Charlotte Foster

Beauty & Style

7 sneaky reasons your hair is going grey too soon

7 sneaky reasons your hair is going grey too soon

What causes grey hair?

Although silver-grey hair is a trendy hair dye colour, many people don’t go grey by choice.

And there are different factors that contribute to the process of premature greying.

Technically, premature greying is defined as going grey before age 20 if you are white, or before age 30 if you are black, but getting grey hair in your 20s, 30s, or 40s can feel like too soon.

In general, grey hairs happen when melanin (natural pigment or colour) stops forming.

In general, 74 percent of people aged 45 to 65 will have grey hair with an intensity of about 27 percent, according to a 2012 survey in the British Journal of Dermatology.

However, there is a lot of variability. Why does that happen? Here are the reasons why your hair might be turning grey sooner than you’d like.

Your parents greyed early

You’ve probably always wondered what causes grey hair?

Well, steel-coloured locks are partly in your genes, says Dr Doris Day, clinical associate professor of dermatology and author of Forget the Facelift.

A 2016 study published in Nature Communications isolated one gene variant linked to greying after researchers analysed hair features of 6,000 Latin Americans.

Though you might be surprised about just how much grey you have if you’ve been colouring your hair for years (or decades), says Dr Day.

And you can blame mum and dad. Just like whether you go bald or not, greying genes come from both sides of the family, says Dr Day.

You may have an autoimmune condition

The autoimmune skin disease called alopecia areata can lead to bright white strands.

As the National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF) explains, people with the condition develop small, round, smooth patches on the scalp, and they can completely lose hair on their head or body.

“This happens because your immune system attacks your hair follicles, making your hair fall out.

When it grows back, it grows back white,” explains Dr Day. If you notice worrisome hair loss or a bald patch, talk to your dermatologist.

Your environment is polluted 

Pollutants and toxins can cause you to grey faster, according to the Library of Congress.

These chemicals generate free radicals – or oxidative stress – that damage melanin production and speed hair ageing.

But once hair grows out of the follicle, it’s dead, adds Dr Day. “It’s really about what gets to the follicle level that will make the most marked difference. While these environmental issues may have an impact, other reasons, like stress, matter more,” she says. (More on that in a minute.)

You're super stressed

When US President Barack Obama entered office his hair was dark.

Five years later, people were concerned: He completely transformed to silver.

The link between stress and grey hair is hotly debated. However, says Dr Day, “stress will accelerate your genetic destiny.”

Meaning, if you’re not going to go grey any time soon, stress is unlikely to change your hair colour.

But if going grey is in your genes, stress can make your hair turn grey faster and earlier – unless you make an effort to manage stress.

You're exposed to cigarette smoke

If you’re still asking yourself, “What causes grey hair?”, you may want to blame the cigarettes in your house.

Whether it’s you or someone else doing the puffing, exposure to cigarette smoke can affect your hair colour.

Research published in the Indian Dermatology Online Journal found that smokers have 2.5 times greater odds of early greying, likely because of the huge amounts of free radicals generated by lighting up.

Count this as one more reason to quit – or encourage a loved one to break the habit.

Your hormones are changing 

One glance at a photo of you a decade ago can tell you this, but your hair is not the same now as it was then.

So, what causes grey hair to start? Thanks to hormones, your hair can change over time in texture, density, and, yes, colour.

“This process starts to be most noticeable when you turn 30. That’s the age when people start to come in and complain about these issues,” says Dr Day.

Experts are still trying to understand precisely how hormones (like oestrogen, progesterone and cortisol) influence greying, she says.

And certainly, there are women in their 50s going through menopause who have not a strand of grey hair. It may be a trifecta of events coming to a head: your genetics, environmental factors and hormonal changes.

It's your age

You may not be ready for the grey, but your hair is. Melanin production – what gives hair its pigment – decreases with age.

For every decade after you turn 30, your risk of going grey increases 10 to 20 percent, according to the Library of Congress.

So while some people may be able to maintain their natural hair colour for longer, it’s inevitable. “In time, everyone’s hair goes grey,” according to the site.

Image credit: Shutterstock

This article first appeared in Reader's Digest.

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