Most people believe that once a hair turns gray, it will stay gray forever. And indeed, this is what most people experience, precisely because they believe there is nothing they can do to change it.
However, case reports of people reversing their gray hair exist in the scientific literature over the past few decades, albeit sporadically, and now, I am one such case study!
Reversing Gray Hair in the Scientific Literature
In 1972, dermatologist Stanley Comaish reported a case of a 38-year-old man who had what he described as a “most unusual feature.” Although the vast majority of the individual’s hairs were either all black or all white, three strands were white near the ends but black near the roots, which signaled a reversal in the normal graying process. (1)
And in fact, just a few years ago, researchers finally put this to the test in an actual study. It included a dozen men and women of various ages and ethnicities, and the researchers found a pattern of graying and reversal that aligned with periods of stress, which implies that that graying is associated with our mental health and psychological well-being. (2)
That we gray when we are stressed is not news. (See every president going into office with dark hair and coming out with light hair). But that we return to normal when we’re not, is.
My Experience Reversing Gray Hair Naturally
In this article I will share my experience, exactly what steps I’ve taken to reverse the gray hair, and how you can do it, too. Keep in mind, this is a very long process. I have not reversed all of my gray hair (yet) and so far, I’ve only found 3 hairs that have returned to their normal color after about 3 months of actively working on the three areas I’ll share below. I still have maybe 1-2 dozen gray hairs that haven’t reversed yet. But the fact that 3 have started turning back is a sign it is absolutely possible.
Also, I will add in this caveat. I think a head of gray hair is beautiful. And there is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to gray hair – it is part of life. That said, just like any other symptom (acne, weak finger nails, hair fall, etc.), premature graying hair can be a sign of various imbalances or deficiencies, which are important to address, not just to return the hair to its original color, but also because these imbalances and deficiencies are associated with other, more serious health concerns. Pre-mature graying is a communication from your body.
How to Reverse Gray Hair Naturally
There are many possible root causes of gray hair. Nutrition, heavy metal exposure, circulation, and stress are the four that you have the most control over. Because stress is such a huge topic in and of itself, and also because it is not a factor I focused on during this time period, I am not including it in this article. But, as mentioned above, there is science to suggest that reducing stress can bring hair color back.
There may be factors you don’t have as much control over (ie genetics) however, I do believe, that no matter what your genetics pre-dispose you too, diet and lifestyle do ultimately influence how your genes are expressed (the field of epigenetics is fascinating!).
Alright, let’s get into it:
1. Increase Circulation to the Scalp
This one is the easiest to address, but perhaps (for me anyway – due to my lack of blood flow there) one of the most profound. If you are someone who overthinks or gets tension headaches, you will likely benefit the most.
I noticed that the veins around my eyes on one side of my head have become more prominent. I have light skin, and I’ve always had a blue vein under my eye that I can remember at least as far back as my teenage years, but for some reason I felt it became more pronounced, so I went to a Traditional Chinese Medicine Doctor to get her thoughts.
Acupuncture for Scalp Circulation
While examining me, she remarked, you only have gray hair on one side of your head – which is indeed true. I only have gray hair in one small line, on the right side of my head, and it has been that way since my first gray hair ever plucked in my early 20s. It started with one hair, which over the years became three hairs, and fast forward to 36, and its now a few dozen hairs.
She began pressing around on my scalp we discovered that I had a huge knot on the side with the veins, and by no coincidence, the only side of my head with gray hair. Similarly, when a masseuse presses into a knot in your back and it hurts, when she pressed on one side of my head, it really hurt. She asked me if I get tension headaches, to which I replied no, as I never get headaches. I asked her what caused the knot, and she said overthinking, which definitely resonated, as I can overthink anything into oblivion.
She placed acupuncture needles in my scalp and around my eye which after 4-5 sessions released about 80% of the knot/pressure. I still have to do a few more sessions and I’m confident we will fully get rid of the knot. Interestingly, I felt the needles (which she also placed on my body) actually took some of the mental stress/burden away with the physical block.
