Hair greying is a natural part of the aging process that affects most people at some point in their lives. As we get older, the pigment cells in our hair follicles gradually die off, causing new hair strands to grow in lighter and turn grey, silver, or white. This process is largely determined by our genetics, but other factors like stress, smoking, nutrition, and hormonal changes can also accelerate greying. While greying is irreversible and inevitable for most, there are ways to potentially slow down, reduce, or cover up grey hairs.
What causes hair to turn grey?
Our hair color comes from cells called melanocytes that produce melanin pigments. We have two types of melanin: eumelanin which gives hair brown or black color, and pheomelanin which produces reddish hair tones. As we age, melanocytes become less active and produce less melanin, causing our hair to turn white or grey. This is caused by:
Aging and genetics
Genetics play a big role in when and how fast we go grey. This timing is highly heritable, meaning it runs in families. People of European and Asian descent tend to go grey in their mid-30s to early 40s, while African Americans often start greying in their mid-40s. Early greying before age 30 also tends to run in families.
Accumulation of hydrogen peroxide in our hair follicles can cause oxidative damage and decrease melanin production over time. Things that increase oxidative stress like smoking, poor diet, and environmental pollutants may accelerate greying.
Lower melanocyte stem cells
The number of melanocyte stem cells we have peaks around early adulthood and declines with age. With fewer melanocyte stem cells, hair regeneration results in less melanin production.
Decreased antioxidant levels
Antioxidants help counter oxidative stress. Lower antioxidant levels allow more hydrogen peroxide buildup in follicles. This causes oxidative damage that reduces melanin.
Changes in hair follicle immune privilege
Hair follicles have immune privilege, meaning they don’t activate the immune system. This privilege weakens with age allowing anti-melanin antibodies to target melanocytes.
When does greying start and how fast does it progress?
On average, Caucasians start going grey in their mid-30s, Asians in their late 30s, and African Americans in their mid-40s. However, up to 6-23% will start greying before age 30. The rate of greying varies between individuals with 50% having at least 50% grey hair by age 50.
Here is a table showing approximate age ranges when greying typically starts for different ethnicities:
|When Greying Typically Starts
|Late 30s to early 40s
While genetics largely determines when greying starts, other factors like smoking, stress, hormones, and nutritional deficiencies can accelerate the process. Greying tends to progress faster with age.
Is grey hair reversible?
Grey hair is irreversible for the most part. Once hair has turned grey, the melanocytes that produce pigment are gone from those strands. However, some potential ways to help reverse or reduce greying include:
Treating underlying causes
If a vitamin deficiency, thyroid disorder, or other medical condition is causing premature greying, treating the underlying problem may help slow or stop further greying.
Chronic stress can accelerate greying. Finding healthy ways to manage stress like exercise, meditation,socializing, and counseling may help slow the process.
Smoking can increase greying. Quitting smoking may stop or slow down premature greying.
Eating a nutritious diet with antioxidants can reduce oxidative damage to hair follicles. Key nutrients for healthy hair include vitamin B12, zinc, iron, copper, selenium, and protein.
Some research indicates that frequent scalp massage may help stimulate blood flow and melanocyte stem cell activity in follicles, potentially slowing greying. However, more research is needed.
Topical creams or supplements
Some over-the-counter topical creams and supplements claim to reverse greying by promoting melanin production. However, there is limited evidence that they are effective. Check with your doctor before trying any new products.
Low-level laser light therapy
Early research shows low-level laser light therapy applied to the scalp may help treat greying hair. However, larger controlled studies are still needed.
Experimental melanocyte transplantation procedures inject new melanocyte stem cells into scalp follicles. This shows potential for restoring pigment but is still investigational.
So while greying can’t be reversed in most gray hairs already present, some strategies may help slow or reduce further greying. More research is still needed on ways to potentially restore melanin in hair follicles.
What lifestyle and diet changes may help with greying hair?
While greying can’t be stopped entirely, some lifestyle and diet adjustments may help slow the process:
Quit smoking and avoid pollutants
Smoking and environmental pollution accelerate greying. Quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke can reduce oxidative damage to hair follicles.
Chronic stress causes higher levels of peroxide-generating enzymes in hair follicles. Finding healthy stress relief through exercise, socializing, meditation, therapy, and other methods may help slow greying linked to stress.
Eat antioxidant rich foods
Foods high in antioxidants like berries, dark leafy greens, tomatoes, carrots, nuts and fish can reduce oxidative damage to follicles.
Get enough vitamin B12, zinc, copper
Grey hair is linked to deficiencies in vitamins B12, zinc, and copper. Eating foods like shellfish, eggs, beef, nuts, legumes, yogurt, and fortified cereals can ensure adequate intake of these vitamins and minerals.
Consider scalp massage
Some studies show scalp massage may boost circulation and stimulate follicles, potentially slowing greying. Try massaging the scalp frequently with oils.
