Your body has millions of hair follicles, or small sacs lining the skin where hair grows. These hair follicles contain a pigment called melanin that determines what hair color you have, which can vary based on ethnicity and genetics.
Over time, your hair begins to lose that pigment and starts to turn gray or white. So gray hair isn’t bad; it’s a normal part of the aging process. Typically, graying begins around the following ages:
- Caucasians: mid-30s
- Asians: late 30s
- African Americans: mid-40s
Some people, however, may experience graying even earlier:
- Caucasians: 20
- Asians: 25
- African Americans: 30
While the primary cause is usually genetic, premature graying may also be a sign of stress, nutritional deficiencies, disorders of the scalp, hormonal disorders, or other diseases that should be addressed.
What causes premature graying hair?
Melanin is what gives hair its color, and is continuously released from melanocytes that live at the hair follicle opening. With aging, melanocyte activity slows down or stops completely. Once the hair shaft stops receiving pigment, it starts to lose its color and turn gray.
10 Factors that can cause premature graying of hair include:
- Genetics: If you have a history of premature graying in your family, you have a higher chance of getting gray hair earlier in life.
- Nutritional deficiencies:
- Smoking: Smoking and exposure to other environmental toxins can cause you to start graying early.
- Stress: Studies have shown that there is a connection between stress and the depletion of stem cells in the hair follicles of mice. Chronic stress can thus contribute to the early graying of hair and even cause hair loss.
- Vitiligo: This is an autoimmune disorder that causes melanocyte loss because the immune system “misfires” and attacks the scalp rather than an infection.
- Alopecia areata: Also an autoimmune disorder, this condition causes hair to fall out in patches, especially the hair that still has color. This may lead to “overnight” graying where the gray and white hair that was already there becomes more obvious.
- Thyroid disorders: Hormonal changes caused by thyroid problems, such as hyperthyroidism (increased thyroid hormone levels) or hypothyroidism (decreased thyroid hormone levels) can cause premature graying hair.
- Neurofibromatosis (Von Recklinghausen disease): This group of inherited diseases causes tumors to grow along nerves and abnormal development of bones and skin.
- Tuberous sclerosis: This is an uncommon, inherited condition that causes benign (noncancerous) tumors in multiple organs (including the brain, heart, kidneys, eyes, lungs, and skin) and may be associated with early graying.
- Medications: Certain medications can cause early graying of hair:
- Chloroquine (used for malaria)
- Mephenesin (a muscle relaxant)
- Phenylthiourea (used in DNA testing)
- Triparanol (used to reduce cholesterol)
- Dixyrazine (used to treat various psychiatric disorders)
- Topical medications, such as dithranol, chrysarobin, and benzocaine-resorcinol (used for the treatment of psoriasis)
How can premature graying be treated?
Treatment of gray hair largely depends on what is causing it. Ways you may be able to reverse, slow down or prevent further graying include:
- Medical treatment: Premature graying caused by medical conditions can be managed by treating the underlying cause. If certain medications are causing early graying, you may be able to discontinue them after speaking to your doctor. Your doctor may also alter your dosage or prescribe an alternative medication.
- Diet: Maintaining a balanced diet is a key to maintaining good hair health. Whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes are rich in nutrients and antioxidants. Antioxidants decrease inflammation and free radicals. Foods rich in vitamins and minerals (zinc, folate, iron, selenium, copper, and vitamins A, C, E, B6, and B12) can help delay graying in addition to improving overall health.
Other tips for promoting healthy hair include:
- Managing stress
- Quitting smoking
- Getting adequate rest
- Staying hydrated
Sashin D. Premature Graying: Reasons, Options. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/beauty/features/abcs-premature-graying#1
Kumar AB, Shamim H, Nagaraju U. Premature Graying of Hair: Review With Updates. Int J Trichology. 2018;10(5):198-203. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6290285/
Top Is Gray Hair Bad? Related Articles
Effective Ways to Stop Hair Loss in MenHair loss is one of the common problems in men. There could be many causes of hair loss that include diet, mineral deficiency, medications, stress, pollution, and genetics.
Can Receding Hairline Grow Back?A receding hairline is a type of hair loss affecting both men and women. As the name suggests, a receding hairline causes hair loss along the hairline. This is different from the overall thinning hair and bald spots that may appear on the top or back of the head.
