Did you know that gray hair isn’t actually gray or white? It’s transparent, as hair turns gray when the hair follicle stops producing its natural pigment. Some only notice these first white strands appear in their hair late in their 60s, whereas others have been well aware of their silvery locks as early as their late 20s or 30s.
While we mostly associate gray and white hair with older age, almost 75% of people in the age range of 45 to 65 have a significant amount of gray hair according to a recent survey. But what causes premature hair graying? We review the 5 common causes below.
Let’s begin with the most obvious offender - genetics. If your mom has been coloring her gray roots for as long as you can remember, or your dad has been sporting his white hair since you were a child, chances are that you and your children will experience premature graying too.
A 2016 research article that analyzed the hair color of 6,000 Latin Americans even managed to isolate a gene variant associated with hair graying. Note that going gray in your early adulthood is probably no cause of concern, even though there are some health conditions that can speed up hair graying (more on that later). Gray and white hair is a normal part of the aging process.
Did you notice more and more silver strands appearing in your hair right after a stressful event or period of your life? We’re here to confirm your observations with scientific facts. It is indeed true that stress can make your hair go gray faster.
One study even found that hair-pigment-producing cells can become depleted under stressful conditions. Sadly, this is not the only way stress can age you either - people who undergo stress also tend to have more premature fine lines and may even experience temporary hair loss.
3. Cigarette smoke and pollution
Are you a smoker or have you been exposed to a lot of cigarette smoke second-hand on a daily basis? Research confirms that smokers have a 2.5-times higher risk of going gray early than people who are not exposed to cigarette smoke. This is especially true in people whose hair started losing pigment before age 30.
This may have something to do with the free radicals in the air that are created while smoking because other types of air pollution are known to cause premature graying as well.
4. Hormonal and autoimmune health conditions
Certain health conditions can turn your hair gray too, although hair graying is usually not the first symptom of these diseases. Alopecia areata, an autoimmune skin disease, can turn your hair white, usually in round patches. It can also lead to patchy hair loss, as the disease makes your immune system attack your hair follicles.
Hormonal changes, both natural age-related ones and such that are caused by a thyroid problem can lead to premature hair graying. Although researchers aren’t sure how thyroid hormones and sex hormones like estrogen and cortisol contribute to hair color changes, you can certainly blame the hormones for your gray locks.
5. Nutrient deficiencies
Certain nutrient deficiencies can affect your hair color as well. A 2015 review study concluded that vitamin D, copper, and vitamin B12 deficiencies are associated with premature graying. White hair in one’s youth or early adulthood may also point to a vitamin B-12 deficiency or malabsorption. A deficiency in these nutrients is believed to weaken hair cells and reduce the production of melanin - the pigment that gives your hair a specific color.
In summary, it’s completely fascinating how a wide range of factors, such as your genes, environment, and health can lead to premature gray hair. In most cases, however, silvery locks are a completely normal and certainly very beautiful feature of one’s appearance.
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