Gray hair is a natural part of aging, but when it appears prematurely, it can be quite a shock. But what if we could hit the “pause” button at the first sign of a few gray strands? Thanks to scientific advancements, we’ve gained a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of aging. This has sparked researchers to explore methods to slow down and potentially reverse how we age. This raises the question: Are we getting closer to selectively targeting certain signs of aging? Can you reverse gray hair or stop premature graying in its tracks? We investigate.
What Causes Gray Hair?
Gray hair is primarily the result of a loss of pigmentation in our hair follicles. Melanin, the pigment responsible for hair color, is produced by melanocytes within the hair follicles. As we age, these melanocytes begin to produce less melanin, leading to a gradual loss of color.
Genetics and Other Factors
Genetics play a role in this process, accounting for about 30 percent of why our hair turns gray. When graying happens at a younger age, this is often something that runs in families. However, celebrity hairstylist Jay Small, cofounder of the anti-aging hair brand Arey, says lifestyle can also play a big part. “Our research began in 2019 when we learned that scientists have identified only one gene that was associated with going gray, the IRF4 gene,” he explains. “This meant that a majority of why hair turns gray was due to lifestyle, dietary factors, and aging.”
Small says most people assume that going gray is linked primarily to genetics and it turns out that there are many other factors they have control over. “We see it as a message from the body,” he adds. “Early on we were able to identify several vitamin and mineral deficiencies that were associated with hair turning gray. Beyond diet, lifestyle factors like smoking, sun exposure, pollution and exposure to harsh chemicals plays a large role in causing oxidative stress to the body and can impact gray hair.”
Can lifestyle changes help reverse gray hair?
Yes, you can take proactive steps to delay the onset of gray hair or reduce the number of grays you develop, says Beverly Hills, CA hair restoration specialist Dr. Craig Ziering. “Reversing or avoiding certain factors is crucial in addressing premature graying and maintaining healthy hair,” he explains. “Vitamin deficiencies, like B6, B12, D, and E, including biotin, can influence the graying of hair. Additionally, factors that induce oxidative stress, like an unhealthy diet or exposure to radiation or ultraviolet rays, can also contribute to this process. Studies have demonstrated that smoking has a significant impact as well. Furthermore, even practices like hair bleaching, which involve the use of hydrogen peroxide, can potentially affect hair follicles and pigmentation.”
Can hair products help reverse gray hair?
Hair products containing proactive ingredients can help slow down and preserve the depigmentation process, says Small. “Gray hair typically results from a deficiency in the amino acid tyrosine. To maintain and restore hair pigmentation, it’s essential to provide the body with ingredients that enhance melanin production, which tyrosine contributes to,” he says.
According to Small, Arey’s line of hair products includes a peptide that, when absorbed through the scalp, provides the hair follicles with amino acids supporting melanin production. He adds that it’s important to note that repigmenting completely white hair is less likely since these strands usually lack pigment. “However, if a hair strand is gray, supplying the body with what it lacks in the early stages of graying hair can potentially restore pigmentation to those strands.”
Potential Scientific Breakthroughs
Recent scientific advancements offer hope for those looking to address gray hair. Dr. Ziering says an exciting breakthrough lies in stem cells: “Melanocytes stem cells within the hair follicles can potentially be stimulated to produce more pigment and reverse gray hair.”
One promising approach is stem cell therapy, particularly using exosomes, which have the signaling ability to activate stem cells. “This therapy aims to reintroduce pigment-producing cells to hair follicles, potentially offering a long-term solution for reversing gray hair,” adds Dr. Ziering. “Additionally, research is ongoing into plucking hair follicles to isolate and multiply stem cells that can be converted into various cell types, including those responsible for hair color.”
While there’s no treatment available yet, these innovations hold promise for the future of delaying or reversing gray hair. However, we aren’t fully there yet. As Small aptly puts it, “Gray hair, like wrinkles, is a normal sign of aging that we will all experience, but the goal is to help us look great and feel confident as we age.”