According to my TCM doctor, this knot has prevented blood flow to that area, which means those follicles were not getting nourished with the nutrients and oxygen they need. I’m sure the knots in my back don’t help either (after all the whole body is connected, so I’m making it a point to work on releasing those, too, via various exercises and massage).
Scalp Massage for Scalp Circulation
If you do not have a TCM doctor you could test your scalp yourself to see if you have any knots, and work to remove them via daily self massage using your fingertips, ideally 20 minutes a day, but 10 will do.
Interestingly, there is science to show that daily scalp massage (regardless of whether you feel a knot) improves circulation to the scalp, which aids in hair regrowth and increased thickness. So if not for gray, scalp massage is beneficial for hair health in general.
I do not massage my scalp for 20 minutes everyday, however, I do massage my scalp for 1 minute every time I shampoo, and then once a week I do an oil scalp massage for 20 minutes. (When I am consistent and don’t miss a week, I can see my hair gets noticeably thicker…when I slack a bit, my hair becomes a bit more flat).
2. Address Heavy Metal Exposure
We are all exposed to heavy metals, no matter how meticulous we are with our diet and lifestyle.
They are seemingly inescapable, and found in plastics, pollution, hair dye, food, tap water, vaccines, dental fillings, pesticides, herbicides, pharmaceuticals, and anywhere you’ve seen a Prop 65 label (which I’ve seen on everything from suitcases to furniture, protein powders to paint). The list goes on and on.
When we are exposed to heavy metals, whatever our body is unable to remove immediately gets stored in the tissues. It’s important for your body to get these dangerous metals out of your blood stream as quickly as possible, so they are packaged up and stored in the tissue. If you don’t do anything to remove them they will stay there and build up over time. The only way to remove them is to actively provoke your body to do so though various therapies, such as diet, sauna, or chelation therapy.
One reason heavy metals are so toxic is they interrupt the absorption, metabolism, and use of essential minerals, such as calcium, iron, iodine, copper, and zinc. As you’ll learn in the next section, various mineral deficiencies are associated with premature graying (not to mention other health problems).
When dealing with heavy metals, it is best to work with a health care practitioner who can test your heavy metal levels and then help you put the right plan in place for safe removal.
Heavy Metal Testing
Because metals are stored in the tissue, blood tests are best reserved for testing acute (recent) exposure within the last 2-3 days. Heavy metals generally move from the blood stream into the tissues within 2-3 days, so this is not the best way to determine your longterm exposure to metals and how much is in the tissues.
A hair test shows the metal in the hair over the last several months, but may not be a fully accurate depiction of what it actively going on in the body. For example, in someone who can not detoxify properly, they may only have low levels of metal in the hair, even though there are troublesome levels in the body.
A urine test is generally considered the “gold standard” test, as it shows the level of excreted metals when provoked with a metal detoxification agent. You can get any of these tests done by your healthcare provider.
Foods that Support Heavy Metal Detoxification
Foods and supplements that help your body detox heavy metals include:
- Barley Grass
- Green Tea
- Dulse: Dulse is a type of seaweed. I like to eat it straight out of the bag, or it’s great when torn up and added to salad with avocado. Conversely, you can use dulse granules as a seasoning.
- Kelp: I love these kelp noodles and make this recipe Kelp Noodles with Pesto, often. Conversely, you can purchase kelp granules and use them as a seasoning in place of salt.
- Probiotics: Probiotics, specifically lactobacillus strains, can bind to heavy metals and help flush them from the body. (3) I use Glow Biome daily.
Personally, I made this Heavy Metal Detox Smoothie 2-3 times a week.
I also gave up chocolate for 3 months – as my lead and cadmium levels were high. I used to eat dark chocolate daily, and these are the two metals found primarily in chocolate. I now have chocolate from time to time – say once or twice a month.
