Most people associate grey hair with old age. It’s not a far-off assumption of course, though with current hair color trends, many young people are willingly coloring their hair to a grey shade. It’s certainly losing its association with just being for your grandparents.
But what about when hair naturally greys without coloring it? Is it normal to get grey hair in your 20s?
Yes, it is! Hair color changes as you age and white or grey hair can happen at just about any point in life. There have been teenagers and people in their 20s with a strand or two of white or grey hair. We know a guy who had a whole head of grey hair before he turned 30 and when he’d go pick his kids up from school, the other little children would say, “Oh, look! Your grandpa is here to pick you up!”
Typically though, most people notice that first grey somewhere in their 30s. But most commonly, it’s a one-off meaning that you may only have that one lone grey and no others…yet.
Your ethnicity has a lot to do with it. Those that are Caucasian usually go grey before African Americans. Your family history is another point of contention for grey hair. If your parents and grandparents went grey early, chances are that you will too. Thank goodness for hair dye, right?
If you’re in your 20s and already seeing white or grey hairs though, that’s not horribly odd. If your parents greyed early, then seeing your hair color change in your 20s shouldn’t set off any alarm bells. But should your hair start losing that prized pigmentation earlier than anyone else in your family, you may be experiencing something from your lifestyle or environment to cause this.
Why does hair go grey or white anyway? There are a number of reasons and we’re going to get fully into them below, so keep reading!
Why your hair turns grey in the first place
Your hair grows forth from those same cells that give you your skin tone. Those cells, called melanocytes, produce melanin. Melanin is a pigment that can give your hair a black, brown, red, or blonde color. In the hair follicle, melanocytes produce pigment when your hair is in the growth phase. They then transfer the pigment into the cells that turn into the hair shaft. As time goes by, your melanocytes produce less pigment.
When that happens, it starts losing its color. So you’ll see grey, and then eventually, it will go white when the melanin completely stops production.
Something else happens too. When hydrogen peroxide builds up in the hair, it can have a bleaching effect. This happens as you age while the enzyme catalase breaks down that hydrogen peroxide.
What’s causing premature greying then?
If you’ve found your first grey, there’s no need to panic. Knowing what’s causing it to go grey though can help you hold onto your natural hair color for much longer though, however, there are some you can’t control. Read on and you’ll find out what could be responsible and how to deal with it.
Factors you have no control over are causing premature greying
First, let’s get into the things that cause your hair to go grey early that you can’t stop.
For starters, Caucasians start going grey earlier, somewhere in their early 30s. For Asians, it’s more like the late 30s. African-Americans usually don’t see any signs of greyness until their 30s.
So, that begs the question…what’s too early for greys? Generally, if you start going grey before you hit 20 or half of your head is overrun by greys by the time you hit 40, then that’s pretty early. The good news is that if you’re 20 and you’ve found a couple of grey hairs here and there, it’s all perfectly normal and likely part of your genetic makeup.
When your hair prematurely greys, it’s almost always connected to your genetics. This can work for or against you, as there are peo0ple in their 20s that start to grey while some people live into their 90s without ever having to reach for a bottle of color to boost it up.
It’s all about how you age too, specifically intrinsic aging and extrinsic aging. For intrinsic, it is all about your genes. If your parents turned grey early, you most likely will as well. Extrinsic means it’s about your lifestyle such as if you smoke or spend lots of time in the sun, or even live in a polluted environment.
– Medical condition
Sometimes, though far less commonly, premature greying may just be from thyroid disease or a problem with your pituitary glands. Autoimmune diseases, particularly vitiligo or alopecia, may also be responsible. When your body attacks its own cells, it attacks the hair cells too which absolutely can lead you to grey hair.
For alopecia, it often causes your hair to grow back white because it lacks enough melanin. If you have deficiencies of vitamin B12 from autoimmune diseases, you may also find you go grey early. Basically, if you have any medical condition like these, it’s wise to talk with your doctor about what you can do to make it less hard on your body though you may still be looking at more greys coming your way.
Factors you have control over that causing your hair to go grey prematurely
Now let’s take a look at the things you’re doing directly that could be making your hair go grey early so you can slow down that process!
– Vitamin deficiency
Why is eating nutritiously so important? One of the top reasons is that your hair (skin too) really shows it when you’re not taking in enough of the nutrients your body needs. If you have any deficiencies in vitamins, B6, B12, D, E, or biotin, you may go grey earlier.
