Can You Prevent Gray Hair? Sort Of — Here's What Experts Say You Can Do
Much like your skin, your hair changes as you age. Specifically, the once lush pigment of your youth may transform to an ashen hue, and it's simply a natural part of life. Your new color isn't any less beautiful or striking—just, well, new!
There are ways to camouflage and cover up, though, as are there expert methods to grow out the gray (it takes some sort of transition plan, especially if you've been devout to hair dye). But for those looking for an earlier approach, you might be wondering: Can you prevent gray hair before the very first silvery strand?
According to the pros, the answer isn't so black and white.
Can you prevent gray hair?
Essentially, graying hair is just natural, whether you have a full head of silver or patches of gray throughout. "Loss of pigmentation in hair is something out of our control," agrees celebrity colorist and Redken brand ambassador Matt Rez. It's largely due to genetics and aging in general1, and, unfortunately, there aren't any existing treatments to reverse those grays to their natural vigor.
Specifically, your pigment-producing cells (called melanocytes) start to deteriorate, leading to sprouted grays. "The melanocytes are pigment-producing cells located near the bulb of the hair and their stem cells," explains hair transplant surgeon James S. Calder, M.D., medical director of Ziering Medical. When your hair ages, those melanocytes don't function as well or start to migrate away from the hair bulb, which causes a sprinkling of grays. And according to Calder, no supplement, or diet, can successfully prevent the process forever.
Here's what you can do.
OK, so you can't really prevent gray hair (sigh). However, premature graying is an entirely different story: While you can't prevent the inevitable for too long, you can make sure you're not going gray before it's time.
Here's where diet comes into play: Specifically, research has found that deficiencies in vitamin D2, biotin3, and vitamin B121 are all associated with premature graying (aka, gray hair before the age of 30). Make sure you're getting adequate levels of each—especially biotin, which is directly involved in the production of your hair's keratin4.* As you age, the keratin proteins break down, which can lead to pigmentation changes (and overall thinning of the hair), so it's important to get your fill of these proteins through food or targeted supplements.*
Another topic to mind is the ever-nebulous oxidative stress. "Oxidative stress has been shown in laboratory experiments to induce migration of melanocytes away from the hair bulb," says Calder. In other words, enough free radical damage can cause those pigment-producing cells to lose their intensity, resulting in silver strands.
That said, try to limit your exposure to free radical damage, like smoke5 and UV radiation6, and introduce antioxidants (think vitamin C and vitamin E) to help manage the oxidative stress.* In terms of psychological stress, plenty more data is needed to make the gray hair connection—but if your stress is bordering on chronic, the theory is that long-term psychological stress can increase levels of oxidative stress7, which can then contribute to grays.
There are some ways you can hold off premature grays before you're 30, but there's ultimately nothing you can do to prevent gray hair from growing in over time. Of course, you can cover up with a gray-blending gloss, highlights, or simply rock the silvery style.
At the end of the day, gray hair (just like sagging skin) is a natural part of aging that ultimately happens to us all down the line—but similar to staving off wrinkles, there are ways to slow down an early onset.*
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and more. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.