5 Ways to Prevent Gray Hair, According to Experts

5 Ways to Prevent Gray Hair, According to Experts

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From Helen Mirren and Jane Fonda to George Clooney and Anderson Cooper, many people look distinguished with and embrace their gray hair. And many more, celebrities or otherwise, were forced to do so during the pandemic when salons shut down and it was challenging or impossible to keep up with professional touch-ups.

But what if there was another way to get around gray hair—if you're not so fond of it, that is—rather than dyeing it back to be closer to your original hue? Researchers are learning that it might be possible to prevent or even reverse gray hair through healthy lifestyle habits.

As each strand grows, all hair goes through a cycle of regeneration then death, and the cycle continues again and again throughout the lifespan as long as your hair follicles remain active. (If they flip "off" and go dormant, that's when balding occurs.) As hair follicles encounter stressors and age, they can begin to produce less color each phase. Our genes partially determine when we begin to gray. In fact, the Library of Congress says our chance of going gray, on average, increases 10% to 20% every decade after age 30.

As hair grows from its follicle, melanocytes add pigment via melanin into the hair cells that contain keratin, the protein that makes up hair, nails and skin. Researchers believe the body has a "melanogenic clock" that can slow down or halt this melanocyte activity. This "clock" is controlled by our DNA, but it can be adjusted based on what the environment throws your way.

"It's a natural, age-related process whereby the cells that produce pigment start to die off, leaving fewer and fewer to add color to the hair strand, eventually causing the hair to have no color at all, therefore gray," explains Ted Lain, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and the chief medical officer at Sanova Dermatology in Austin, Texas.

While the genetic aspect of our hair-graying process is out of our hands (thanks, Mom and Dad), a few simple lifestyle shifts can help you hold on to your hued hair longer, experts say.

Smoking is a key factor in the oxidative stress equation, and is correlated with premature graying in all age groups. (The CDC has a wide variety of smoking cessation resources to help jump-start the process, if you or a loved one could use some help kicking the habit.)

"Eating a diet that can help tamp down inflammation may help protect the cells responsible for your hair's pigment. A diet that is rich in added sugars, processed foods and saturated fat is known to be pro-inflammatory," she says. "A plant-based eating plan that's low in added sugar and light on high-fat animal proteins is considered anti-inflammatory."

With that in mind, Upton suggests that her inflammation-savvy clients eat more antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies, which "can help neutralize the reactions that negatively impact the cells that are responsible for maintaining the pigment in your hair follicles," she says.

Some autoimmune and thyroid-related disorders can be related to premature graying, a 2018 International Journal of Trichologystudy confirms. Be sure to keep up with your yearly physicals and check in with our primary care doctor if anything feels "off" internally, or book an appointment with your dermatologist if you notice any big changes in the vitality of your skin or hair.

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