One day, as you look in the mirror, you see it: It’s your very first grey hair. Odds are, you’re in your 30s when you see your first bits of grey, but some first recognize them in their 20s. By age 50, though, about half the population will be half grey.
Early on, you might pluck those stray greys, but eventually, they’ll start to overtake. Most people think that leaves them two choices: live with the grey or dye. If you choose to dye, you aren’t alone. About 11 percent of men colour their grey hair. Are there other alternatives? Is there a permanent solution for combating our silvery strands? Can we learn how to get rid of grey hair?
Why we go grey
Our hair starts as white. The colour we see as we’re younger comes from a natural pigment called melanin. There are two types of hair melanin: dark (eumelanin) and light (pheomelanin). Blond, red, brown or black, your hair colour is a mix of those two melanins.
Each hair follicle holds its melanin in its cortex, or the middle layer. Melanin’s distribution, amount and type vary from person to person but we all experience diminishing melanin production as we grow older.
Loss of melanin isn’t the only way our aging bodies affect our hair colour. Throughout our lives, our bodies manufacture minute amounts of hydrogen peroxide. As you may know, hydrogen peroxide is a powerful hair bleach.
When you’re younger, the hydrogen peroxide is broken down by an organically-made enzyme called catalase, which breaks the hydrogen peroxide down into oxygen and water. As we age, we produce less catalase, so the hydrogen peroxide bleaches our hair from within. In other words, Mother Nature hits our sexy locks with a powerful one-two punch just because our birthdays start adding up.
How to prevent grey hair
Whether you start turning grey early, or late, or you’re about average, you can probably thank your Mom and Dad. Your DNA is the biggest determinant of when you’ll go grey, but there are lifestyle changes you can make right now that might help hold those grey strands off, at least for a while.
Limit your stress
A 2020 study in the International Journal of Trichology found that oxidative stress, caused by an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants, causes cell and tissue damage and contributes to aging throughout the body.
Stress can also lead to chronic inflammation, which may shorten hairs’ growth cycles and cause melanin-making cells to stop working. Meditation and other stress relievers can help bring your body back into balance.
While many people smoke to relieve stress, smoking is a source of oxidative stress. Studies show that smokers turn grey before non-smokers.
A healthy diet is one of the best ways to combat inflammation and to balance the antioxidants and free radicals. A primarily plant-based diet with very little added sugar can help protect your hair’s colour.
Can vitamins help?
There are several vitamins and minerals that help control the impending grey, but perhaps not in pill form. Vitamins D3 (fish, milk, eggs, mushrooms), B12 (beef liver, fish, nutritional yeast), E (nuts, seeds, leafy greens) and, A (sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe), along with zinc (meat and seafood), iron (leafy greens, dark chocolate, white beans), copper (potatoes, shiitake mushrooms, dark chocolate), selenium (seafood, Brazil nuts), and magnesium all help your hair age gracefully, but it’s best to get them from food as there’s little evidence supplements help unless you have a severe deficiency.
Protect your hair from the outside
When you damage your hair through sun exposure, heated styling tools and too frequent washing, you risk breaking down the pigment cells. Wear a hat in the sun, wash less frequently, and avoid the blow dryer if possible.
How to reverse grey hair
If your hair is already grey or white, there are some things you can do that don’t involve hitting the (colour) bottle.
How to get rid of grey hair
Researchers at Columbia University, while searching for how to stop grey hair naturally, found that while stress causes hair to lose its pigmentation, the lack of stress can make it come back, at least in people under 40. According to Ayelet Rosenberg, the study’s lead author, a participant went on a two-week vacation and came back to find that five hairs regained their colour.
While that might not seem like a lot, imagine what an entire lifestyle change might mean for your prematurely aging follicles. The study found no evidence that people over 40 could reverse grey hair.
How to get rid of white hair
While both grey and white hair are victims of the same aging phenomena, white hair signals that your hair is further down the road toward maturity. Grey hair still holds some pigment while white hair has none. By the time your hair has turned white, or by the time you reach 40, it becomes a lot more difficult to reverse colour loss.
Over the last couple of decades, we’ve heard a lot about stem cells as the potential answer to a myriad of illnesses. Are stem cells able to reverse hair discolouration? Inside each of our hair follicles is a stem cell called a melanocyte.
Some believe that once our follicles run out of those melanocytes, our hair goes grey. Studies in mice have shown that stem cell depletion does cause greying. In one of the mice studies, a topical treatment, called RT1640, effectively reversed grey hair. However, no such studies have shown the same in humans. While some manufacturers claim to sell products containing RT1640 for male-patterned baldness, there’s no evidence they reverse grey hair.
This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical or other professional advice. Your specific circumstances should be discussed with a healthcare provider. All statements of opinion represent the writers' judgement at the time of publication and are subject to change. Phoenix and its affiliates provide no express or implied endorsements of third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products, or services.