Why wouldn't you want a gorgeous head of hair like this, anyway?
Let’s challenge an assumption that needs to be debunked: the idea that plucking out one’s own gray (or white) hair will result in multiple ones growing in its stead.
“The color gray does not spread when you pull out hair,” said board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hamdan Absdullah Hamed, also a co-founder of an online platform dedicated to natural hair care solutions. “However, every time you pull it out, you’re removing the follicle as well, so I suggest leaving the white hair as it is.”
Although you won’t promote the growth of gray hair by plucking strands out, you really should try to stay away from the practice because it might end up damaging your follicles.
We still had questions, so we talked to the experts about gray hair health, including why it shows up and whether or not you’re better off simply embracing the look.
Can we prevent white hair from showing up to begin with?
Experts agree that the appearance of white or gray strands depends on a variety of factors, including genetics, age and diet.
“As we age, there are hormonal changes causing white hair to show up at a certain age,” explained hair surgeon Dr. Patrick Davis.
According to the Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging, part of Colorado State University, “by age 50, half of men and women will have at least 50% gray hair.” Those statistics clearly leave room for other factors to be at play.
The easiest way to predict when you’ll go gray is to look at your parents and grandparents. “If they had gray hair at a relatively young age, then there is a good chance that will happen to you as well,” Hamed said.
In addition to these sorts of unchangeable, steady factors, what and how we eat can actually affect the arrival of gray hair.
Specifically, studies confirm that deficiencies in vitamins B12, D3 and calcium may be associated with premature hair graying.
“Vitamin B12 in specific is involved in the production of blood cells, so it is necessary when it comes to hair growth,” Hamed explained.
He also noted that vitamin D3 is thought to stimulate the formation of new hair follicles, which will result in a healthier and fuller head of hair while calcium aids with the secretion of certain hormones which, in turn, can stimulate growth as well.
However, although it follows that adding these elements to one’s daily vitamin intake may prevent hair discoloration, that’s not often the case.
“Taking supplements could push things off a bit,” Hamed said. “But it really depends on a lot of things.”
In fact, he noted that, usually, gray hair caused by a lack of nutrients looks different than age-related discoloration.
“Sometimes, you will look at hair and notice the top and bottom are a different color,” he noted. “That means that we’re dealing with a lack of nutrients, so adding vitamins to your diet may help.”
However, that will only prevent new hair from turning gray — “you’re not reversing the damage already incurred,” he said.
Why does hair turn gray to begin with?
To put it simply, every strand of hair grows out of a follicle found on the skin of the scalp. Each follicle also features pigment cells called melanocytes that produce melanin, a chemical that colors hair and skin.
As we age, these pigment cells die off, therefore cutting down the production of melanin and, as a result, the amount of color that’s basically drenching the hair, effectively turning it gray or white.
Melanin is a key determining factor in how much of and when your hair turns gray.
“People of African American descent, for example, usually have more melanin so the hair doesn’t dry out as fast and the result skews to getting white hair later,” Hamed explained.
Sure, adding vitamins to your diet may help prevent the graying but if your pigment cells die off, so will the amount of melanin that colors your locks, making discoloration inevitable.
Is it worth it, then, to pull out the discolored hair out considering there is not too much we can do to push off the process?
Why is it bad to pull out our own hair?
Davis explained that, even if you pluck out strands that bother you, they will come back looking exactly the same as they were before you removed them.
“The hair follicle is basically the strand’s house, filled with the characteristics of the hair that you removed,” noted the surgeon. “So it will grow back with those characteristics.”
Board-certified cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Michele Green agreed with the notion. “Once a follicle’s melanocytes die, loss of pigmentation will occur and new gray-colored hairs will grow from that follicle,” she said. ”While plucking gray hairs may lead to hair loss over time, it will not cause more gray hairs to grow, as only one hair strand can grow from a given hair follicle.”
Perhaps more important is the fact that forcibly removing the hair will likely damage the aimed follicle and those around it, maybe even permanently stopping hair growth in the area.
Basically, plucking out the hair is equivalent to shocking the system — the follicle, in specific — damaging it to the point of no return: forget seeing gray hair, you will stop seeing strands grow from that follicle, period.
When you’re a bit older, things get even more complicated.
“People with gray hair are usually older, so the chances of a damaged follicle even growing back are even slimmer,” said Hamed, who also warned against other potential issues. “Whenever you pull out a follicle, it makes a little well inside the skin and, over time, it can fill with oil and dandruff,” he explained. “It can get clogged, and you’ll basically have to deal with an ingrown hair.”
For what it’s worth, Davis did contend that pulling out hair in a specific direction may incur less damage.
“The hair comes out of the scalp in a specific orientation that you have to pay attention to,” he said. “If you go in the opposite angle, it’s going to cause more trauma to the follicle and scar it.”
That being said, he is clear on one thing: “I prefer people not plucking hair.”
Do supplements work?
When asked about the various supplements currently on the market claiming to reverse or stop the arrival of gray hair, Green acknowledges that although they may make your hair healthier, they won’t do anything about grays in specific.
“Many anti-gray supplements and serums contain vitamins such as B12, peptides and natural herbs that can supposedly prevent or reverse gray hairs,” she said. “While these ingredients may be beneficial for hair health and growth, there is currently no clinical research supporting vitamins or supplements that claim to slow or stop gray hair growth.”
Basically, if you start noticing gray hair, you have two options: You can either embrace the look (or ignore it, depending on how you look at things) or start investing in some hair dye.
After all, according to a recent survey of 2,000 Americans, two out of every five people who have gray hair have chosen to let the hue shine through. Perhaps even more telling is the fact that nearly a tenth of the survey respondents said they have intentionally dyed their hair gray as a style choice.