Health/Fitness » Health

Gray Hair in Young People

by Kent McGroarty
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Jan 6, 2009

Are you one of the lucky ones who noticed gray strands in your teens or twenties? Are you wondering why you are dealing with gray hair so early in life? Gender and ethnicity play a part in the graying of hair, but genetics appears to be the biggest culprit for young grays. How early those pesky grays will begin to show themselves "varies greatly from person to person" although why hair loses its pigment in the first place and becomes gray is still something of a mystery.

The first thing to understand about hair color and lack thereof is melanin. There are tubes of tissue underneath the scalp called hair follicles which encase the root of each hair strand. Every follicle "contains a number of pigment cells that produce melanin, the polymer that gives the growing hair shaft its color." Without pigment hair is quite transparent. Generally, such pigment cells will keep producing melanin, but if the body stops the process the hair strand will not have enough pigment to keep the strand from looking transparent. This is what results in gray and white strands of hair. Gray hair has less melanin while white hair has none at all.

Currently there is no scientific means of knowing when cells will stop producing melanin. What is known is genes control "the lack of deposition of melanin" in hair. For some families this can happen as early as in the teen years and early twenties. Whether it is a single or common gene remains unclear, and since it varies so much depending on the individual, "age is not the only factor" in the graying of hair.

Gender does play a role, as the average man will start noticing gray strands around age 30, whereas for women the average age is 35. Ethnicity is also a factor as "50% of Caucasians are 50% gray by age 50." This is not necessarily true for other ethnic groups, which again points to genetic reasons for graying hair.

Going gray at a young age does not mean "the body's aging process has sped up" nor is it symptomatic of underlying health problems. There are a few rare diseases in which graying hair in a young person is a symptom. Werner's syndrome, for example, is a disease in which the aging process seems to accelerate. This disease is believed to affect one of every 200,000 people in the United States. Pernicious Anemia, a disease caused by a B12 deficiency in the body, is also believed to decrease melanin production.

"Going gray overnight" occurs due to a rare disease called Alopecia Areata in which pigmented hair strands appear to stop growing leaving the gray strands to take hold. Again, these diseases are all very rare and finding gray strands at a young age is not something to worry about health-wise.

Other reasons that might bring about gray strands at a young age include smoking, which decreases melanin production. A few drugs "can contribute to hair loss revealing more gray strands" including lithium, which is used in the treatment of bipolar disorder. Methotrexate, a drug used to treat some forms of cancer and arthritis, can have the same effect.

While you may want to dye your hair to cover those stubborn grays, hair dye can actually contribute to gray hair! Hair color with high ammonium content can "accelerate" the graying process. Other chemicals to avoid include Formaldehyde, a chemical found in cigarettes. Overexposure to the sun may also play a part in gray strands at a young age.

Scientists may not know what causes strands to lose their pigment but there are some ways to prevent gray hair and slow down the process according to traditional Chinese medicine and some yoga practices. Traditional Chinese medicine says that hair "depends on the quality of blood and the strength of the kidneys." The kidneys and blood need to be "strengthened" if hair color is "to return to its natural state." According to traditional Chinese medicine the following foods will restore natural hair color: Hijiki seaweed, nettles, blackstrap molasses, wheat grass, black sesame seeds, and chlorophyll. It is recommended not to consume any of these foods in massive amounts as other health problems can occur. For example, seaweed has a lot of iodine in it, which when consumed excessively can increase the risk of thyroid problems. Thyroid problems can cause gray hair, so be sure to research these foods properly before consuming. Traditional Chinese medicine also recommends avoiding a high salt intake as well as too much meat and dairy.

Yoga has a few solutions to going gray young. According to yoga practices the nerve endings below the fingernails "are directly connected to the roots of a person's hair." It is recommended to rub nails against one another to minimize gray hair, as this practice "improves blood circulation in the scalp." It is also suggested that a person "rub the area of the forehead closest to the hairline" upon waking to improve scalp circulation.

The old wives' tale about plucking a gray or white hair only to have five more sprout in its place is not true. However, hair follicles are still damaged from plucking, so resist the urge to pluck those annoying hairs.

Hopefully, although more a problem of vanity than anything else, more will be understood about the graying process in time. Until then, buy some organic hair dye and rub those nails together!

Kent McGroarty is a freelance writer. She is a frequent contributor to EDGE’S Style, Travel, Health, and Fitness channels. Contact her at


  • , 2012-06-17 16:38:43

    Another old wives tale is stress causimg gray hair. There is no link to stress casing gray hair. There is more of a link to gray hair causing stress. We all get them and should feel lucky to have them. Gray hair is better than no hair!

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