Preventing and Reversing Gray Hair: Promising Research and Potential Solutions

Researchers in the UK and Germany are making progress in understanding how to prevent and reverse gray hair caused by age-related graying. They have found that the death of melanocyte cells, which produce hair color, is a result of oxidative stress and the build-up of hydrogen peroxide. By breaking down hydrogen peroxide and preventing oxidative stress, they hope to keep melanocyte cells alive. Additionally, they have discovered that dislodging melanocyte stem cells from their current location could help them differentiate into pigmented melanocytes, potentially reversing graying. These findings offer hope for future treatments to prevent and reverse gray hair.

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Key Insights:

  • Gray hair is a natural part of the aging process, but researchers are looking into ways to prevent and reverse age-related graying.
  • One of the causes of gray hair is the death of melanocytes, the cells responsible for coloring hair.
  • Oxidative stress damages the hair follicle and results in the accumulation of hydrogen peroxide, which mutates DNA and damages cells.
  • Researchers have found an amino acid called L-methionine that can break down hydrogen peroxide and prevent damage to hair cells.
  • Another cause of gray hair is the reduced movement of melanocytes, which affects their ability to produce color.
  • Researchers believe that dislodging melanocyte stem cells from their rut could potentially reverse graying by promoting pigmentation.
  • UV light and chemical therapy have been used to restore pigment in vitiligo patients and have shown promising results in adding color back to hair with pigment loss.


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Gray hair is a natural part of the aging process. If we’re lucky, we’re all destined for that fate. Or are we? There will always be gray goddesses and silver foxes among us. But for those who are interested, researchers have a few leads on how to prevent and even reverse age-related graying. And we might have had some of these options for decades?

If you’re over 30 and haven’t started going gray yet, it may be because of your genes. After all, in identical twins, it’s pretty uncommon for one twin to have gray hair while the other doesn’t. But if you’re lucky enough to live a long life, you’ll earn that silver medal eventually.

Unless you preempt the graying before it happens by keeping the cells that color your hair alive and well. Those cells are called melanocytes. And their death is one of the things that turns your hair gray as you get older.

Well, not just the melanocytes. The whole hair follicle gets damaged by a process called oxidative stress. And, really, anything with the word „stress“ in the name can’t be good. See, when your melanocytes make their melanin pigment to keep your hair dark, they also make hydrogen peroxide as a byproduct. Having that hydrogen peroxide in your hair is fine when you’re young, but as you age, you make fewer antioxidants to neutralize it. So when you get older, the large amount of hydrogen peroxide in your hair mutates your DNA and damages cells. Which means this byproduct of making melanin destroys the very cells that create it. Until eventually you end up with a bunch of hydrogen peroxide-filled gray hair.

But researchers in the UK and Germany are working on ways to prevent hydrogen peroxide build-up around these cells. So far, they’re at the point where their interventions work in a petri dish. But hey, that’s progress! Their goal is to break down hydrogen peroxide and prevent oxidative stress from damaging hair cells. And they managed to find an amino acid, called L-methionine, that does exactly that! Exposing your hair cells to L-methionine works as long as it exceeds the amount of hydrogen peroxide floating around. So in the future, with the approval of a healthcare professional, you might be able to take L-methionine pills to keep your color.

But if you’re already gray, there may still be a way to reverse it. And this time, it’s not about keeping your melanocytes alive, but rather keeping them moving. See, your melanocytes start out as stem cells. You know, the cells that can grow up to be whatever they set their mind to. And when you’re young, those stem cells move back and forth inside each strand of hair across the bulb, the follicle, and the bulge right above it. Because, as it turns out, the location of your melanocytes is what determines if they can produce color or not. There are chemical signals that help melanocyte stem cells turn into color-producing melanocytes. And melanocytes only come into contact with these signals in certain parts of each strand of hair, like the bulb. So when melanocytes travel down to the bulb, they become color-producing cells. Then these cells travel back to the bulge to regenerate, losing their color and starting the process all over again. But as you get older, your melanocytes don’t move around quite as much as they used to. They get stuck in the bulge, so they can’t access the proteins that would otherwise activate them to create pigment. And that’s another cause of gray hair.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stay gray for the rest of your life. The researchers that discovered this melanocyte movement pattern think you might be able to reverse graying by dislodging your melanocyte stem cells from their rut. That could help them differentiate into pigmented melanocytes. And this isn’t the first time people have considered melanocyte differentiation as a way to add color back to hair.

In fact, the first time was kind of an accident. A study published in 1986 was inspired by treatments for patients with vitiligo, which is a depigmentation of the skin and hair that’s not necessarily from advanced age. One vitiligo treatment, called PUVAsol, uses UV light and chemical therapy to restore pigment. The chemical part can be consumed two hours before noon. Then, when midday comes along, patients soak up the sun’s rays for 10-15 minutes. While researchers aren’t entirely sure how this treatment restores color, one hypothesis is that it has to do with helping your melanocytes move around, which makes sense given the more recent information we have about how important melanocyte movement is for pigmentation.

Originally, PUVAsol was used as an effective treatment to add color back to the skin and hair of vitiligo patients. Years later, the treatment was extended to people who didn’t have vitiligo to see if it could add color to hair that had lost pigment for other reasons. And it worked! At least for some people. Most participants, including those with and without vitiligo diagnoses, had more color in their hair than before treatment. And it was still going strong months later. We’re going to need more research to understand why PUVAsol doesn’t work the same way for everyone. But with the progress being made in our understanding of melanocyte longevity and movement, it may just be a matter of time.

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