Don't freak out if you notice a silver strand or two.

Mackenzie Dunn
September 02, 2020
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Brooke Schaal Photography, Getty Images

Despite what you may have heard, people with dark skin need to wear sunscreen, and shaving your hair won’t make it grow back thicker. In Myth Busters, we debunk common beauty misconceptions and set the record straight.

So you’ve spotted your very first gray hair. Your first instinct may be to freak out, grab the tweezers, and pluck it out. We get it—it can be a shock to see a silver hair suddenly sprout on your head. However, getting a gray doesn't mean you’re rapidly aging or that your hair color is suddenly going to turn white. But over time, natural processes do happen, and that's okay. Dermatologists often quote the research of the 50-50-50 rule, stating that at 50 years old, 50% of the population has at least 50% gray hair due to normal, healthy aging.

However, our experts say that some women start getting grays in their late twenties and early thirties. If you're one of those, you may have asked yourself, "Is there a way to reverse grays or stop them from happening?" To get to the bottom of it, we talked to two top trichologists to break down the graying process for us.

What causes gray hair?

Our skin and hair get their color from a natural polymer called melanin, which is produced by special skin cells, explains Shab Reslan, a trained trichologist and hair health expert for HairClub. The natural color of our hair depends upon the distribution, type, and amount of melanin that these cells release. As we age, Reslan says these cells die off and leave the hair without any melanin for pigment. Without pigment, new hair strands grow lighter and eventually turn to shades of gray, silver, and white. 

“The actual reasoning behind the cause of losing melanin is not directly known,” says Reslan. However, she explains that grays are essentially based on inflammation and oxidative stress, which negatively affects certain cells in the body—including those that make melanin.

Why do some people gray earlier than others?

If you’ve started to notice a few gray hairs earlier than you expected, you can blame it on genetics. Scientists have pinpointed the specific gene that accounts for gray hair, so know that if your parents developed gray hair later in life, chances are you will, too. 

Gretchen Friese, a board-certified trichologist for Bosley, tells us that in addition to genetics, lifestyle factors like stress and diet may play a role in early graying, too. “Eating the right nutrients and taking other proactive measures may help preserve existing pigmentation, delaying overall graying,” says Friese. She explains that certain nutrients, like B vitamins, calcium, copper, iron, protein, vitamin D, and zinc, can help in the production of melanin cells. If you’re not getting enough of these, it could exacerbate graying. 

Additionally, new research from Harvard University shows evidence of the correlation between stress and graying hair, and Friese says that stress can damage cells throughout the body. "Those cells can include the melanin that gives hair its color,” she says. Because of this, excess stress can take a toll on the body, including exacerbating the production of gray hairs.

Once your hair goes gray, is there a way to bring back its natural color?

Unless you’re willing to dye your hair, you can’t restore hair that’s already gone gray to its former color,” says Friese. "You may be able to preserve the rest of your color and delay the inevitable for a bit longer by making a few lifestyle changes; however, the overall success of this heavily depends on your genetics."

What are some ways to treat and/or disguise gray hair?

First things first: Don’t pluck it! In fact, if you continuously pluck out a white or gray hair, you run the risk of damaging the hair follicle, which can result in distortion of strands and even permanent hair loss. Instead, our experts say your best bet is to look for coverage options, like a temporary spray or color pen to conceal any gray roots or strands. This is particularly helpful for those with dark hair, as silver strands can be more noticeable.

L'Oreal Magic Root Cover Up
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Amazon
Bumble and bumble Bb Color Stick
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Sephora

Additionally, since Reslan explains that the average person begins graying around the front hairline, she says you might want to consider face-framing highlights in a shade lighter than your natural color to camouflage any grays coming in. "Breaking up the contrast can blend in the grays as they grow in and even get you through your next root touchup with ease," she says.

Realistically, you can't really reverse gray hair, but hey, it's natural and beautiful.