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All about premature grey hair, why it happens and can you reverse it?

Premature grey hair is when your hair turns grey or white in your 20s. It can be due to genetics, stress or other underlying conditions.
white hair on scalp
Prematured white hair is when hair turns white at a very early age. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Anjuri Nayar Singh Published: 15 May 2024, 07:37 pm IST
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Even a single strand of silver or grey hair can put you in a tizzy, especially if it happens before your time! When hair starts to lose melanin, it appears white or grey. However, if you are young and have premature grey hair, it might be your genetics at play or a health condition. While there are ways that your hair can restore its pigmentation, identifying the cause behind premature grey hair is very important. Read on to learn the causes of premature white hair and how to prevent it.

What is premature grey hair?

Premature grey hair, also known as premature greying or premature canities, refers to where individuals experience the greying of hair at an earlier age than the typical age bracket of late years. “While some degree of greying is a natural part of ageing, premature white hair can occur as early as in one’s teens or twenties,” says dermatologist Priyanka Kuri. A study, published by the International Journal of Trichology, states that both genetics as well as other factors such as vitamin deficiencies can result in premature grey hair.

What is the average age for grey hair

When you hit your 30s or 40s, people’s hair naturally begins to turn grey or white. It comes with the process of ageing and because melanin production in the body decreases gradually. However, if hair turns white or grey before the age of 20, it is usually a case of premature white hair or premature grey hair. “While it is very normal for an aged person to have stark white hair, if it happens before the right time, there might be a need for alarm,” says Dr Kuri.

What causes premature grey hair?

1. Genetics

Premature greying often runs in families, suggesting a genetic predisposition to the condition. According to this study, published in the International Journal of Trichology, premature grey hair happens without any pathology or diagnosis, and is said to be inherited. So if you have noticed white or grey hair at a young age, it is possible that your father or grandfather experienced it at that age too.

2. Stress

Prolonged stress has been associated with early onset of grey hair. Stress hormones can disrupt melanin production, leading to premature grey hair. The National Institute of Health’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) and other NIH components funded a study to determine how stress can impact premature white hair. In this mice study, the mice were exposed to different stress such as mild, short-term pain, psychological stress, and restricted movement. All of these led to a decrease in melanin.

A woman looking at her white hair in the mirror
Premature grey hair can be caused by genetics, stress, as well as smoking. Image courtesy: Adobe stock

3. Nutritional deficiencies

Insufficient intake of specific vitamins and minerals, notably vitamin B12, iron, copper, and zinc, may play a role in the development of premature greying. A deficiency in vitamin B12, vitamin D3, as well as calcium, can cause premature white hair, states this study, published in the International Journal of Trichology.

4. Smoking

Smoking can accelerate the greying process due to the harmful effects of smoking on hair follicles and melanin production. A study, published in the Indian Dermatology Online Journal, observed 207 participants, who were divided into two groups – premature hair greying and normal hair greying. It was seen that there were more smokers in the group of premature hair greying. Therefore, there is a direct link between premature hair greying and cigarette smoking.

5. Certain medical conditions and chemical exposure

Certain medical conditions like thyroid disorders, vitiligo, and autoimmune diseases can cause premature greying. Exposure to harsh chemicals in hair products, environmental pollutants, and certain medications can damage hair follicles and accelerate greying as well.

How to prevent premature grey hair

Can premature white hair be prevented? Yes, it can. Although it may not be possible to stop premature greying completely, taking preventive measures can help slow it down and keep your hair healthy overall. Also seeing a healthcare provider or dermatologist can assist in the identification of underlying medical conditions contributing to early greying and providing treatment for them. However, if the cause is genetics, then there is no way to prevent it.

  • Healthy diet: Ensure a balanced diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to support melanin production and overall hair health.
  • Stress management: Practice stress-reducing techniques such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises to minimize the impact of stress on hair health.
  • Avoid smoking: Quit smoking to reduce the risk of premature greying and improve overall health.
  • Limit chemical exposure: Use gentle hair care products and minimize exposure to harsh chemicals and pollutants.
  • Regular hair care: Maintain good hair care practices, such as regular washing, conditioning, and gentle handling to keep hair healthy.
  • Check for underlying causes: Thyroid problems can also lead to premature white hair, and hormone therapy can help prevent further loss of colour, states this study, published by National Institute of Health.
A woman looking at her white hair
Prematured white hair cannot be reversed or prevented if its due to genetics. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Can you reverse premature grey hair?

The answer is no. There is presently no scientific evidence supporting the reversal of grey hair. “However, leading a healthy life and diagnosing underlying reasons such as malnutrition or stress can help slow down the speed at which your greying occurs,” says Dr Kuri. Unfortunately, once the hair turns grey, it is unlikely that it will return to its original colour without the use of dyes or other cosmetic procedures.

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Treatments for premature white hair

While there are no treatments that can turn white hair, black; there are some things that you can do. The first step is to identify the cause of premature white hair. If the cause is not genetics, but nutritional deficiencies, then natural supplements will also help restore colour in your hair. But this can take a few weeks. Treating other underlying conditions such as vitiligo, thyroid and alopecia with hormone therapy can help with premature grey hair.

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About the Author

Anjuri Nayar Singh has over 12 years of experience in writing for various topics including lifestyle, films, television and OTT. She also writes on art and culture, education and human interest stories. ...Read More

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