Do supplements work for gray hair? Here’s what dermatologists say

Key Takeaways

  • Gray hair can grow with age, but other factors, such as certain medications and health conditions, also contribute to graying.
  • Several supplements on the market claim to be able to pigment gray hair.
  • Dermatologists say there is no evidence that these work.

Gray hair is a natural part of aging that is affected by several factors. Some medications, illnesses, and even vitamin deficiencies can affect when your hair starts to turn gray, as can your stress levels.

Gray hair can also be caused by genetics, Weill Cornell Medicine dermatologist Jonathan Zippin told Verywell. In general, graying is definitely hereditary, he said. If your parents went gray early, chances are you’ll go gray early, although it’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 New York-based cosmetic dermatologist, told Verywell. Unfortunately, there is currently no way to stop the growth of gray hair, he said.

However, as supplements have become increasingly popular in recent years, several anti-gray pills have become available. Some are marketed as being able to pigment gray hair.

Here, experts explain everything you need to know about anti-gray supplements, including what they contain, whether there’s any evidence they work, and what you should know before you try them.

What causes gray hair?

Gray hair is sometimes the result of chemical processes activated by aging, Green said. As we age, our body’s enzyme, the so-called catalase it becomes less efficient, he explained.

This enzyme helps regulate hydrogen peroxide levels in the body. As we age, our bodies can produce more hydrogen peroxide because catalase stops working as efficiently as before.

As hydrogen peroxide levels rise, melanin synthesis is inhibited and pigmentation in the hair is reduced, Green said. This means that as we age, the process that gives hair its color (melanin synthesis) is disrupted, causing hair to turn gray.

But this natural side effect of aging isn’t the only thing that can cause gray hair. Genetics, skin type, stress, medical conditions and diet are just some of the factors that affect how quickly a person turns gray, Green said.

Some autoimmune diseases and other health conditions that have been linked to gray hair include:

  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Celiac disease
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Vitiligo
  • Alopecia areata
  • Some genetic disorders, including Werner syndrome, Louis-Bar syndrome, Waardenburg syndrome, and Griscelli syndrome

Deficiencies in the following vitamins and minerals have also been linked to gray hair:

  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin D3
  • Calcium
  • Iron
  • Copper

Eating a vegetarian diet and having atopic disease, which causes sensitivity to certain allergens, can also contribute to the growth of gray hair.

Just as people do not age at the same rate, they do not develop gray hair at the same age.

Normally, hair begins to show signs of graying around age 35, although some individuals may show signs of graying earlier due to genetic factors, Green said. Individuals of African-American descent are more likely to grow gray hair later in life because they tend to have higher melanin production.

What ingredients make anti-grey supplements?

Manufacturers of some anti-grey supplements say their products can re-pigment the hair. Some contain one or more of the following ingredients:

  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B5
  • Biotin
  • Zinc
  • Copper
  • Saw Palmetto
  • Selenium
  • Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)
  • Catalase
  • L-tyrosine

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 coloring and stimulate melanin production, he added. However, there is currently no clinical evidence that catalase and L-tyrosine supplements can prevent or reverse gray hair.

Selenium and vitamin B5, both antioxidants, help prevent oxidative stress that causes gray hair. But they also have not been linked to stopping or preventing gray hair growth.

Ultimately, according to Vihrein, there is no evidence that any of these ingredients or anti-gray supplements work in general. While their formulations may be beneficial for overall hair health and growth, these supplements cannot prevent or reverse graying, Green said.

Could [these] formulations reduce metabolic stressors in the body? Zippin said. Perhaps. But I don’t think there’s any evidence that they’re particularly effective [preventing] graying of hair.

Because studies haven’t been done to evaluate whether anti-gray supplements work, it’s impossible to say whether they’re effective and, if so, by what mechanism, Zippin added.

Until that research is available, supplements may not be worth investigating, he said. As a patient advocate, I’m always concerned that patients are wasting money on certain things, she said. I can’t say it’s not effective, but we just don’t know.

Are there other ways to prevent gray hair?

Just as there are no known ways to stop the growth of gray hair, 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 who experience premature graying, Green said.

If your gray hair is the result of chronic stress, hypothyroidism or [a] Because of vitamin B deficiency, your hair can return to its normal pigmentation once these problems are corrected, she explained.

That’s why taking a supplement containing essential B vitamins can help, he added.

Beyond that, there are no over-the-counter solutions for gray hair, but it’s worth talking to your healthcare provider about effective ways to manage stress and other chronic health issues.

Although research on gray hair is developing, the field is still relatively new, Zippin said. He added that there have not yet been extensive studies in humans that could explain the basic questions of why some people develop gray hair while others do not and why some develop it much earlier.

Targeting gray hair growth is helpful while understanding the type or types of physiological stress that affects it, Zippin added. There’s definitely a stress-related component to it, but nobody knows exactly what stress is: whether it’s neurological stress, metabolic stress, [or something else] is not quite clear, he explained.

What does this mean for you?

There are various supplements that prevent gray hair on the market. Although supplements support overall hair health, dermatologists say there is no evidence that they effectively prevent or reverse gray hair. If gray hair is caused by a health condition, such as chronic stress, certain autoimmune diseases, and certain vitamin deficiencies, treating the underlying cause of gray hair can promote pigment formation.

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