In studies revolving around vitamin deficiencies in D3 and B12 as well as copper, there was a correlation to greying hair. Nutritional deficiencies directly impact pigmentation. If you’re not getting the right nutrients, take your vitamins!
One of the things that can leave you vulnerable is if you’re vegetarian or vegan. You absolutely must make sure you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs with your lifestyle. Those taking birth control or with GI issues also are more prone to going grey early. You should go for a checkup and see what the tests reveal. If you have a low B12 intake and early greys, it might be pernicious anemia which happens when your red blood cells decrease and your intestines can’t soak up enough of B12.
If you suspect you might not be eating very nutritiously, get on board with it immediately. Choose foods rich in B12 like eggs, seafood, and meats. For vitamin D, salmon, cheese, and milk are good choices too. And if you don’t eat these foods for dietary reasons, you can choose a supplement to help keep you from being deficient.
Studies show that smokers are over two times more likely to go grey before turning 30 than their non-smoking counterparts. Of all the terrible things you can do to your skin and hair, smoking is at the top of the list. You may notice it first in wrinkles on your skin. But the scalp is also being affected in the follicles. You just can’t see it because it’s not right in front of your face.
That’s even more reason to put out that cigarette and quit today. There is a very solid link between smoking and the loss of hair pigmentation. It speeds up the process because it’s so toxic. You make your organs work overtime to process these toxins and it takes its toll on skin and hair. One of the biggest troubles is that it deprives your skin of oxygen and increases those nasty free radicals. Not good!
Quit while you’re ahead to keep the hair on your head looking youthful and healthy. Hair ages, much like skin, and often, we don’t realize it before it’s too late. We may see some greys and whites here and there, but even before that happens, most people don’t realize they can nurture their hair to keep it from giving away their age.
– Chemical hair dyes and hair products
Wait a minute… aren’t hair dyes and hair products supposed to help us? Well, not always. See, some of these can lead to early greying if you’re not careful of the ingredients you use.
Hydrogen peroxide is just one of many harmful chemicals that you will find in many hair dyes. When used excessively to bleach hair, it can eventually lead to a permanent whiteness. Look for safer methods to color your hair by asking your stylist or seeking out colors you can do at home that have ingredients that won’t harm your hair.
There are lots of debates about the connection stress has with grey hair, but the research seems to be there. New York University published a study in 2013 showing that stress can cause stem cells to deplete from the base of hair follicles. The study was done on mice, but with this and anecdotal evidence, it seems to make sense.
Stress does all kinds of negative things to our bodies. It accelerates the aging process. If you were genetically programmed to go grey earlier and you’re under constant stress, it will speed things up. Thanks to cortisol, the stress hormone, it can push the aging process along at a rapid rate, affecting your hair follicle and causing thinning and greying to occur.
Is there anything that can stop the graying process?
We hate to break it to you, but there is no way to reverse the process of greying hair. This is certainly disappointing, but the best way to look at it is through a positive lens. You can do different things to style your hair too which can really help. But the worst thing you can do is dwell in negativity. It’s not going to change anything.
Still, if you start right now with some preventative measures, you can keep more greys from sprouting forth. Your skin and hair have a remarkable ability to recover as well as regenerate.
So, if you smoke, you can really stop more damage from happening and get back on a normal aging path. Healthier lifestyle choices will also help. Part of that means getting to the root of your stress which isn’t just good for your hair but also for your whole body.
If your hair is greying now, you can let it do its thing while you care for your health, or you can color your hair so you feel a bit more confident. The only right choice is what feels best to you, though if you color your hair and don’t deal with the external factors that are causing it to grey, you’ll find the signs of aging will still keep coming rapidly to other parts of your body.
There may even be some kind of answer in the future to truly turn back time. Perhaps gene therapy may be of service. This technique is only in its infancy where investigative work is just now being conducted. There may be a way in the future to use stem cells to grow new follicles that will change the way we see greys forever.
What can you do about your prematurely greying hair?
Honestly, only you can choose what to do about your prematurely greying hair. You can embrace it, you can color it, or you can try a few things out that can help you feel good about being you. That’s the most important point though, and being healthy. Be happy with how you feel about yourself and be healthy inside and the rest really doesn’t matter.
– You can simply dye it
Covering up your greying hair is a very normal process. Most people color their hair every 4 to 6 weeks, though you can do it every 2 to 3 months if you prefer. The best part of coloring your hair is that the options are better these days. The colors are more fun and now it’s perfectly acceptable to rock that pink, purple, ombre, or anything else.
