For most people, the appearance of gray hair is a normal part of the aging process. Certain health conditions and lifestyles can contribute to the early appearance of gray hair.
Why can’t gray hair return to its previous color?
At this point, it is not possible to reverse or treat gray hair, but additional research is investigating whether it is possible in the future.
Some people have difficulty dealing with gray hair, regardless of their age. While some may accept the color change, others may look for ways to prevent or reverse the process. But is it really possible to reverse gray hair? What could you do to prevent it from happening?
Here we’ll look at how your hair turns gray, what medical conditions or lifestyle factors might contribute to this change, and whether it really is possible to reverse graying.
Why do we get gray hair?
Whether we like it or not, the appearance of gray hair is part of the normal aging process for many of us. In fact, about 23% of people will have half of their hair gray by age 50.
For the most part, when you get gray hair – and how much of it you have – depends on the genes you inherited from your parents. “Premature graying” is the term used when your hair turns gray earlier than expected by hereditary traits, and it can be caused by taking certain medications.
Let’s first look at how hair gets its color and then discuss when and why people’s hair may turn gray.
How hair gets its color
Natural hair color depends on melanin, which is a natural pigment in various parts of the body, among other things:
In our hair follicles.
Your skin (responsible for the color of your skin)
In your eyes (responsible for the color of your eyes)
There are two main types of melanin, eumelanin and pheomelanin. Your hair color depends on how much and what types of melanin you have in your hair follicles, which is largely determined by your genes.
Depending on these factors, hair color varies from person to person. Hair color can also change over time. For example, blond hair in children may become darker as they get older. We’re not quite sure why this happens, but it may be due to hormonal changes.
When do most people get gray hair?
Everyone is different, but different races tend to go gray at different ages. Here’s a typical age at which they go gray, and when it’s considered premature graying:
Caucasians: usually around age 30, premature graying if before age 20.
Asians: usually around age 30, premature graying if under age 25.
Africans: usually around age 40, premature graying if under age 30.
What makes hair turn gray?
As you get older, your hair follicles begin to produce less melanin, causing your hair to turn gray or white.
We’re not quite sure why this happens, but the underlying cause is probably genetic. In fact, a specific gene associated with gray hair has been identified, although it could be one of many genes involved. So, when your hair starts to turn gray (and to what extent), it mostly depends on the genes you inherited from your parents.
- Oxidative stress.
A cellular process called oxidative stress can also contribute to pigment loss and graying of hair follicles. Oxidative stress occurs when free radicals (which can damage cells) and antioxidants (which can prevent or delay some cell damage) are imbalanced.
Some research suggests that the cause of oxidative stress in hair follicles is the accumulation of a chemical called hydrogen peroxide, which is naturally produced by the body’s cells. Catalase is a compound that normally breaks down hydrogen peroxide in the body. Catalase is naturally found in the body and is known to be the most powerful antioxidant. One molecule of catalase can break down millions of molecules of hydrogen peroxide (H₂O₂). Unfortunately, hydrogen peroxide breaks down melanin, our natural hair pigment.
Why gray hair can’t go back to its original color
Other factors can also contribute to oxidative stress, although more research needs to be done to see how much they affect. Causes may include factors such as:
- Ultraviolet radiation.
Other factors that may contribute to gray hair
Certain health conditions and lifestyle habits can be linked to the appearance of gray hair, especially if it occurs early. For example:
Nutritional deficiencies (such as low levels of vitamin B12 or ferritin, which can be caused by low levels of iron, among other things)
Certain genetic diseases (e.g., tuberous sclerosis and acatalasemia)
- Thyroid disease
- Focal alopecia
- Psychological stress
- Certain medications (e.g. chloroquine)
Is it possible to prevent the appearance of gray hair?
No, it is usually not possible to prevent your hair from turning gray as you age.
It is a good idea to follow a healthy and balanced diet. This helps improve your overall health and reduces the risk of developing nutritional deficiencies that can be associated with premature graying.
Perhaps lifestyle changes – such as quitting smoking and reducing stress levels – can help prevent premature graying. However, we don’t yet have conclusive evidence for this. But we do know that these two lifestyle changes improve other aspects of your health, so they’re worth making anyway.
Can graying be reversed?
Until recently, the answer was no. It was thought that once a hair follicle stops producing melanin, it can’t restore its color on its own. But a recent study has shown that it is possible to reverse graying – even if only temporarily.
In the study, researchers were able to analyze how individual hair shafts changed over time. They showed that graying hair was related to stress, and when that stress was relieved, some parts of the hair regained color.
These changes in the study were subtle and were only observed with a high-resolution scanner, but they suggest that graying may not be a fixed process. More research is needed to learn more about how hair turns gray and whether it really is a reversible process.
Are there remedies for gray hair?
There is no evidence that a cure (or reversal) for gray hair exists. At this point, the best choice for people who want to hide gray hair is hair coloring, which can be temporary or permanent depending on the type.
There have been some reports and studies and studies of certain drugs that make gray hair regain its color. But in general, the studies have not been definitive, and only a small percentage of people on medication have noticed any change.
As more is learned about how the graying process occurs, it is possible that effective medications and treatments for gray hair will be developed.
What other myths are there about gray hair?
There are many other myths about gray hair that you may have heard. Here are some common ones that are not true:
Hair coloring leads to faster color loss.
Plucking gray hair leads to multiple gray hairs growing back.
Laser hair removal allows you to get rid of the subsequent growth of exactly gray hair.
Hair bleaching causes gray hairs to grow back.
The appearance of gray hair is part of the normal aging process, and different people will experience it at different ages. There are certain health conditions and lifestyle factors (such as smoking and stress) that can contribute to earlier graying. At this time, there are no effective treatments that can reverse or prevent graying. New research suggests that hair graying may be reversible to some extent, but more research is needed to investigate this issue further.