Premature Graying: Causes

Anna Kremer was about 20 years old when she began to notice gray strands. For 20 years, she hid this gray under the paint, until she returned to her gray roots and promised not to touch her hair with paint again.

“We’re living in very tough economic times – in an ageist culture,” says Kremer, author of Going Grey: What I’ve Learned About Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity, and Everything Else That Really Matters. Every person has to make their own decision at different points in their lives. If you are 40 years old and completely gray-haired and unemployed, you can make a different decision than when you are 25 and have only a few strands of gray or if you are a 55-year-old writer.

The bad news: the problem of premature graying is largely genetic. Hair follicles contain pigment cells that produce melanin, which gives hair its color. When the body stops producing melanin, hair becomes grey, white, or silver (melanin also provides moisture, so when less is produced, hair becomes brittle and loses its bounce).

“If your parents or grandparents went gray at an early age, you probably will, too,” says Dermatology Center director Dr. David Bank. “You can’t do much to stop genetics.”

Race and ethnicity also play a role in the graying process: white people usually start noticing gray hair around the age of 35, while African Americans usually start noticing gray hair around the age of 40.

However, other factors can also affect graying time. For example, poor nutrition is thought to affect melanin production. Specifically, this means that a person is getting too little protein, vitamin B12, and the amino acid phenylalanine. Maintaining a balanced, healthy diet can help maintain your natural hair color.

Sometimes the cause may be an underlying medical condition. Some autoimmune and genetic conditions have been linked to premature graying, so it’s best to check with your doctor to make sure you don’t have thyroid disease, vitiligo (which causes patches of skin and hair to turn white), or anemia.

Other reasons that may cause graying of hair:

Heart disease

Premature graying can sometimes indicate heart disease. In men, graying before the age of 40 may indicate the presence of cardiovascular disease. In the initial stages, there are no symptoms, but it will not be superfluous to check the heart. Although graying and the presence of cardiovascular disease is uncommon, this fact should not be overlooked in order to be noted and examined.


The harmful effects of smoking are not new. The damage it can do to your lungs and skin is well known. However, the fact that smoking can make your hair gray at an early age is unknown to many. While you may not see wrinkles on your scalp, smoking can affect your hair by weakening your hair follicles.


Stress never has a positive effect on the body. It can affect mental, emotional and physical well-being in general. People who are known to experience more stress than others are more likely to develop gray hair at an early age.

Excessive use of hair gels, hairsprays and other products

If you expose your hair to too many chemicals from time to time in the form of hair sprays, hair gels, blow dryers, flat irons and curling irons, you can increase your chances of developing premature gray hair.

While there is little you can do to stop or slow down the graying process, you can decide how to deal with it: keep it, get rid of it, or fix it.

“Age doesn’t matter when you first see those gray strands,” says New York-based colorist Ann Marie Barros. “But unlike the limited, disruptive choices of yesteryear, modern treatments range from the understated to the dramatic and everything in between. Most young clients begin to enjoy choices that cancel out their initial fear.”

Maura Kelly was 10 years old when she noticed her first gray hair. By the time she was in high school, she had streaks of long hair down to her thighs.

“I was young enough not to look old—it did,” Kelly says. “I would be perfectly happy to keep it forever if it remained a stripe. But in my 20s, it went from one stripe to three stripes and then to salt and pepper. People started thinking I was 10 years older than I am, which made me sad.”

Thus began her relationship with hair dye, which grew into a long-term one.

But instead of hiding it, more and more women are visiting the salon to improve their gray color. They add silver and platinum strands all over the head, especially around the face, which makes them even more charming. But if you decide to go completely gray, you need to take good care of your hair and also have a style so that the hair color does not age you.

You may even be surprised by the reaction to your gray locks. Kremer, being married, conducted an experiment on a dating site. She posted a photo of herself with gray hair, and three months later, the same photo with dark hair. The result surprised her: three times more men from New York, Chicago and Los Angeles were interested in meeting a gray-haired woman than a painted one.

“Remember when Meryl Streep played the silver haired woman in The Devil Wears Prada? In barbershops all over the country, people said they needed this hair, Kremer says. “It gave us strength and self-confidence – all the things that we usually think gray hair robs us of.”

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