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 mum (or dad) 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.)