How to Prevent Gray Hair
When I was in high school, I noticed my first couple gray hairs. There were just a couple of them, and I wasn’t too concerned, because one of my friends recently told me he had spotted his first two gray hairs as well. For a long time I didn’t get any new ones. Oh, there was the occasional gray hair here and there, but never more than a couple at a time.
Imagine my shock when I was changing the part in my hair recently as part of a dye job, and suddenly I saw my exposed roots. A couple dozen gray hairs had taken root. At my age, this is expected, but it’s still quite a jolt the first time you see it.
A lot of people talk about “going gray with grace” these days. It’s trendy to embrace your silver locks and enjoy them. Of course, you can’t really help it if gray just isn’t your color. Not everyone likes the look. Maybe it’s because you associate it with age, or maybe it’s because you just don’t like the appearance of it. Perhaps you just love your original hair color and want to hold onto it as long as possible.
I’m not here to judge you; I’m here to help. There is nothing wrong with going gray, but there is also nothing wrong with wanting to prevent it as long as possible! You should do what you want with your hair so that you are happy with your appearance.
Why hair turns gray
When it comes to preventing gray hair, it is first essential to understand why hair turns gray in the first place. Long story short, there are cells which comprise your hair pigment called “melanocytes.” Over time, scientists believe that the stem cells which are supposed to produce these cells fail. For whatever reason, your melanogentic clock also stops signaling your body to inject the pigment, perhaps owing to the lower availability of melanocytes. For a more detailed explanation, please see my other recent article, Why Does Your Hair Turn Gray?
When hair turns gray
When your hair turns gray depends on a number of factors. Let’s assume for a moment you are not turning prematurely gray. If you go gray along the typical timeline for your ethnicity, you should expect the following:
- Caucasians: Expect plenty of white hairs by your mid-30s.
- Asians: You will probably start going gray in your late 30s.
- African Americans; You’re lucky; you probably won’t start going gray until your mid-40s.
- No matter who you are: There is a 50% chance you will have plenty of gray hair by age 50.
- Men: Bad news—you are going to go gray sooner than your female counterparts by about 5 years.
These are just loose guidelines, though. Depending on your specific genes and other factors (which I will tell you about in just a moment here), you may last a lot longer before you go gray in earnest, or you could go gray a lot earlier. If you go gray before the average for your ethnicity, you are considered to be premature.
So now let’s talk about factors that can impact the rate at which you go gray. All of the following factors can cause you to go gray faster:
- Your genetics (as just discussed—those could be racial genetics or genetics that just pertain to your family)
- Changes in your hormones, as well as hormone imbalance
- Toxins in your hair products as well as your general environment
- Certain medical problems or nutritional deficiencies
- Stress (while you are not going to go “white overnight,” scientists have determined that stress likely really does play a role in accelerating the graying process).
This list gives us a starting point for figuring out what to do to prevent your hair from going gray! Eventually your hair will turn gray; you cannot stop inevitability (just as you cannot alter your genes). But if you make smart lifestyle choices, you may be able to delay the process.
Is there a quick fix? According to this article, researchers working on the problem no longer think that popping a pill to prevent gray hair is a fantasy. In fact, L’Oreal has already announced that the company has a “watertight proof of concept,” and that they will manufacture a product starting this year. Several smaller companies already are manufacturing pills that will supposedly achieve the same result.
Related: Why Does Your Hair Turn Gray?
Doctors are cautioning against these pills, however, since they meddle with basic biology, and may or may not be safe. Like any new experimental product, they should be treated with strong caution. I recommend staying away from experimental drugs. There are healthier approaches you can take!
Here is a list of lifestyle choices which can help you to maximize the length of your original hair color and chase those pesky grays away!
Prevent Your Hair From Turning Gray in 6 Steps!
1. Take care of your hair so it doesn’t fall out
One thing you can do to prevent gray hair is to maximize the length that you hold onto each healthy pigmented hair you have. If you pull at your hair or dry it out or damage it, it is more likely to fall out before it reaches its terminal stage. The more hairs you pull out, the more new ones have to come into replace them. If you are getting older, those hairs may have less pigment, and eventually, no pigment. While this will not slow down the biological changes in your body, why hurry things? Hang onto each beautiful pigmented hair for as long as you can.
2. Take care of medical problems that might cause you to go gray faster
Going gray prematurely usually doesn’t point toward a health problem, but in certain cases it could. If for example you have a problem with your pituitary gland or thyroid gland, you could have a hormonal imbalance and accompanying graying hair.
Past research suggests that lower bone density later in life could be linked to premature graying, but a 2007 study of 1,200 men and women in California showed that no such link existed—so cross that right off your worry list.
What if going gray is related to a problem with your hormones? If you are going gray because of a problem with your pituitary gland or your thyroid, treating the problem may actually reverse your premature graying! You could get your pigmented locks back. The age-related factors which play into graying may or may not be playing a role in your graying hair. If they aren’t, you could have a full head of color back (for now).
Either way, treating any underlying medical issues should lead to some improvement in the appearance of your hair. And rather more importantly, you’ll stay healthy!
