5 Ways to Prevent Gray Hair, According to Experts

What you eat and how you handle your stress can bring on the grays—or help prevent them. Here are 5 lifestyle shifts to make to keep your locks gray-free.

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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. But what if you're not ready to go gray just yet? Is there a way to prevent it?

Good news! Researchers are learning that it might be possible to not only prevent going gray but even reverse gray hair through healthy lifestyle habits.

Why Hair Goes Gray

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.

Hair is all initially white, and as it is produced, the body adds natural color in the form of melanin. There are two types of hair pigments:

  • Dark (eumelanin)
  • Light (phaeomelanin)

These combine to make the many hair hues you see on yourself and others, say, strawberry blonde, golden brown or black.

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. According to a 2023 review in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 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.

A portrait of a woman with grey hair outside
Getty Images / Brooke Schaal Photography

5 Ways to Prevent Gray Hair

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.

"A healthy diet and lifestyle is not only good for your overall well-being, but also for your skin and hair health," says Lain.

Study up on scientifically proven strategies to prevent or slow the graying process.

Squelch the Stress

"New research suggests that depigmentation, or graying, of hair is triggered by stress—and likely inflammation from stress," says Julie Upton, M.S., RD, co-founder of the nutrition news company Appetite for Health in San Francisco.

A 2020 study in the International Journal of Trichology found that oxidative stress (an imbalance of antioxidants and free radicals in the body that can trigger cell and tissue damage and accelerated aging) is linked to premature graying.

Smoking is a key factor in the oxidative stress equation and is correlated with premature graying in all age groups. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (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.)

Over time, chronic stress of any kind can lead to chronic inflammation, which may flip off those melanin-making cells while shortening the hair growth cycle, according to a 2018 Annals of Dermatology study.

Practicing these 7 science-backed ways to relieve stress in 10 minutes or less often can be a great way to begin to lessen your stress levels.

Adjust Your Diet

On a related note, what you eat can be pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory, says Upton.

"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," says Upton. "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," says Upton.

Some of the best options include:

  • Berries
  • Dark, leafy greens
  • Red grapes or red wine (in moderation)
  • Fresh herbs and spices

If possible, limit these pro-inflammatory foods and drinks:

  • Soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Candy
  • Commercial baked goods
  • Processed, high-fat meats like bacon, sausage and salami

This anti-inflammatory meal plan for beginners can help you learn the ropes.

Get Enough of These Vitamins and Minerals

Certain vitamin and mineral shortfalls can also contribute to graying hair, says Lain. "Ensure you have an adequate level of Vitamin D3 and Vitamin B12, since deficiencies in either of these may accelerate graying," explains Lain.

Other important micronutrients for healthy hair include vitamin E, vitamin A, zinc, iron, copper, selenium and magnesium.

While supplements can fill in the gaps, we're strong believers that food can be the best Rx. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the best sources of these healthy hair nutrients include:

  • Vitamin D: trout, salmon, mushrooms, milk, eggs
  • Vitamin B12: beef liver, clams, tuna, nutritional yeast, salmon
  • Vitamin E: sunflower seeds and oil, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, spinach
  • Vitamin A: beef liver, sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, ricotta cheese, cantaloupe
  • Zinc: oysters, beef chuck roast, crab, lobster, pork loin, baked beans
  • Iron: beef, dark leafy greens, fortified cereals, oysters, white beans, dark chocolate, lentils
  • Copper: beef liver, oysters, unsweetened chocolate, potatoes, shiitake mushrooms
  • Selenium: Brazil nuts, tuna, halibut, sardines, shrimp
  • Magnesium: pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, almonds, spinach, cashews

Protect Your Locks from the Elements

Beyond internal impacts, what your hair faces externally matters too. "Follow healthy hair habits. Try to avoid repetitive use of heat and chemical treatments which can damage the hair and the pigment cells," recommends Lain. "Limit exposure to, or protect hair from, toxins and pollutants, and when possible, protect your hair from the sun by covering it up with a hat or scarf."

Banning bleaches, using a wide-toothed comb (rather than a brush, especially on wet hair), limiting high-heat styling tools and washing less frequently can all help your hair stay stronger longer.

Stay Up to Date with Your Check-Ups

Some autoimmune and thyroid-related disorders can be related to premature graying, according to a 2018 review in the International Journal of Trichology. Be sure to keep up with your yearly physicals and check in with our primary care practitioner 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.

Bottom Line

While there is no guarantee you will prevent or reverse your gray hairs from happening, there are several lifestyle habits that can affect your hair health. In any event, even if your grays are stubborn and insist on showing up, the lifestyle changes presented here will still do your body and mind good, come gray hairs or not.

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