Use gentle hair products
Harsh hair dyes, bleaches, and other chemical treatments damage the scalp and hair follicles, contributing to greying. Limit use of these products.
Check hormone levels
Hormonal changes and imbalances can accelerate greying. Have hormone levels like thyroid, cortisol, and sex hormones tested, especially if greying seems premature.
Protect hair from sun damage
UV sunlight exposure causes oxidative stress and damage to hair. Wearing hats and using UV protective products can help minimize this damage.
|How It May Help
|Reduces oxidative damage to follicles
|Lowers peroxide levels in follicles
|Eat antioxidant foods
|Protects follicles from oxidative damage
|Get key nutrients
|Corrects deficiencies linked to greying
|Boosts circulation and stimulates follicles
Are there any medical treatments to reverse greying?
There are currently no FDA approved medications to reverse greying. However, some emerging medical treatments being researched include:
Hydrogen peroxide scavengers
Research shows that removing excess hydrogen peroxide can restore melanin. Scavenger drugs like PC-KUS and RCG3 can reduce hydrogen peroxide levels in follicles and showed reversal of greying in mice. Human trials are still needed.
Senolytic drugs target and eliminate senescent cells that accumulate with age. In mice, senolytics reactivated melanocyte stem cells and reversed greying. Clinical trials are underway to test their efficacy in humans.
Melanocyte stem cell implants
Implanting new melanocyte stem cells into hair follicles can restore melanin. One small study achieved moderate repigmentation in 6 patients. However, more research is still needed to develop this into an effective treatment.
Low-level laser light therapy is thought to stimulate cellular metabolism and microcirculation in follicles. Early studies show potential for reactivating melanocyte stem cells and reversing greying. Larger, high-quality studies are still needed.
Up-regulating certain genes involved in melanin production or down-regulating pro-greying pathways may help overcome greying. But gene therapies for greying hair are still in preclinical testing.
While there are no current proven medical treatments for reversing greying, multiple promising research approaches suggest effective interventions may be developed in the coming years.
|How It May Reverse Greying
|Hydrogen peroxide scavengers
|Reduce hydrogen peroxide levels in follicles
|Reactivate melanocyte stem cells
|Melanocyte stem cell implants
|Restore melanin by implanting new melanocytes
|Stimulates melanocyte stem cells
|Boost melanin production pathways
What are effective ways to cover up grey hair?
While reversing greying hair is challenging, there are many cosmetic solutions to cover up grey effectively:
Hair dyes and coloring
Semi-permanent and permanent hair dyes provide full grey coverage and unlimited coloring options. However, they require frequent re-dying as hair grows out. They may also dry and damage hair over time.
Highlighting and lowlighting
Adding highlights overlapping grey hairs camouflages grey while creating a sun-kissed look. Lowlighting darker tones underneath can further minimize the contrast. This requires less upkeep than full dyeing.
Clear semi-permanent glazes coat greys with shine and subtle color while conditioning the hair. Glosses last 4-6 weeks and don’t lift or alter underlying color.
Root touch-up kits
Powder or mascara-like root concealers quickly cover new grey regrowth between salon visits. They wash out easily with shampoo.
Grey blending products
Temporary colored mousses or sprays deposit micro-pigments to tone down and blend in grey hairs between washes. They don’t leave obvious roots.
Scalp micropigmentation tattoos create the look of buzzed stubble to camouflage greying hair. However, the results are difficult or impossible to remove.
|Full grey coverage, unlimited colors
|Damages hair, requires frequent re-dyeing
|Subtly lightens and blends greys
|Still requires some root upkeep
|Conditions while glazing over grey
|Temporary results, fades out
|Quickly conceal new growth
|Not a permanent solution
Should you embrace going grey?
Instead of covering greys, embracing the grey and letting it come in naturally is an option. Benefits of going grey include:
– Saves time, money and hassle spent covering roots
– Allows you to flaunt a striking, sophisticated silver mane
– Can look stylish and accentuate your natural beauty
– Avoids damage from dyes, bleaches and other chemicals
– Lets your inner confidence shine through
The choice between hiding versus embracing grey hair is personal. Either option can look amazing when done right! Focus on healthy hair habits and styling to make the most of your natural hair color.
The takeaway on reversing grey hair
While greying is largely irreversible, emerging research shows potential for new treatments that may reactivate melanin production in follicles. For now, options to reduce or conceal greying include:
– Make healthy lifestyle choices to slow the greying process
– Use temporary or permanent hair dyes to cover gray strands
– Try highlighting, lowlighting, glazes, and root touch-ups
– Investigate possible underlying medical causes
– Consider embracing the grey rather than covering it up
Remember that going grey is a natural sign of experience and wisdom worth celebrating! With the right care and styling, your silver locks can look vibrant at any age.