EUREKA! They found it! No, not the cure for cancer. The grey hair gene. The IRF4, as it’s known to scientists. They already knew that this gene was connected with hair colour, but now they know that it is also the gene that causes hair to go grey.
The research was led by Dr Kaustubh Adhikari, a developmental biologist at University College London, after the heads of 6,600 people were examined. The volunteers were from Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Peru and Chile, comprising of mixed European, Native American and African heritage. And guess what — they all came up with the same grey hair gene.
“These findings have potential forensic and cosmetic applications as we increase our knowledge on how genes influence the way we look,” Dr Adhkiri said in an interview.
“Preventing grey hair is a possibility and even reversing grey hair might not be impossible. Once we know more about the pigmentation process, and all the genes involved it should be easy to find a protein or enzyme to up-regulate or down-regulate the activity.” While the team also discovered a few more genes to do with hairiness — the monobrow gene, the thick eyebrow gene, the giant beard gene (only of any real interest to Liam and Noel Gallagher and lumbersexuals) — the scientists suggest that the grey hair gene could cause a genetically modified vanity revolution.
They may be too late. Grey hair —rebranded as silver — is so desirable that people too young to go grey having been artificially going there. Silver-dyed hair is totally a thing. Those who are already naturally silver are out and proud, but while Julie Walters, Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Jamie Lee Curtis, Emmy Lou Harris and Toni Morrison have long been poster ladies for silver vixens, the fashion industry continued to send blank-faced teens down its runways.
Until they woke up to the fact that older women are (a) hot and (b) have more money than kids. Cue a plethora of silver-haired goddesses looking back at us from fashion shoots —Pam Lucas, American Apparel’s Jacky, Daphne Selfe, Carmen Dell’Orefice, Cindy Joseph. All are in the sixties and beyond — Dell’Orefice and Selfe are in their eighties. All have the languid sophistication not found in their baby-faced counterparts. None have expressed any interest in genetically modifying themselves to override their IRF4 gene.
While white people generally find their first grey hair aged around 34, and black people a bit later, in their forties, many women — and a handful of men — have been going silver prematurely. On purpose — because it is ethereal, other-wordly and super-flattering. Just look at Lady Gaga, Nicole Ritchie, Beth Ditto, Madonna’s firstborn Lourdes Leon, Rhianna, Kelly Osbourne, Marina from Marina and the Diamonds, Ellie Goulding, Kate Moss, Cara Delavigne, and the one from Little Mix. Hashtag #grannyhair.
Obviously, old school feminists were revolutionary in their refusal to get their roots done — Germaine Greer, Andrea Dworkin and Susan Sontag were all about the grey. Because, back then, grey really was for grannies, as the double standard of grey equalling distinguished for men equalled old bag for women. Today, there is a fabulous silver middle ground between having what Joseph O’Connor terms ‘hair like a madwoman’s fanny’ and feeling the need to dye everything rich chestnut to ward off the ingrained ageism that eventually becomes internalised — if we let it. Plus you save a fortune on salon bills.
Men are still catching up. Unless you are Mark Ronson and on-trend enough to dye your black hair silver, you may not be overjoyed with being male and grey. “
Grey hair can sure change how a guy feels about himself,” ran the script of an early advert for Grecian 2000, the male hair product that spawned a thousand sniggers. Invented in 1961, Grecian Formula was marketed strictly to men as a discreet answer to greying.
Lead was one of its main ingredients, and black its only colour —its USP was that it supposedly worked gradually so that nobody would notice, because back then men dyeing their hair was considered vain and possibly homosexual.
They still did it though. As a signifier of potency, it was supposedly used by Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Osama bin Laden. Paul McCartney has the worst dye job this side of Silvio Berlusconi, with Donald Trump and Tom Jones tying for second place.
Someone should tell them we like silver foxes as much as silver vixens (unless you’re Donald Trump, obviously). George Clooney is the silver fox king, of course, with lesser foxes including Martin Kemp, Matt LeBlanc, and Roger from Mad Men.
Barack Obama went grey in office — and who could blame him — but remains the first fanciable American president since 1789.
David Beckham, at 39, has a grey beard, and was tagged by his wife on Instagram as #silverfox. Nobody has ever tagged anyone as #grecian2000fox. Ever.