Can Vitamin B12 Reverse Premature Gray Hair?If vitamin B12 deficiency is the cause of premature graying, then it can be reversed with vitamin B12 supplementation.
Common Medical Abbreviations & Terms
Doctors, pharmacists, and other health-care professionals use abbreviations, acronyms, and other terminology for instructions and information in regard to a patient's health condition, prescription drugs they are to take, or medical procedures that have been ordered. There is no approved this list of common medical abbreviations, acronyms, and terminology used by doctors and other health- care professionals. You can use this list of medical abbreviations and acronyms written by our doctors the next time you can't understand what is on your prescription package, blood test results, or medical procedure orders. Examples include:
- ANED: Alive no evidence of disease. The patient arrived in the ER alive with no evidence of disease.
- ARF: Acute renal (kidney) failure
- cap: Capsule.
- CPAP: Continuous positive airway pressure. A treatment for sleep apnea.
- DJD: Degenerative joint disease. Another term for osteoarthritis.
- DM: Diabetes mellitus. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes
- HA: Headache
- IBD: Inflammatory bowel disease. A name for two disorders of the gastrointestinal (BI) tract, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis
- JT: Joint
- N/V: Nausea or vomiting.
- p.o.: By mouth. From the Latin terminology per os.
- q.i.d.: Four times daily. As in taking a medicine four times daily.
- RA: Rheumatoid arthritis
- SOB: Shortness of breath.
- T: Temperature. Temperature is recorded as part of the physical examination. It is one of the "vital signs."
Do Hair Growth Vitamins Work?Vitamins or herbal supplements for hair growth are often used to promote healthy hair growth and regrowth. If there is hair loss or hair damage associated with a serious nutritional deficiency of certain vitamins or minerals, hair growth supplements can help with hair growth or regrowth.
Do Hair Transplants Really Work?A hair transplant is a procedure in which there is the removal of small pieces (punch grafts) of tissue from the hair-bearing scalp. This is called a donor area, and it is cut into smaller pieces to place these on a bald or thinning area of the scalp.
15 Gray Hair Causes and FixesWhat causes gray hair, and what does it say about your health? Is it stress? Genetics? Medications? Learn how to remove gray hair, why some people go gray sooner than others, and find what hairstyles and dyes help you look younger. When you want to show off your natural gray, discover what shampoo gives you a shiny, silver look.
Your Hair & Your HealthIs your hair or scalp trying to tell you something about your health? Learn more about dandruff, scalp psoriasis, ringworm on the scalp, folliculitis, scalp pimples, and medications and conditions that affect your hair and body.
Hair LossThere are many causes of scalp hair loss. This featured article covers the common ones such as patchy hair loss (alopecia areata, trichotillomania, and tinea capitis), telogen effluvium, and androgenetic alopecia (male-pattern baldness, female-pattern baldness).
Hair Loss: Alopecia, Thinning Hair in Men and WomenLearn about hair loss (alopecia) in women and men. Discover hair loss causes and treatments like shampoos and drugs, as well as how to prevent hair loss.
Hair Loss QuizTrue or false: Genetic hair loss comes from the mother's side of the family. Take the Hair Loss Quiz to learn about your hair. Learn what damages hair and what doesn't. Take the quiz!
Hair Transplant PictureSurgical approaches include various versions of hair transplantation (taking hair from the back and putting it near the front) or scalp reduction (cutting away bald areas and stitching the rest together). See a picture of Hair Transplant and learn more about the health topic.
How Can I Get Healthy Hair Naturally?Hair has always been a significant aspect of beauty standards. Luscious and shiny locks have been considered ideal beauty for ages. Have you always dreamt of having that bouncy and voluminous hair seen in the advertisements? If so, this dream can turn into reality by following a proper hair care routine.
How Can I Make My Hair Soft and Silky?The signs of healthy hair include thick, soft, and shiny hair. Having silky hair is something not every person is born with. Your hair may become dry and brittle if your diet is not healthy or if you use hair products that are not meant for your hair type.
How Do I Make My Hair Shiny?A good hair day is one less thing to worry about! Everyone pines for a healthy and shiny mane, resorting to many of the over the counter hair care products that claim to make your hair shiny, smooth, and silky. Of course, you cannot ignore the shampoos and conditioners, but make sure you choose them as per your hair type.
Surprising Reasons Your Hair Is Falling OutSeeing clumps of hair in your brush every time you groom your tresses? Find out what might be behind your locks loss.