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I want to pluck my grey hair. Will more grow back? Add to ...

The question: If you pluck a grey hair, will more grow in its place? Any other grey hair myths you can debunk for me?

The answer: Plucking a grey hair will not cause an increase in the number of hairs that grow back. While it sounds like a plausible statement, wouldn’t that mean the same would happen for coloured hair? If so, it would be the million dollar cure for hair loss or balding!

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Hair grows out of follicles on the scalp, and each follicle has a hair. The colour is dependent on cells in the follicle called melanocytes. As we age, these melanocytes decrease in number, resulting in a loss of colour. On average, men may start to go grey around the age of 30 while women start around 35, but this can vary from person to person.

If you pluck one hair, only one will grow back. While it seems like a quick solution, plucking a grey hair can traumatize the follicle, which over time can cause scarring. Once the follicle is damaged, hair may not grow out of it at all which can lead to a bald spot. If the hair does grow back, the scarred follicle can grow a distorted grey hair that may be coarser and more noticeable than it was previously. So if you must get rid of your greys, the best thing to do is colour or trim your hair.

One question that often comes up: is greying reversible? Unfortunately, there isn’t anything you can drink or eat to reverse the greying process; so be careful with advertised solutions that promote drinking carrot juice, for example, to do just that. The only surefire way to “reverse” greying is to dye your hair.

And what about stress causing white hair? While going grey is generally thought to be linked to our genetics, stress and lifestyle choices seem to also play a role in how quickly it happens. Studies have shown that stress, both chronic and acute, can induce greying earlier in individuals than it otherwise would have. Stress seems to cause a loss of melanocytes. And finally, there is some truth to tobacco smoke causing premature greying in comparison to those who do not smoke. So if you’re worried about going grey, consider putting away the cigarettes.

Overall, the real truth behind greying is that it is dependent on multiple factors. While further studies need to be done, reducing stress and smoking will not only potentially decrease your chance of greying prematurely, but also have other positive health benefits.

Dr. Sheila Wijayasinghe is the medical director at the Immigrant Womens’ Health Centre, works as a staff physician at St. Michael’s Hospital in their Family Practice Unit and at Hassle Free Clinic, and established and runs an on-site clinic at Women’s Habitat Shelter in Etobicoke.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail’s Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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