Oh, those gray hairs! Some people try plucking them out until there are too many to pluck. Then they reach for the hair dye to cover the gray – unless they take the natural route, which can be beautiful on some people. But technology could soon make it easier to prevent gray hair. Scientists are working on gray hair solutions that are more permanent than a bottle of drugstore hair dye.
Why Does Hair Turn Gray?
Hair turns gray when melanin-producing cells at the base of the hair follicles called melanocytes stop producing pigment. The pigment-producing cells that give hair (and skin) its color slowly lose the ability to produce melanin with age.
When a person starts to turn gray and how rapidly they do so depends on genetics, although certain medical conditions and vitamin deficiencies, most commonly vitamin B12, can cause premature graying.
Some people turn gray as early as their teens, but it’s more typical for gray hairs to start surfacing when a person reaches their mid-thirties.
New Technology to Prevent Gray Hair?
What “tricks” do scientists have up their sleeve for preventing gray hair? According to an article published in the journal Chemical Reviews, researchers are working on revamping hair dyes that cover gray by decreasing the size of the pigment so it penetrates more deeply into the hair. This means you don’t have to dye it as often to cover the gray. Still, this solution isn’t permanent.
Even more exciting, researchers are working on compounds that activate melanin-producing genes so they continue to produce pigment. This would involve manipulating the DNA, or genetic material, within the melanocytes so that they continue to function instead of shutting down with age.
Unfortunately, no one knows what the health effects of this new technology might be. Certainly if it proves safe, it could be a popular way to prevent gray hair.
Is there anything else you can do to prevent gray hair?
Whether or not stress turns you gray early hasn’t been determined. Stress can cause hair loss – and when it grows back in it may be gray in color.
This makes it look like stress contributed to premature graying. There is some evidence that smokers develop gray hair sooner than non-smokers, and certain medical conditions such as an under-active thyroid and vitamin B12 deficiency can do it too.
It’s also possible that eating a diet rich in antioxidants may help prevent premature damage to melanocytes, although this remains to be seen. The best advice is to eat a diet rich in antioxidants and make sure your B12 levels are adequate.
The Bottom Line?
There’s no sure way to prevent gray hair other than choosing your parents and not smoking. But researchers are busy at work looking for new ways to prevent gray hair. When they do, they could have a winner on their hands.
Medical News Today. “The Future of Hair Colorants Could Include Preventing Hair Turning Gray”
Merck Manual. Eighteenth edition. 2006.
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