Tuesday 22 March 2011

Silver Threads Amongst The Gold

Reports recently that many women of much younger ages are finding grey strands occurring in their hair have excited some of the media almost as much as the loss of hair in certain prominent males.

The reasons suggested are various. The stress of modern living is a favourite theme. That grannie’s experience of raising eleven children and losing three, in a world that did not have central heating, fast food, or modern appliances on her husbands wage of £3 a week, about good average, did not have it’s stresses is an interesting implication. And she had her widowed mother to take care of as well.

Another theory is dietary, somehow there is a lack of a particular vitamin in the modern diet. But in previous generations with seasonal limitations on many foods and often a limited choice of cheap options must have been the norm.

Also, science at the time was pointing to major vitamin and diet deficiencies amongst the population. These were caused by poverty on the one hand and eating the wrong foods on the other. It might be strange to suggest this, but those who could afford the white breads, tinned foods and manufactured products could have diets that were not healthy.

The answer may in fact be complex, with several interacting factors. One thing that has changed is that many women in the past covered their heads as the norm. This was because workplaces were dirty, housework was dirty in the age of coal and in towns the air was dirty as well. Moreover, in the countryside it was usual for all those working outdoors to have their heads covered.

Also, in that period hair was washed far less often, typically only weekly, and with a small range of products that were of limited strength and capability. To dye the hair was an expensive business and high maintenance. All in all, the hair took a lot less punishment and had much less exposure.

Contrast that with today. The air in towns and workplaces is no less polluted, although very much by petro-chemical particulates and their derivatives. Very few women work in the fields. In the home the effects of coal and ordinary dust have been replaced by a wide range of other substances that fill the air.

In addition, the range of cosmetic and personal products now even in the poorest homes would have staggered the women even of the upper middle class in the past. Moreover, daily washing and the application of strong colours, fixatives, other treatments and brighteners is almost the norm.

Add to that the strong chemicals embodied in clothing, detergents and fabric conditioners and the hair now has a daily battering of strong substances that much affect the natural pigmentation of the hair and the ability of the body to keep the feeding of the hair in balance.

Another consideration is that today a much higher proportion of women have access to and use the services of hairdressers who themselves function essentially by applying cocktails of chemicals. Yet they have limited knowledge or training in chemistry and in particular biochemistry.

As grannie used to say, you get what you pay for and if you cover yourself with muck then you become muck. With eleven children to wash down by the kitchen sink, she would have known.

But to modern eyes this would not be as stressful as catching up with the twitters.

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