Hair color changing back to youthful brown
December 3, 2010 8:30 AM   Subscribe

I once had brown hair. Over the past ten years, it changed to grey and then to white, with very fast change during stressful periods periods in my life. After recently using a dermatological shampoo for seborrheic dermatitis, it's changing back to brown. Is this normal, why might it be happening, and might it be a problem?

Recently I went to a dermatologist about an unrelated matter and he noticed that I had seborrheic dermatitis on my scalp. He prescribed a coal tar shampoo with salicylic acid and it's worked wonders. Scalp flakes gone.

But over the course of the 6 weeks I've been using it, I've noticed that the roots of my hair are growing out much darker than my standard white hair. They're brown again. I can't quite imagine I'm ever going to look quite like the old brown haired Ahab. But if it keeps going I am going to look ten years younger.

The big question is what's going on? Added points for help with whether this is normal, whether anyone ever heard of anything like it, how it might be explained, and whether it's likely to be a problem of some sort?

(Just to forestall some answers found in older threads about half white/half dark hair. This seems to be going the opposite way to normal, and nothing else has changed that I can pinpoint. Diet, exercise, etc are all pretty much the same.)

Thanks in advance.
posted by Ahab to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
A friend of mine had ashy, gray skin most of his life until he switched to a moisturizing soap (not even anything special, just a Dove bar instead of, like, Zest or something) at a dermatologist's suggestion. Now his skin is a normal color. I don't know the body chemistry behind it or if it's even remotely close to normal, but that's the closest anecdote I've got.

Enjoy your new hair (and cut it soon so you don't look like the long-lost member of NSync)!
posted by phunniemee at 8:36 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Coal tar shampoo is itself brown, isn't it? I found a warning that coal tar shampoo can cause a "brownish discoloration" in your hair.
posted by Ery at 8:39 AM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Ery, thanks for the link. It's a good summary of some other stuff the dermatologist warned about. Discoloration was my first thought as well, but the new hair is a darker brown than the shampoo itself, and I'm also still wondering why the color is growing out with the hair (ie why wouldn't it be discoloring the rest of my hair).
posted by Ahab at 9:00 AM on December 3, 2010

If it was a discoloration from the shampoo, one would think the existing hair would be even darker than the root, since the already grown-in hair has had more exposure to coal tar.
posted by mmf at 9:01 AM on December 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

Ok, This might be a complete red herring, but check out

Apparently this is the proposed mechanism for people's hair turning white very quickly. (say overnight, or a few weeks) I guess the idea is that colored hair follicles are more likely to fall out leaving one with mostly gray.

Skip through most of the initial stuff which talks about hair falling out in patches and take a look at the treatments...

It also seems to be hereditary - or at least a hereditary predisposition, so information about other family members might help to confirm...
posted by NoDef at 9:22 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

What's the name of the shampoo, maybe a bunch of us can do an unscientific study.
posted by mareli at 9:26 AM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

NoDef, thanks for the link but not sure it quite fits. There's been nothing like this before in my family - they all stayed resolutely dark haired into their fifties.

mareli, it's Ionil T. It says it's 5% coal tar and 2% salicylic acid. Also contains alcohol and benzalkonium chloride.
posted by Ahab at 9:41 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Semi-unrelated question, Dr. Internet: with seborrheic dermatitis, do you have to keep using that shampoo, or can you stop after a particular amount of time?

(Given family history, I'm pretty sure that's what's going on, but I'm convinced that stuff with salicylic acid will dry out my scalp -- like it does my face if I use, well, anything -- and actually make it MORE flaky. My experience with Neutrogena Healthy Scalp seemed to bear that out.)

How frequently do you wash with this new shampoo?
posted by Madamina at 9:49 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Madamina, you're spot on. I got big warnings about this from the dermatologist. I'm currently using it twice a week but about to cut it down to once a week.

The instructions I got from him were to initially use it three times a week, then two times a week for three weeks once I stopped seeing symptoms, then cut it down to once a week for four weeks after that.

I'm also supposed to resume using a moisturizing conditioner during the twice a week period. Which I'm late in doing.

If it returns I'm supposed to reconsult him about a change to a different shampoo, as suggested in Ery's link.
posted by Ahab at 10:39 AM on December 3, 2010

Steve Martin (it's Steve Martin Filter this week!) once said in an interview that he had a similar experience--he had gone gray very young, then did something like taking a new vitamin or like that, and his hair started to come back in brown. This upset his management because the prematurely gray hair was part of his brand identity, so he stopped using the whatever-it-was.

In addition to the shampoo, have you changed anything else? Started a new multivitamin or vitamin supplement? I have less gray hair than I used to before I started taking giant doses of vitamin B-12 (prescribed for pernicious anemia, not because I didn't want to have gray hair); have you added that or any B vitamins?
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:34 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

My brother had most of his hair fall out last year (and it was freaky scary!) After some sort of hormone injections his hair grew back gray. At Thanksgiving this year, his roots had started growing in a dark auburn brown instead of his previous strawberry blond. So, there's a anecdote that it does happen. (sorry I don't know exactly what his condition was/is and what he was given to treat it.)
posted by vespabelle at 1:54 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

My great-aunt had dry-ish grey hair when she lost it to chemo at age 60-ish. When her hair came back, it came back soft and brown, as it had been when she was much younger.
posted by bentley at 3:06 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can get shampoo with just coal tar or just salicylic acid (T-Gel and T-Sal are brand names made by Neutrogena)...I'd be curious to try just one for a while then just another.

But why not call your derm?
posted by radioamy at 5:03 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, the old explanation for why hair grays is that the folicle ceases to produce melanin, which sounds very final.

Actually what is happening is that there is hydrogen peroxide present that keeps the melanin from bonding into your hair structure, essentially bleaching it at the root; not that it is not being produced altoghether. (cool, i found a source for that trivia floating about in my head!)

Thus either the removal of the dermatitis-causing micro-organism or some other scalp-nourishing component in your shampoo is knocking that hydrogen peroxide factor out of your scalp chemistry.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 6:04 PM on December 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

Rube that sounds eminently sensible, and other people saying I'm not unique is some comfort. I guess a more precise solution may come (as radioamy says) from taking it up with the dermatologist when I next see him about the unrelated stuff.

Thanks everyone.
posted by Ahab at 5:30 AM on December 4, 2010

Matt is demanding via memail that I follow this up. I don't know whether it's Matt personally, or an automated Mattbot that demands follow ups and "resolved tags" on questions tagged "hair" or something..

I don't actually have much new to offer. I've seen a dermatologist since I last posted, but she was a fairly junior resident, and couldn't offer much more than what was suggested here. Ie "possibly a change in scalp chemistry, not likely to be dangerous, enjoy".

I've had my hair cut since I posted this, and the short bits are now solid brown, the long bits still look grey/white. It's almost distinguished looking!

I'm due back in to see the consultant within a few months. I'll try to remember to ask again and follow up then.
posted by Ahab at 12:20 AM on January 3, 2011

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