Your hair turns gray or white from a loss of melanin, a pigment-producing component that produces melanocyte cells. These make up your natural hair and skin color. The less melanin you have, the lighter your hair color. Gray hair has minimal melanin, while white has none.
As you age, it’s natural to lose melanin in your hair. In fact, it’s estimated that the odds of your hair turning gray increase up to 20 percent each decade after you hit your 30s. Some people see grays a bit sooner due to health and genetics.
There’s a lot of misinformation about gaining back your natural hair color once it’s started turning gray or white.
While certain nutrient deficits and health conditions may spawn premature gray hairs, it’s impossible to restore your natural hair color if your grays are genetic or due to natural aging.
If you’re looking to help stop the rate of graying hair, changes in nutrition may work, but only if deficiencies are the root cause. Here, we break down some of the most common myths about treating gray hair and explore other ways you can choose to manage your hair color instead.
At its core, hair is naturally white. Melanin is responsible for the color of hair you’re born with, which is based on genetics. Your hair follicles contain the cells melanin uses to create the pigments, which combine with protein keratins.
Melanin loss in hair is naturally occurring, especially after your 30s. The precise rate of hair color loss is largely dictated by your genes, though. If your parents experienced premature graying, chances are that you may see the same.
Despite the claims made online and by product marketers, it’s not possible to reverse white hair if the cause is genetic.
Once your hair follicles lose melanin, they can’t produce it on their own. As melanin production slows, your hair turns gray, and then white when melanin production has completely stopped.
Premature gray hair (before your 20s and 30s) is most commonly hereditary. However, it’s possible that certain nutritional deficiencies and underlying medical conditions could contribute. Talk to a doctor about the following possibilities.
If you eat a balanced diet, chances are that your gray hairs aren’t linked to any nutritional deficiencies.
If your diet lacks certain nutrients, it could very well affect melanin production in your hair follicles. Vitamin B-12 is the most common culprit, with folate, copper, and iron deficiencies increasing your risk, too.
Dietary supplements may help these deficiencies and you might see your natural hair color start to grow back after several weeks. Still, you should check with your doctor before buying any supplements. They will run blood tests to see if you actually need them.
Taking supplements to treat gray hair won’t work unless you have a diagnosed deficiency in any of these nutrients.
Underlying health conditions
Premature graying hair could also be linked to certain health conditions, including:
Hormone fluctuations can also play a role in graying hair. Managing such medical conditions could, in theory, help restore melanin and your natural hair color over time.
Graying hair is a natural process that’s influenced by aging, genetic factors, nutritional deficiencies, and medical conditions. Still, there are websites that continue to tout natural remedies and market products that promise to help restore your natural hair color.
Gray hair supplements
Given the role of certain nutrients in overall melanin production, some manufacturers promote gray hair supplements. Popular ingredients include biotin, zinc, and selenium, as well as vitamins B-12 and D-3.
However, the same rule applies here: Unless you have a diagnosed nutritional deficiency, these supplements won’t reverse the lack of melanin production contributing to your gray hair.
There are a variety of homemade hair mask recipes touted as being able to darken gray hairs. Common ingredients include coconut oil, lemon juice, and essential oils — all aimed at decreasing inflammation and boosting antioxidants in your scalp.
While your hair may feel soft and look shiny afterward, the likelihood of hair masks boosting melanin production are slim.
Get rid of gray hair with potato skins
Yet another myth in circulation is the use of potato skins in your hair to get rid of grays. The idea is that the natural starches in potato skins can help darken your roots gradually over time.
Not only does this method lack scientific backing, but any results would likely wear off as soon as you stop using the potatoes in your hair.
Unless you have an underlying nutritional deficiency or medical condition, there’s not a clear-cut way you can prevent graying hair, per se. However, there may be some remedies you can try to help slow the onset:
- managing stress, as stress hormones can interrupt melanin production in the hair follicles
- quitting smoking, which can be difficult, but a doctor can come up with a cessation plan that works for you
- maintaining your weight
- reducing your exposure to chemicals and pollution
- protecting your hair from the sun by wearing hats and scarves
If melanin losses in your hair are due to genetics, there’s no way to reverse them.
If you don’t want to let your hair turn gray, you can talk to a hairstylist about options, including permanent and semi-permanent dyes. Root touch-up powders and creams may also work if you’re trying to mask a few grays.
Natural hair dyes are other options to consider if you want to avoid potential hair damage posed by commercial products. Possibilities include henna and Indian gooseberry.
On the flip side, you can embrace your graying hair thanks to gray hair care products. Not only do these enhance your hair color, but they also prevent your gray hairs from turning yellow and brittle.
The odds of premature graying depend on how your hair follicles produce melanin. Sometimes, stress, nutritional deficiencies, and other lifestyle factors can halt melanin production. Once these issues are reversed, melanin may be restored.
In most cases though, the age at which you start seeing grays — and the extent of them — are controlled by your genes. Genetically driven graying hair can’t be reversed.
However, there are numerous hair products and dyes you can choose from, whether you choose to cover your grays or embrace them instead.