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Melanin is a natural pigment that determines the color of your hair. When the production of this pigment slows down, hair turns gray or white.

Since these colors largely symbolize growing older, many are keen to boost melanin production and restore their color as soon as possible.

Read on to find out how to increase melanin production in the hair. This includes which foods to add to your diet and whether oral or topical supplements can help.

Melanin determines the color of hair

Your hair color is determined by the type and amount of melanin in your hair.

Genetics play a huge role in which type of melanin you’re born with. The two types of melanin you may have are:

  • Eumelanins: give hair dark colors
  • Pheomelanins: give hair light colors

Different amounts of these two types of melanin also determine hair color, as shown below:

Hair colorTypes of melanin
blacklarge amounts of eumelanin
brownmoderate amounts of eumelanin
blondvery little eumelanin
strawberry blonda mixture of brown eumelanin and pheomelanin
redmostly pheomelanin with small amounts of eumelanin

Melanin protects hair from the sun

According to Nikki Goddard, a certified hairstylist with an associate degree in cosmetology, melanin plays another crucial biological role in hair: It protects hair against sun rays (photoprotection) and ultraviolet (UV) radiance.

“The latter is conditioned by the type of melanin and its concentration. For example, dark hair is more resistant to UV rays and decay than light hair because of the higher photostability of eumelanin compared to pheomelanin.”

Melanin affects hair color as you age

Melanin goes through significant pigmentation changes throughout a person’s life. In other words, your hair color doesn’t stay the same color.

This is why a blond child may become closer to a brunette in their teen and adult years. Darkening of color can also be influenced by external factors, such as toxins, pollutants, and climate.

The slowing of melanin production is simply a part of aging. Research has found that most people begin developing gray or white hair before the age of 50.

Melanin also affects hair vitality

Melanin slowing down doesn’t just affect the pigment of the hair. Goddard explains that it also affects hair’s vitality.

“Indeed, melanin plays a protective role: Larger quantities of eumelanin protect hair against high levels of exposure to the sun and its unwanted consequences such as drying out and brittleness.”

This is why gray hairs, which are devoid of melanin, often have a dry, brittle texture.

So far, there hasn’t been enough scientific research to prove that melanin supplements can help with preventing or reversing gray hair.

These products often aren’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) either. You’ll have to read customer reviews and decide for yourself if it’s worth it.

For instance, check out the reviews for this Melaniq Food Supplement for Hair Pigmentation.

Foods rich in antioxidants

Many foods are loaded with hair-boosting vitamins.

This largely includes foods with high concentrations of antioxidants, which has found to increase melanin production. As an added benefit, antioxidants help defend your cells from the damaging effects of free radicals.

Foods that are rich in antioxidants include:

  • dark chocolate
  • blueberries
  • leafy greens
  • pecans
  • beans
  • artichokes

Foods containing copper

Since copper plays a role in melanin production, you’ll also want to include the following foods into your diet:

  • crabmeat
  • almonds
  • lentils
  • peanuts
  • beef liver
  • white mushrooms

Foods with vitamins A, C, and E

Lastly, vitamins A, C, and E have shown promising results on improving hair, skin, and nails. For example, research has found that these vitamins help protect the skin again UV damage from the sun.

Getting enough of these foods in your diet requires a few tweaks. Here are some recommendations for adding these vitamins into your diet.

Vitamin AVitamin CVitamin E
orange vegetablesleafy green vegetablesvegetables
fishcitrus fruitsnuts and seeds
meatberrieshealthy grains

Vitamins B6 and B12 have also been proven to boost melanin production.

Goddard says that vitamin B6, also known as pyridoxine, has been found to trigger the production of enzymes and chemical reactions that boost the metabolism of the hair proteins (keratin and melanin) in the hair follicles.

“This vitamin improves the nutrition of hair follicles with keratin and melanin, which, in turn, promotes hair growth and renewal.”

Goddard adds that vitamin B12, also called cobalamin, promotes healthy hair growth by increasing the production of red blood cells.

“Consequently, hair grows better and gets saturated with keratin — the form of protein that’s contained in the hair shaft.”

Vitamin B12 deficiency may cause gray hair

An older study found that a deficiency in vitamin B12 deficiency can cause premature gray hair.

Researchers found that about 55 percent of study participants with pernicious anemia experienced gray hair before they turned 50. This was compared with the 30 percent without gray hair in the control group.

Since gray hair can be brought on by stress, implementing vitamin B12 into your life, whether by diet or supplement, may help. Foods high in vitamin B12 include:

  • meat
  • poultry
  • fish
  • eggs
  • dairy

Not enough scientific research has been conducted on the effectiveness of melanin hair products. Because of this, there’s always a chance that these products are marketing gimmicks.

Instead of buying melanin-rich items, Goddard says to opt for the products that contain:

  • lutein
  • lycopene
  • astaxanthin
  • probiotics

“They have scientifically proven benefits, and melanin production is likely to be one of them,” Goddard said.

Melanin-based hair dye may be better for your hair

Northwestern University researchers have created a new synthetic melanin-based hair dye. It provides natural-looking hair color by mimicking human hair pigmentation. Compared with chemical-based dyes, it’s gentler and safer on the hair.

“Such an approach, if done under mild conditions, could be an alternative to other kinds of hair dyes, avoiding some of the toxicity or allergies associated with those chemicals,” said head researcher Nathan Gianneschi.

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Gray or white hair is what happens when melanocytes stop producing melanin or pigment altogether.

While both oral and topical melanin supplements are available, the effectiveness of these products hasn’t yet been scientifically proven.

Your best bet is to eat healthy foods that are high in antioxidants, protein, and copper. Studies have also found that taking vitamins B12 and B6 may prevent premature graying hair.

You can always talk to your doctor or hairstylist to determine the best options for you.