- Gray hair can grow as you age, but other factors—like certain medications and health conditions—also influence how much you gray.
- Multiple supplements on the market claim to be able to “re-pigment” gray hair.
- There’s no evidence to suggest these work, according to dermatologists.
Gray hair is a natural part of aging influenced by various factors. Some medications, health conditions, and even vitamin deficiencies can impact when your hair starts to turn gray, as can your stress level.
When—or if—you develop gray hair could also come down to genetics, Jonathan Zippin, MD, PhD, a dermatologist at Weill Cornell Medicine, told Verywell. “In general, graying is definitely hereditary,” he said. “If your parents grayed early, you will likely gray early, though that’s not a hard and fast rule.”
While experts have identified some of the causes of gray hair, they still don’t have effective ways to slow or stop it, Michele Green, MD, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist based in New York, told Verywell. “Unfortunately, there is currently no way to stop gray hair growth,” she said.
However, as supplements have become more and more popular in recent years, multiple “anti-gray” over-the-counter pills have become available. Some are marketed as able to “re-pigment” gray hair.
Here, experts explain everything you need to know about anti-gray supplements—including what’s in them, whether there’s any evidence that they work, and what you should know before you try one.
What Causes Gray Hair?
Gray hair is sometimes the result of chemical processes that are activated by aging, Green said. As we age, an enzyme in our bodies called catalase becomes less efficient, she explained.
This enzyme helps control hydrogen peroxide levels in the body. As we age, our body may produce more hydrogen peroxide as catalase stops working as effectively as it once did.
“As hydrogen peroxide levels increase, melanin synthesis is inhibited, and pigmentation in the hair decreases,” Green said. This means that, as we age, the process that gives our hair its color (melanin synthesis) is disrupted, causing the hair to gray.
But this natural side effect of aging isn’t the only thing that can cause gray hair. “Genetics, skin type, stress, medical disorders, and diet are just some factors that play into how quickly a person grays,” Green said.
Some autoimmune diseases and other health conditions that have been linked to gray hair include:
- Cystic fibrosis
- Celiac disease
- Alopecia areata
- Some genetic conditions, including Werner syndrome, Louis-Bar syndrome, Waardenburg syndrome, and Griscelli syndrome
Being deficient in the following vitamins and minerals has also been linked to gray hair:
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin D3
Eating a vegetarian diet and having atopy—a condition that causes sensitivity to specific allergens—may also contribute to gray hair growth.
Just as people don’t age at the same rate, they don’t develop gray hair at the same age.
“Normally, hair begins to show signs of graying around 35 years of age, though some individuals may show signs of graying earlier as a result of genetic factors,” Green said. “Individuals of African American descent are more likely to grow gray hairs later in life, as they usually have higher melanin production.”
What Ingredients Make Up ‘Anti-Gray’ Supplements?
The makers of some “anti-gray” supplements say their products can “re-pigment” hair. Some include one or more of the following ingredients:
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B5
- Saw palmetto
- Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)
Some of these ingredients—including vitamin B6, biotin, zinc, copper, and saw palmetto—are “excellent ingredients for hair health and growth,” Green said.
The purpose of including L-tyrosine and catalase in the formulations is to “prevent hair discoloration and stimulate melanin production,” she added. “However, there is no current clinical evidence that catalase and L-tyrosine supplements can prevent or reverse gray hair development.”
Selenium and vitamin B5, both antioxidants, help prevent oxidative stress, which causes gray hair growth. But they, too, have not been linked to stopping or preventing gray hair growth.
Ultimately, Green said, there’s no evidence to suggest any of these ingredients—or “anti-gray” supplements, in general—actually work. “While their formulations can be beneficial for overall hair health and growth, these supplements cannot prevent or reverse hair from turning gray,” Green said.
“Could [these] formulations reduce metabolic stressors in the body?” Zippin said. “Perhaps. But I don’t think there’s evidence they’re specifically effective in [preventing] hair graying.”
Because trials haven’t been conducted to assess whether “anti-gray” supplements work, it’s impossible to say if they’re effective and, if so, by what mechanism, Zippin added.
Until that research is available, the supplements may not be worth exploring, he said. “As a patient advocate, I’m always worried patients are wasting money on certain things,” he said. “I can’t argue it isn’t effective, but we just don’t know.”
Are There Other Ways to Prevent Gray Hair?
Just as there are no known ways to stop gray hair growth, there are no known ways to prevent it, experts say. But targeting underlying conditions that can cause gray hair growth—such as vitamin deficiencies—may help some people experiencing premature graying, Green said.
“If your gray hairs are a result of chronic stress, a thyroid disorder, or [a] B vitamin deficiency, your hair may return to its normal pigmentation after these issues are corrected,” she explained.
Therefore, taking a supplement that contains essential B vitamins may help, she added.
Aside from this, there are no over-the-counter solutions to gray hair, but it’s worth speaking with a healthcare provider about effective ways to manage stress and any other chronic health conditions you have.
Though research on gray hair is evolving, the field is still relatively new, Zippin said. There have not yet been large studies in humans that can explain the fundamental questions about why some people develop gray hair while others don’t and why some develop it much earlier in life, he added.
It will be helpful to target gray hair growth once more is understood about the type or types of physiological stress that influence it, Zippin added. “There’s definitely a component related to stress, but no one really knows exactly what the stress is: whether it’s neurological stress, metabolic stress, [or something else] is not exactly clear,” he explained.
What This Means For You
There are various “anti-gray” hair supplements on the market. While the supplements do support overall hair health, dermatologists say there’s no evidence to suggest they effectively prevent or reverse gray hair. If gray hair results from a health condition, such as chronic stress, certain autoimmune diseases, and some vitamin deficiencies, treating the underlying cause of gray hair may contribute to re-pigmentation.