Scientists Think They’ve Found a Way To Reverse Gray Hair, but There Are a Few Things Dermatologists Want You To Know

Photo: Stocksy / Francesca Russell
As we age, our hair produces less melanin, which is why it turns gray. When in your lifetime this happens is up to genetics, but over the years, scientists have been working to create prescription treatments that both delay and reverse graying hair. According to Muneeb Shah, DO, a board-certified dermatologist in Mooresville, North Carolina, as cool as this sounds, there's still quite a ways to go before this becomes a widely available treatment.

"Your hair color comes from melanocytes in the hair follicle. And once you lose those melanocytes, you usually don't get them back," says Dr. Shah. "Theoretically, if you stimulate them, you could produce more pigment."

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For years, researchers have been working to figure out how to do just that. A potential treatment is alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (α-MSH). It's a peptide and the main ingredient in Scenesse, a prescription implant that increases eumelanin in the skin and thus tolerance to the sun and light in adults with a diagnosed sunlight sensitivity. It's also the main ingredient in Greyverse, a topical treatment that has not yet been commercialized nor approved by the Food and Drug Administration. A 2022 study of one 25-year-old woman experiencing premature gray hair found that after five months of applying an α-MSH solution to her scalp, 90 percent of her grays returned to black.

Researchers are able to purchase this peptide for research use, and Dr. Shah adds that some doctors may even prescribe it off-label. But the commercialization of α-MSH won't happen anytime soon. "It is interesting, but there is not enough evidence yet to support the use," says Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. First and foremost, researchers have to establish whether or not it is safe.

"Do we want to be stimulating our melanocytes? Because melanocytes also contribute to melanoma" (AKA skin cancer), says Dr. Shah. "Some of the studies are showing that it works. And so the next stage would be safety. I don't know necessarily where or when that will be commercialized, but the fact that those studies are coming out is exciting."

If a prescription to reverse gray hair does come to fruition, it could save people time and money spent on dyeing their grays.

"A lot of people right now, when they go gray, they just dye their hair," says Dr. Shah. "But there are a lot of problems with the hair dyes out there because a lot of them irritate the skin or cause allergies, especially the permanent hair dyes."

Beyond dye, you can try antioxidant hair products, like Arey, which are designed to delay graying by reducing oxidative stress on the hair that can contribute to premature graying. "Theoretically, that would be the equivalent of using vitamin C on your face as an antioxidant to protect against the aging effects of the sun," says Dr. Shah. "Sure, it does a good job [of that], but it's not going to prevent natural aging."

Although the science of gray hair reversal is still up in the air, Mona Gohara, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Hamden, Connecticut, says it's very possible that we'll eventually see it in action.

"Twenty-five years ago, when everyone was getting facelifts, we would never have thought that you could stick a needle in somebody's face and make wrinkles go away," says Dr. Gohara, in reference to Botox and other neuromodulators. "Now you just go in on your lunch hour and get a little teeny injection and boom, it's like magic. So I'm not saying that the science for gray hair reversal doesn't exist, I just think that it needs to be perfected a little bit."

"Until then, I'll be dyeing my hair every three weeks," says Dr. Gohara.

Ready to embrace your gray? Check out our lists of the best shampoos and conditioners for gray hair.

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