Arey, it’s not just a matter of covering existing silver strands, but reducing the likelihood of increased gray hair production in the first place—a case in which the temporary solution may be part of the problem. “Nearly 85% of women have colored their hair. For years, the response to gray hair has been to cover it. Unfortunately, once this cycle begins, it's likely that each time you apply hair color chemicals to your scalp, healthy production of hair is stifled,” he explains. “The average person covering gray will have to maintain color every 4 weeks, and will likely overuse hair color on areas of the hair that do not need coverage. This frequency and overexposure are a high payload of oxidative stress and could be contributing to an increase in gray hair with every application.”
Arey, which describes itself as “the wrinkle cream of haircare” and offers a duo system of supplements and hair serum, has a customer division of 40% men to 60% women, with those who have darker hair, which more strongly contrasts grays, most likely to seek out the brand’s offerings. “Our approach to gray hair is one of proactivity, as we see gray hair as a message from the body,” Small adds. “Haircare has been reactive for decades, and we wanted to create a brand that addressed aging hair the way that skincare tackles wrinkles. Instead of covering gray hair at first sight, we would like to get to the root of the problem. We feel that starting to use proactive haircare products at the first signs of gray make the process of preserving pigment and hair health better within our control.” With 74% of people between 45-65 years old having gray hair, “this market has been underserved for decades,” Small points out. “Over the last 80 years there have been only four clinical studies with a primary endpoint on gray hair count, so there is still more to learn, and we strive to lead this category in innovation and education.”
Thankfully, the more science uncovers about the many causes of graying, the more brands can offer solutions. The various influences in gray hair production puts more power back into the hands of consumers than previously assumed. “A common misconception is that there is nothing that can be done about grays aside from covering them up or choosing to embrace them. However, premature hair graying caused by lifestyle factors such as poor sleep and chronic stress can be treatable,” Hodgdon adds. “Additionally, through beginning early preventative care routines for grays, we also have the ability to delay their appearance for longer. All in all, we are more in control of time than we think!”
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