Starting to notice a few stray silver strands sprouting here and there? Plucking gray hairs might solve the problem temporarily (and let you hang on to the color of your younger days for just a little bit longer). But will it do any damage to your scalp — or worse, cause two gray hairs to grow back in its place?
Hair starts to turn gray when hair follicles experience a decline in melanin-producing cells, the cells that give hair and skin its pigment. It's a completely normal part of getting older, though the exact age that you notice those first salt-and-pepper streaks is determined largely by genetics, says Rohit Kakar, MD, FAAD, owner and director of Orchard Lake Dermatology & Cosmetics in Orchard Lake, Michigan.
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Still, you might not be happy about it. So what's the worst that will happen if you just pull the hair out?
What Happens When You Pluck Gray Hairs?
1. It Will Grow Back the Same Color
Plucking a gray hair will get rid of it temporarily. But just like strands that fall out naturally, the hair will eventually grow back. And when it does, it'll be the same color as the one you pulled out. (Even if you eat lots of fruits and veggies.)
"Once a specific hair follicle loses pigment-producing cells, that hair follicle will only regenerate gray hairs," explains says Jeffrey Hsu, MD, FAAD, co-founder and co-director of Oak Dermatology in Chicago.
In other words? After you get to the gray side, there's no natural way of going back.
As for that old warning that pulling out the grays will cause more to grow in their place? Thankfully, it's just a myth.
"Plucking one gray hair will not cause additional gray hairs," Dr. Kakar says. "When the hair is plucked, this does not impact other surrounding hairs, as each follicle has its own genetics."
2. You're Risking Infection or Scarring
Plucking those pale strands still isn't a great idea, though, especially if it turns into a habit. Repeatedly pulling out a hair can damage the follicle, which could potentially lead to an infection or scarring, says Dr. Hsu.
Over time, this could even traumatize the hair follicle to the point that it stops growing altogether. And if you're repeatedly pulling multiple grays, you could end up with a bald patch.
Is There a 'Safe' Way to Pluck Gray Hairs?
Not really. There's no way to reduce the risk of infection, scarring or hair loss that comes with pulling out a hair (gray or otherwise).
If you absolutely can't stand the sight of a gray, try snipping it instead.
"If someone must remove a gray hair, the best way is to very carefully cut it off with a small pair of scissors. This will avoid trauma to the hair follicles," Dr. Hsu says.
So, How Bad Is It Really to Pull Out a Gray Hair?
The answer depends on how often you're doing it.
"If a gray hair is plucked once, it is not likely to be problematic," says Dr. Kakar. "However, when done repeatedly, it can result in a bald spot from permanent hair loss."
So if those silvers are really bugging you, it might be time to start thinking about hair color options.
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