Here's a fun exercise for you: Imagine yourself somewhere around 40 or 50 years old. Now picture yourself with a full head of gray hair. It's clear as soon as you start asking people to do this that reactions are varied and distinct. Some people couldn't care less—they feel they would be comfortable and happy with their natural hair color, even if their natural hair color, at that point at least, is gray. Others say they will dye their hair, no ifs, buts, or whens about it. That's okay too: You see, gray hair, just like any other beauty-related topic, is personal. There's no right or wrong way to go about it. If you want to flaunt your grays, go for it! We applaud you. If you don't, there are a few things you can do.
Meet the Expert
Tim Abney is the Global Vice President of Education at Colorproof.
First, you should know that the general consensus among scientists and medical professionals is that the root cause of gray hair lies in genetics. The earlier your parents and grandparents went gray, the earlier you will too. But that doesn't mean there aren't preventative measures you can take. And we're not just talking about just dyeing your hair. We're talking about preventing grays from popping up in the first place. While that might sound impossible, there's been quite a bit of research that tells us otherwise.
Keep reading to see the actions you can take in order to prevent gray hair from happening in the first place.
Make Sure You're Getting Enough Vitamin D
There are a number of dietary deficiencies that science shows can contribute to graying hair. Vitamin D is one of them. One study published in The International Journal of Trichology found that children who experienced premature hair graying had low vitamin D levels. "There was significant high number of vitamin D3 deficient and insufficient among the cases compared to the controls."
Make Sure You're Getting Enough B12
In a similar study to the one noted above, also published in The International Journal of Trichology, researchers found that vitamin B12 deficiency may be associated with graying hair. It's worth noting, however, that this was a preliminary study that requires more research to find a veritable connection.
Deficient in vitamin B12? Head to your local drugstore as this vitamin can be found in many beauty supplements.
Avoid Too Much Stress
Another possible cause of premature gray hair is stress. We're talking about the "I have a million errands to run and work tasks to complete" kind of stress that happens to almost everyone nowadays.
"Stress can definitely play an essential role in accelerating the graying of hair, says Tim Abney, the Global Vice President of Education at Colorproof. "When under stress, our body’s natural fight-or-flight response has a significant impact on hair losing its natural pigmentation. Stem cells, called melanocytes, play a large role in the individual hair shaft’s ability to produce pigment. As we age, these cells can gradually start to disappear. That timeline is based on the individual genetics of each person. Quite a bit of research has proven that stress, in essence, cripples the cells’ ability to produce and retain pigment. Stress, the more it is studied, can cause a big release of the hormone
norepinephrine directly into the hair follicle, thereby leading to gray hair."
This one is a given not only for hair health but for our general health as well. There's extensive research that shows smoking is correlated with prematurely graying hair in people of all age groups.
Abney agrees, "Research proves that the relationship between smoking and hair is NOT a match made in heaven. Smoking can create or activate a stress response like our fight-or-flight response that can accelerate the aging process. This response leads to a reduction in melanin cells in the hair follicle, which can cause the hair to gray much faster. Many researchers have been able to prove that cigarette smoke has been linked to the premature graying of hair as well as premature hair loss in some cases. With hair that is already gray, cigarette smoke can cause the hair to take on a yellow or dull cast that prevents hair from being brilliant, manageable and full of shine."
Schedule Yearly Checkups
Certain illnesses like autoimmune and thyroid disorders can cause premature gray hair, so it's important to check in with your doctor often. Actually, if you have any health or beauty concerns—gray hair or otherwise—it's important to speak with a medical professional. Physicians, dermatologists, and trichologists (or scalp and hair doctors) can give insight into the matter and make sure it's not a more serious underlying issue.
Limit Your Exposure to Toxins and Pollutants
This one sounds obvious. We all do our best to get fresh air and avoid all types of pollution, right? However, it's still worth noting, considering that one study found a link between free radical exposure and gray hair. If you're trying to keep your color for as long as possible, it's a nice reminder to control the oxidative stress around you, keep your living environment pure, and breathe fresh air every day.
How can I prevent gray hair naturally?
One of the easiest ways to prevent gray hairs naturally is to reduce stress. A recent study in 2020 proved that stress does indeed cause gray hair . Some good ways to reduce stress? We recommend mediation, regular exercise, a long chat with friends on FaceTime or a re-watch of your fave movie.
Can you prevent graying hair with baking soda?
There are lots of uses for baking soda on the hair (clarifying and adding shine are two), but there are no known studies that show baking soda has any potential to prevent gray hair.
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Bhat RM, Sharma R, Pinto AC, Dandekeri S, Martis J. Epidemiological and investigative study of premature graying of hair in higher secondary and pre-university school children. Int J Trichology. 2013;5(1):17–21. doi:10.4103/0974-7753.114706
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Zhang B, Ma S, Rachmin I, et al. Hyperactivation of sympathetic nerves drives depletion of melanocyte stem cells. Nature. 2020;577(7792):676-681.