Scientists Discover Way To Prevent And Reverse Gray Hair

Scientific experts are on the brink of finding the key connection between stem cells and what turns human hair gray.

By Charlene Badasie | Published

Gray hair

Scientists are close to discovering how to reverse gray hair. Hair becomes lighter when pigmented stem cells (melanocytes) that produce its color (melanin) start to decrease in number or stop producing melanin altogether. While this is a natural part of aging, understanding how these cells work is the key to finding a solution that doesn’t involve a trip to the salon.

Published in the Nature Journal, a research team from NYU Grossman School of Medicine explained the link between gray hair and melanocytes (McSCs) in more detail. These cells are the primary mechanism that brings color to the skin and eyes. But McSCs also exist in the hair follicles. Thats where they receive a protein signal that tells them when to mature.

Once this happens, the cells release pigment, which gives our hair its color. During the study, scientists learned that McSCs also move between microscopic compartments in the hair follicle. Each section provides the cells with a slightly different protein signal. This allows the cell to alternate between different maturity levels, giving hair its natural or gray color.

But MsSCs are different from other stem cells, which die as they mature. Instead, melanocytes just become more complicated as they get older. While other stem cells die, McSCs get stuck in a “hair follicle bulge,” which gets more pronounced as people age due to hair growth and shedding cycles. The cells inside this compartment don’t receive the signal to mature.

So the hair keeps growing without getting any pigment, resulting in gray hair. The researchers tested this discovery by physically plucking strands off mice over two years. The findings revealed that the number of McSCs stuck in the follicle bulge increased from 15 percent to 50 percent. But cells inside the hair follicles that remained untouched continued to send pigment signals.

However, Doctor Jenna Lester told NPR several other factors contribute to gray hair. “Some people think sun exposure can damage their melanocytes,” the Dermatologist and Professor at the University of California said. She also explained that hormones, genetics, medical conditions, and stress could strip hair of its natural color.

Still, researchers say that moving the McSCs to their proper location could reverse gray hair. While it may sound like a costly, vanity-filled endeavor, the findings have significant implications for cancer research. Senior Investigator on the study and Professor at NYU Langone Health, Mayumi Ito, says elearning how stem cells exist in the human body can shift the landscape of medicine.

“We are interested in how stem cells are regulated to properly maintain our body and how they can reform the tissues when they are lost by injuries,” Ito told NPR. She added that understanding the melanocyte stem cell system is advantageous as the “malfunction of the system is so visible.” Viewing their movements can help doctors learn how cancerous cells are formed.

For now, the best way to deal with gray hair depends on personal preference. Some people embrace their silvery strands and don’t let it define who they are. Coloring is a popular option that can be done at a salon or at home. But it’s important to remember that hair dye can damage the hair. So be sure to use high-quality hair products and limit how often you use them.

Adding highlights or lowlights can create a natural look by blending gray hair with your natural color. This can be an excellent option for those who don’t want to cover their gray hair entirely but want to add some style dimensions.