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Myth busting: Pluck out a strand of grey hair and 10 more will grow in its place

CNA Lifestyle continues its series debunking some commonly held notions about health and wellness. Here’s a hair-raising fact: Once it turns grey, there’s no going back to black.

If you’ve spotted a strand of grey hair peeking out from your jet-black tresses before, you might have done what your mum explicitly advised you not to: Pulling it off your head.

Mum’s rationale, or at least according to an old wives’ tale, is that yanking that single grey hair off will earn you 10 more in its place.

The good news is, doing so won’t suddenly lead to an explosion of more, said Dr Eileen Tan, a dermatologist with Eileen Tan Skin Clinic & Associates at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital. But there’s a bit of bad news, too: If you keep doing that, you may suffer from permanent loss of hair, she said.

The fact is, the follicle (a tiny sac in your scalp from which hair grows) that produced the grey hair you pulled off will produce another strand of grey hair in its place – just not 10, like your mum said. And if you’re constantly plucking out from that same follicle, that mini hair-making factory might go on strike and cease producing for good.  


It’s not like in the movies where the protagonist’s hair turns white overnight from the trauma of having to rescue his loved ones from certain doom. It is far less dramatic in real life, according to Dr Robert Shmerling from Harvard Health Publishing. 

“Your hair follicles produce less colour as they age, so when hair goes through its natural cycle of dying and being regenerated, it’s more likely to grow in as grey,” he wrote, noting that genetics usually determine when the greying starts.

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Dr Tan agreed: “Family history often reveals multiple family members with premature greying.” In other words, if your parents or relatives are silver foxes in their 30s, there’s a high chance you will be one, too.

As a gauge, Healthline noted that the likelihood of going grey increases after the age of 30, and it increases by 10 to 20 per cent with each decade.

(Photo: Unsplash/Marks of Mana)


What about stress? “While being under stress can’t turn your hair grey, stress can trigger a common condition called telogen effluvium, which causes hair to shed about three times faster than normal,” said Dr Shmerling.

READ: Myth busting: Why pregnant women develop dark patches on the face

“But if you’re middle-aged and your hair is falling out and regenerating more quickly because of stress, it’s possible that the hair that grows in will be grey instead of its original colour.”

The less common causes of greying are thyroid disease and autoimmune conditions such as vitiligo and alopecia areata, said Dr Tan. “Vitiligo may turn the hair prematurely ‘white’ by causing the melanin cells (the pigment that makes your hair black) to die.”

According to her, alopecia areata tends to attack pigmented hairs and cause them to shed. But when they grow back, they’re no longer jet black. Deficiencies in Vitamins B6, B12 and D may also be the culprits, added Dr Tan.


(Photo: Pixabay/myrtue)

Unfortunately, hairs that have become grey will remain so (sorry, can’t fight your genes), unless you dye them.

No amount of vitamin supplements, hair tonics and destressing is going to restore the follicles’ production of melanin or pigmentation, according to Healthline. Once the follicle switches off its melanin production, the hairs it produces will henceforth be grey. And you can't switch back on the melanin. 

But that doesn’t mean you can’t help the rest of the follicles to hold on to the melanin longer. For instance, eating a diet rich in Vitamins B6, B12 (both B vitamins can be found in meat, fish and dairy products) and D (spinach, kale, sardine, salmon) may help your hair to preserve its existing pigmentation and delay overall greying, said Dr Tan.

Source: CNA/bk