Can you stop grey hair and even repigment it naturally? This trichologist says yes!

Greying hair is just another natural part of aging – and we tend to think our options are to leave it, cover it with dye or use a half-way house, as I do, with hair highlights. 

But what if there are natural ways to slow it down and even reverse some of the grey?

Well, while genetics play a big part in our level and speed of greying so does lifestyle. 

Small human studies have shown for instance, that periods of stress can accelerate greying, with some reversal then observed in study participants in periods where they were relaxed. 

And we now know that nutrition and nutritional deficiencies can play a significant role too. 

Los-Angeles-based trichologist and hair stylist to the stars Jay Small believes it is possible in some cases to reverse greying and slow down the progression as we age.  

He is a co-founder of Arey Grey, which creates supplements and topical products to help achieve this.

In this Q&A, he reveals the causes of greying, the worst thing you can do when you start showing signs of grey, and the stage of greying where you have the best chance with natural interventions. Plus we explore the impact lifestyle and dietary changes can make – and a free tip for preserving hair color and condition that somehow had never occurred to me before! 

Picture of celebrity stylist Jay Small working on a client's hair
Jay Small

What causes hair to go grey?

Jay says: “When we started Arey Grey we assumed that it was genetics. There’s actually only one gene that causes and is linked to going grey. It’s the IRF4 gene.

“So beyond that one genetic composition that can cause this are things like sun exposure, diet, other oxidative stressors like smoking or alcohol, lifestyle.

“As you get into your 20s or 30s, the body then starts to slow down the production of pigments, because you have to keep in mind that hair is a superfluous tissue. It doesn’t need hair, it wants hair.”

Is dying or highlighting greying hair a good idea?

“A lot of people, when they see their first grey hairs, resort to using hair dye to cover the greys. And that typically happens on the scalp.

“They start to color it, and they’re putting more color on their head than they have grey to cover. And then this creates a lot of chemical exposure on the scalp, which can be causing you to go more grey, and thin out over time. And that’s what we want people to understand is maybe dye is not the first step that you should take.  

“With highlights you’re only coloring the hair and in specific areas so we recommend that approach.

“It doesn’t mean that we don’t have people that use hair dye. But we want people to realize that hair dye should be used with a little bit of caution. It’s a very volatile chemical that we sometimes then end up using every 4 to 6 weeks.” 

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Is it possible to reverse grey hair?

“One of the words that we try and focus on is pigmentation. For us it was about adopting a new word that actually has a science backing. So ‘reversing’ we want to try and steer clear of that because what we found through our research was that there is a difference between a white hair and a grey hair or a greying hair.

“White hairs have likely lost all pigment and they would be the most recognizable. With these white hairs, when we go up close with a microscope, we will see hairs around them that are deep augmenting and slowly losing pigment.  

“What happens is, if there’s still pigment left in that strand, even the smallest iota, that means that we can re-stimulate the pigment production in that hair follicle. So for re-pigmentation, there has to be some pigment left in the hair strand. It is about preserving what you have less being able to magically kind of reverse or bring back all the pigment that we’ve lost.”

Before and after photo submitted by an Arey Grey System customer showing visibly less grey hair in the after image
Before and after photo submitted by an Arey Grey System customer

How do we re-pigment hair?

“For us it starts with a supplement, and that was because we had put together a medical team. So we had an internal medicine doctor, a chemical engineer from MIT and a dietician.

“We looked at situations in which people had been studied for other things, whether it was a vitamin deficiency or some type of other illness, and they had reported some type of greying or premature greying.  

“And so we were able to make links between these vitamin and mineral deficiencies and greying hair. That was the first piece. And then we looked into Eastern medicine and saw that there was a lot of antioxidants [used], because the other side to this is we are overexposed to sun and chemicals. Even the reason why we go grey on our front hairline, it’s the overlap of chemicals potentially from your face wash to your shampoo, to your toners, to your makeup, layer on layer on layer.  

“And so we realized antioxidants play a big part. It is vitamins, minerals, antioxidants. Our supplement is formulated to be used with a multivitamin. It’s really about creating an opportunity for cell turnover, red blood cell flow to the hair follicle, and also it will help to stimulate melanin production in the hair follicle with these antioxidants and vitamins.  

“Everybody can really use and benefit from supplementation, because whether you’re getting the vitamins and minerals that you need, you’re likely not eating enough blueberries to counteract the free radicals.”  

What are the most important vitamins for maintaining hair pigment?

“Complex B vitamins, B12, B6, B9, and copper is a great mineral, too, but it depends on each individual person. You’re trying to make it so that you have an even amount in the body it can use to push this forward.

“What if we see early whites as a message from the body? What could it be telling me about what I might lacking within my nutrients? Or what am I over exposed to from oxidative stress?

“And that’s where for some people [supplementation] might take effect and show great results within the first two months. And for some people it might take four months because we need to not only give the body back this supply, but also when it comes to getting rid of free radicals. Free radicals are like damaged cells in our body.  

“They’re like a little brown spot on a piece of a fruit. They will continue to spread over time. But the more of those that we have in the body, then the more antioxidants we need to go in and neutralize them. And then once that is in a healthy place, that’s what’s going to help our cells prosper, turnover and proliferate in a way that is healthy skin, healthy hair, pigmented hair.”

What about topical solutions?

“We have something called The System. So we combine the supplement with our topical serum. But we want people to realise whether you are taking our product or not the main thing is to evaluate your diet.

“With the topical, when we started to research we found a peptide [palmitoyl tetrapeptide] that has basically been shown within studies to be able to stimulate melanin production in the hair follicle. The way that it does this is it provides amino acids to the hair follicle. Amino acids are like a building block. So if your kid was playing Lego and they wanted to build a huge tall skyscraper and they only had a little pile of Lego, they’re not going to get that high.  

“So the same thing happens in our hair follicle. If we do not have enough amino acids, then we do not have enough to kind of build together these molecules, which either give us our hair strand or the pigment that is inside the hair strand. So this pigment was the center of this topical formulation.

“We also include antioxidants and what we really pride ourselves on is what we eliminated. So there’s no oil, there’s no scent. It won’t build up on your hair, but it will effectively absorb into the scalp. And then as it goes in, it gets rid of any free radicals that are topical or subdermal. And then it will allow for these amino acids to access the hair follicle.  

“And hopefully you have the right fuel from the body to then kind of work in tandem with these amino acids.”

What is a low-cost simple thing we can do to slow greying hair?

“We don’t realize that whether it’s an overcast day or full sun, that sun exposure is the biggest source of oxidative stress. So I think wearing a hat is the number one thing that you can do that doesn’t cost much of anything.

“That and diversifying your diet. We have to not be so routine oriented when it comes to what we eat.”

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