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Agehacking: What Causes Gray Hair & Can We Reverse It?

In the last decade, scientists have discovered the answer to why our hair goes gray.

So what is it, and why don’t we all know about it?


Well, let’s start with the basics. Each strand of hair grows out of a hair follicle. And each follicle has a certain amount of melanocytes, or melanin producing cells. Melanin is the pigmentation found in our skin, our hair, and our eyes. The primary function of melanin is to protect us from harmful UV radiation emitted by the sun. The amount of melanin in your skin determines how fair or dark you are, and the melanin in the hair follicle determines hair color.


It was initially believed that as we age, the melanocytes in our hair follicles gradually die. With fewer and fewer of these pigmentation cells producing pigmentation, we end up with gray and then white hair. However, a group of researchers uncovered a more complete understanding of this: It is actually a build up of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) - yes, the same compound used to lighten hair and clean wounds - that is basically bleaching our hair from inside the hair follicle.


This build up of hydrogen peroxide is due to the reduction of a special enzyme that breaks it down: catalase. Catalase is found in nearly all living organisms and catalyzes the decomposition of hydrogen peroxide into water (H2O) and oxygen (O2). This process is essential for protecting cells from oxidative damage. Therefore, it is now believed that as the catalase levels in our hair follicles decline as we age, unmitigated hydrogen peroxide levels increase, resulting in gray hair.


But is there a way to increase our catalase levels to counteract the hydrogen peroxide? There is a medical condition that may provide us some insight into the potential of hair repigmentation.


Vitiligo is a medical condition where pigmentation is spontaneously lost in certain areas of the skin resulting in white patches. You may have noticed someone with this condition before. These white patches have sharp margins and are much more prominent on people with tanner or darker skin. In addition, hair found in the depigmented patches also turns white.


A series of new studies, including here and here, have discovered two important things:

  1. There is compelling evidence that vitiligo is caused by an accumulation of hydrogen peroxide in the skin.

  2. These white patches can be treated with a special UV-activated compound called pseudocatalase.


You guessed it - this pseudocatalase compound was used to absorb into the skin and break down the hydrogen peroxide in place of the body’s own production of catalase. One study saw complete repigmentation of the face and hands in 90% of participants. Active depigmentation was completely stopped in all patients during the treatment period.


Could this treatment work to reduce hydrogen peroxide levels in the hair follicles of the average person, reducing or reversing graying? That much has not yet been proven in any follow up studies that I could find. While you can find catalase supplement pills as well as pseudocatalase topical creams through a quick online search, the products seem to be unregulated and without many reviews. So before you jump to buy anything, be sure to do your research! We will be keeping a close eye on anything new coming out on the subject.


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