3. Replenish Missing Nutrients
Nutrients deficiencies associated with hair graying include:
- Copper: A copper deficiency might trigger premature gray hair. Copper is needed for melanin production, which gives your hair (and skin) its color. Consuming too much zinc, iron, or Vitamin C can lead to copper deficiency. Some other signs of copper deficiency include memory problems, vision problems, pale skin, sensitivity to cold, weak and brittle bones/nails, and cavity-prone teeth. The best sources of copper include beef or lamb liver, shellfish like oysters, lobster, and squid, spirulina, sesame seeds/tahini, and dark leafy greens, like chard.
- Iodine: Iodine is an important building block in thyroid hormones which play a role in hair pigmentation. Many thyroid disorders can lead to accelerated graying of the hair. Other signs of an iodine deficiency include goiter, hypothyroidism, infertility, puffy skin, dry, cracked heels, scaly, dry skin, and coarse, thinning hair. The best sources of iodine are seafoods, particularly seaweed, like kelp or dulse.
- Iron: An iron deficiency can lead to premature graying because low iron means low red blood cells. This leads to insufficient oxygen supply to your scalp. The best sources of iron are animal foods, such as organ meat, shellfish, and red meat. There is iron in plant foods, such as spinach, legumes, nuts, and seeds, however it is not absorbed as readily. Always pair plant-based foods with a source of vitamin C (like lemon juice or bell peppers) to increase iron absorption.
- Vitamin B-12: Vitamin B-12 deficiency is believed to be one of the most common deficiencies associated with premature graying. Vegans are more at risk of B-12 deficiency, as it is not naturally found in plant foods. The best sources are animal products, such as meat, fish, and eggs. You can find B-12 in some fortified vegan foods, like nutritional yeast, in which manufacturers add in synthetic B-12.
- Vitamin D: Low vitamin D levels are associated with premature graying. If you can’t get enough sunshine, be sure to get your levels tested and supplement, or even consider making your own Vitamin D “supplement.”
I was low in iodine which was surprising, as I do eat seafood regularly, although not seaweed so much. So, I started eating kelp noodles or kelp or dulse out of the bag daily, or near daily. I was also low in copper, so I ordered a copper water bottle, leave water in over night, and drink that in the morning, once a day.
Of course, adding any of these nutrients will only help if you are deficient in said nutrient. You can get your vitamin and mineral levels tested through your healthcare provider.
As I wrote out this list I realized I have failed to address one significant factor which may or may not have played a role in the reversal. Studies have shown that stress reduction can reverse gray hair. And while I did not implement any new “stress-reduction” activities, such as meditation, breathwork, or yoga over the past three months, at the request of my TCM doctor, I have worked on balancing my emotions.
Specifically, I have started working on releasing childhood – and even adult – traumas that have been locked away, apparently eating away at my liver – the organ in which, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, holds on to anger and resentment.
When she told me my liver was sluggish, I was in absolute disbelief. How could that be? I eat so well, don’t touch alcohol, my house and personal care products are about as non-toxic as a person living in 2023 could possibly be. “Your emotions.” she responded. “You are holding onto anger and resentment, and there is a conversation you need to have with someone. There is something you need to say but have not said.”
When she said this, I knew exactly who and what she was talking about. And I immediately wished she would just poke me with some more needles and prevent me from having this very hard and uncomfortable conversation (which I had already played over and over again in my head for years).
Long story short – I worked through the emotions, wrote out what I was going to say, read books on healing trauma (this is the book, The Myth of Normal that helped me the most), and did not, in fact, ever have the conversation. However, I realized healing the trauma has nothing to do with the other persons response, but rather, my perspective on it, so I feel that working through and releasing it on my side, has helped tremendously. Who knows, maybe one day I will build up the courage to have the conversation, and maybe my hair will immediately return to its normal color (if it can immediately turn white, as in the case of Marie Antoinette the night before the guillotine (4) why can’t it turn back to its original color immediately?)
If you do try implementing anything discussed in this article, please do come back and share your results and thoughts.