3. Make sure you are getting the nutrition your hair needs
To produce hair pigment, you need plenty of vitamin B12. B12 deficiency is one of the causes of premature graying hair. Even though vitamin B12 deficiency is most common in poor countries around the world, it is common even in wealthier communities. So it is not unreasonable to suspect you might have a deficiency, especially if you have some of the other symptoms.
If you are in any doubt, you can order a medical test. This shouldn’t be necessary, though, because vitamin B12 is one of the few supplements you can safely use without worrying that you’re getting too much. Even at high doses, B12 seems to be safe, and researchers still haven’t found a dangerous upper limit. For this reason, no upper intake limits have been established.
Why might you have a vitamin B12 deficiency?
Some people have absorption problems, but it is commonly a simple result of diet. If you are a vegan for example, you may struggle to get all the B12 hat you need. This is because most sources of B12 are meat-related products, as you will see below.
Common food sources for vitamin B12 include:
- Organ meats, like liver
- Meat and poultry
- Eggs, milk and dairy
- Some breakfast cereals and yeasts
You can see now why deficiencies are common even in First World countries! If you are a vegan or you have difficulties with absorption, it is particularly important to supplement so that you get all of the great nutritional benefits of vitamin B12, including prevention of gray hair!
One of the best ways to ensure that your hair is getting all the nutrition it needs is by taking a vitamin formulated for healthy hair, skin and nails. A product like this which contains vitamins, minerals, and herbs provides your body with exactly what it needs to keep manufacturing pigment. As a bonus, your hair will not only be more vibrant and stay that way longer, but it will also grow longer, stronger, faster, and have more lift, volume and shine.
4. Try a natural remedy
There are a number of natural remedies out there for preventing gray hair. While there is not much in the way to scientific data to back these up, people all around the world swear by them, so you may want to give some of them a try. Seaweed, black sesame, and blackstrap molasses are all examples.
There are also a number of different oils you can try rubbing into your scalp such as olive oil, rosemary oil, black seed oil, coconut oil, and egg oil. Oxidative stress is linked to graying hair, and many of these oils have antioxidants in them, as well as other key nutrients which may help to nourish hair.
Egg oil for example, also known as ovum oil, is extracted from yolks. It is rich in many important nutrients, including lecithin, vitamin B7, and vitamins E and A. It also combats oxidation.
You can make the egg oil easily at home by hard boiling several eggs. Peel the eggs and dig the yolks out of the whites. Mash up the yolks in a shallow frying pan. Heat them on low, and the oil will ooze out. Once it cools, strain it. Wait for it to cool off, and then you can store it in a glass bottle. Avoid cotton filters when you strain the oil, since these can soak up a lot of the oil and can cause you to lose it. You may have to run it through the filter several times to clarify it completely. You want the resulting liquid to be transparent.
Egg oil stores nicely at room temperature or in the fridge for as long as a year. Egg oil is sterile and stays that way a long time if you store it carefully. This makes it less likely to cause irritation on your scalp than the eggs themselves if you use them without processing them first. Use the oil by massaging it gently into your scalp on a weekly basis. The anti-oxidative properties will help keep your color intact, as will the nourishment from the egg oil. The massage also boosts circulation, increasing bio-availability of the nutrients you take in, and it opens up your pores.
5. Quit smoking
The link between smoking and premature graying is well demonstrated. A 2013 study in Indian Dermatology Online Journal found “a significant relation between onset of gray hair before the age of 30 and cigarette smoking.” One of the absolute best things you can do to prevent gray hair is to quit smoking (or never start!). If that isn’t enough of a reason to quit smoking right there, consider that smoking has also been implicated in hair loss. It also is just really bad for your hair, skin, nails and teeth, and can take a toll on your overall appearance.
Those are just the skin-deep reasons to quit smoking. Smoking is also terrible for your overall health, so if you have been looking for the motivation you need to quit, you can find it in the mirror, but the benefits will go far beyond! The decision could not only lengthen the life of your hair color, but lengthen your own life as well.
While it is a myth that you can go white overnight from stress or fright, stress does appear to play a role in the rate at which you go gray. This is a good read on the topic. As Jennifer Lin, a dermatologist who works at the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center in Boston explains it, “There is evidence that local expression of stress hormones mediate the signals instructing melanocytes to deliver melanin to keratinocytes. Conceivably, if that signal is disrupted, melanin will not deliver pigment to your hair.”
So if you want to prevent gray hair, doing what you can to reduce your stress levels is a really good idea! You don’t have to freak out about it—that overnighter you pulled to get that term paper in on time or that bad breakup with your boyfriend isn’t going to cause you to turn gray tomorrow. But if you have elevated stress levels over a longer period of time, that chronic stress could start taking a toll. Remove as many stressors from your life as you can, and learn to manage your time and take breaks to relax and enjoy yourself.
Live the moment, stop and smell the roses, practice deep breathing, meditate, take time to create value and meaning in life. All of these will help you to feel less stressed.
Gray hair is inevitable, and sooner or later, it is going to happen to you. But that doesn’t mean that you are helpless to prevent it or to slow the process down. While you cannot do anything about your genes, there are plenty of factors that affect your lifestyle that you can control. Do what you can to live a healthier, happier, less stress-filled life, and you will hold onto your natural color as long as possible.