From silver strands to salt and pepper highlights, gray hairs can be an inevitable part of aging. And even with the current surge of Hollywood celebrities embracing their graying process, some would rather reverse the effects and go back to their original natural color.
But is it possible to reverse graying strands once they start to peek through? Or can gray hairs be naturally delayed? To get to the root of the gray hair issue, VEGAMOUR dug into the research — plus find out what you can do to support hair wellness as you age.
Why Does Hair Turn Gray?
For every person willing and ready to embrace their hair graying, there are just as many who turn to hair dye to cover the truth. Gray hairs are often considered a sign of aging, but what actually causes the visible change?
Health coach, ACE-certified nutrition expert and medical doctor Dr. Tina Gupta explained, "Gray hair occurs due to the loss of pigment cells in the hair follicle. Pigment cells contain melanin, which is a polymer responsible for the color of the hair follicle. As one ages, pigment is naturally lost due to cell death, and the follicle loses all melanin. This results in a loss of color which is then observed as white, gray or silver."
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The Stress of It All
Though stressful events can be a factor, the hair turns gray for several reasons. The hair follicles that produce the strands start to have less pigmentation as we age. We shed hair as part of the growth cycle, and after approximately age 35, you're more likely to see gray hair grow back in. But no doubt about it, stress and worry is a factor.
High-stress levels can cause telogen effluvium, which triggers hair to fall three times faster than usual. This is because your hair follicles are under the skin and subject to the influence of stress hormones. As a result, if you suffer stress during middle age, the natural growth you experience after excessive hair loss could come through as gray.
If you notice excessive hair fall unexpectedly, it could be time to improve your hair wellness regime and start reducing stress overall. A healthy, calm mind and body will produce a strong and vibrant mane.
It's in Your Genes
Hair color can be hereditary. So if you want an insight into how quickly your hair will gray as you get older, ask your close family members what age they were when their hair color started to turn — you could experience something similar.
When considering your hair pigment, you can also look at your biological history. For example, research shows that certain health conditions such as thyroid disease can accelerate gray hairs. Other autoimmune disorders such as tuberous sclerosis, neurofibromatosis and alopecia areata can also trigger the change.
You might first start to notice your grays around your temples and then towards the top of your scalp. As time goes on, the grays will usually spread.
A diet lacking specific vitamins and minerals can also cause decreased melanin production and impact the hair's color. Hair grows long, strong and vibrant with color when you consume a diet richin B vitamins and antioxidants. Iron, zinc, vitamin B5 and vitamin D can also prevent the hair from whitening. A vitamin B12 deficiency is considered one of the most significant contributors to graying hairs.
"As research in this area continues, graying of hair can actually be due to a number of different causes, which may explain why individuals get gray hair even at a young age," said Gupta. "Some causes of graying include chronic stress, certain medical conditions, radiation and/or chemotherapy (from the stress the hair follicle is under), genetics, vitamin B12 deficiency and smoking."
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Is Graying Reversal Possible?
Experts once considered it improbable that gray hair could return to its original hue, but some interesting research has recently challenged that. A study at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians in 2021 found that hairs regained color once the trigger of stress was halted.
Senior author and associate professor of behavioral medicine (in psychiatry and neurology) Martin Picard, Ph.D. said in a press release, "Understanding the mechanisms that allow 'old' gray hairs to return to their 'young' pigmented states could yield new clues about the malleability of human aging in general and how it is influenced by stress. Our data add to a growing body of evidence demonstrating that human aging is not a linear, fixed biological process but may, at least in part, be halted or even temporarily reversed." Without the presence of stress, our stem cells may be robust enough to "re-pigment" gray hair.
Pump The Brakes: How To Stop Gray Hair Naturally
Top Tips to Help Gray Hair
Going gray is a process, but some things can slow the process and keep your hair as healthy as can be.
Hair Creative Director Lauren Udoh suggests "using a hair dye that doesn't contain any harsh chemicals." Gray strands can be dryer than more pigmented strands, so pouring on any product that doesn't focus on your mane's wellness could be damaging. Use products made from natural ingredients and steer clear of too many hot tools.
Unwind and Relax
Researchers across the board consider stress to be a contributing factor to premature grays. But, as stressful as the past couple of years have been, it's essential that you learn to unwind and drop unwanted worries for your hair and your overall health. Good rituals and habits can help. So, whether it's a new sleep routine, less sugar in your diet or deleting apps from your phone, be curious about what causes you stress and start to make changes from there.
No Gray Area
Aging is an inevitable part of life, but stress doesn't have to be. Both can impact the color of your mane, but there are moves you can make that will help. Combine a healthy hair routine with more well-considered downtime, and you could see big changes in your hair color.
More from VEGAMOUR:
- Hair Loss After 50? Here's What You Should Know
- How to Keep Hair Healthy as You Age
- How to Strengthen Hair
- Why Does Hair Turn Gray?
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