When you have just a little grey here and there, you don’t have to go all-in, but the more grey you have, the more coverage you’ll need. All over color is your best choice (and the easiest one too) if you want to go back to your original hair color. Permanent dyes are best at covering stubborn roots, far superior to semi-permanent color. You can choose to do it yourself or see a stylist.
– Add some highlights to your hair
Highlights make greying strands look more glamorous. This is ideal if your hair is taking on a dull or mousy color. It can bring brightness and contrast in a stunning way. By adding highlights in the right places, the eye is naturally drawn to those rather than the contrast of your natural hair and the grey.
Highlights can be tricky to pull off at home though so one of the best things you can do is visit a stylist first and learn how to upkeep this look. You’ll be glad you called in a pro to help you look your best. Besides, sometimes you need to pamper yourself accordingly and a stylist knows just how to do that.
– Embrace your grey hair
Does all that coloring and highlighting sound high-maintenance? Well, it IS a little bit. Though some of you won’t mind the effort while others of you certainly will. It doesn’t matter as long as you choose your choice. So, if you decide you just don’t want to go through an ordeal, keep it grey.
There is just one thing you really should do with grey hair if you don’t color it. You should make sure you use brightening shampoos and conditioners that quench your hair. This will leave it looking healthy, shiny and vibrant. A leave-in conditioner is also essential.
Also, to pull of grey, you have to keep your cut and style on-trend and well-groomed. So, get to the stylist and get a look that you love. Then maintain it. You’ll really be able to rock that grey then!
Grey is more popular than you think. It’s often associated with confidence and power. Much thanks goes out to Meryl Streep for her amazing performance in The Devil Wears Prada. In that movie, her hair was silver-hued and her attitude was unforgettable. Not surprisingly, it spurred many women to embrace their grey and take on the same power. Many other celebrities also jumped into the shift toward grey over the years from Katie Holmes to Jessica Biel to Chrissy Teigen. It could be the right look for you too!
– Adjust your hair care routine accordingly
Hair that is greying needs more love to go with the color and texture. When hair is naturally grey, it loses luster and can even have a hint of yellow. Shampoos and conditioners with violet or silver tones can really help to brighten it up. And it should always go without saying but please, never ever use hair care products with sulfates!
Using a heavier conditioner will also help because grey hair is drier than normal hair. As you age, your scalp will create less of that naturally lubricating sebum. This affects your hair, leaving it drier and rougher. Grey hair isn’t shiny so making it look lustrous will be your next biggest challenge. Air-drying is not recommended for greying hair as it will look duller than ever and needs the ionic blasts of your hair dryer to look full of life.
– No matter what don’t pluck your grey hair
If you want to get rid of your grey hairs, color or highlight your hair. But whatever you do, don’t pull out your grey hairs. The reason? They may never grow back. Besides, grey hair is much better than winding up with bald patches.
There is no way to increase the number of hair follicles we have. Just because you find a grey hair doesn’t mean it’s going to turn the surrounding hairs grey. Ripping it from your head is far worse. If you really need that one lone hair to get out of your otherwise brilliant strands, experts recommend that instead of ripping it out from the root, just cut it very carefully. Plucking traumatizes your hair follicle. When you do it continuously, it can damage it for good leading to balding which is worse than grey.
When you keep plucking a hair from a particular spot, a message eventually is conveyed to the follicle so that it goes to rest, then shrinks, and finally, never produces another hair shaft. So, in short, plucking out grey hairs is not at all advised if you want hair to keep growing from your head. Even if that hair that grows out is grey or white, you have more options with hair on your head to color it and style it than if you are missing patches of hair.
The old wives’ tale that pulling out a grey hair will cause three or more grey hairs to come in its place is false, but the kernel of truth here is that you’ll wind up worse for wear because you’ll shut down those hair follicles and have less hair.
You can get grey hair at any point in your life, though depending on your genes and your race, you might be luckier or less lucky than others. It’s normal to start getting a grey or two in your 20s. In most cases, it’s just a random hair or two. But as you age, you’ll eventually start seeing more of your hairs going grey.
You can choose to color your hair or let it grow out graciously. Covering it up should only be done if this makes YOU feel better about yourself. Don’t do it because you worry about what others think. Make yourself happy. Of course, some people are happiest when they don’t have to keep up pretenses, and if that sounds like you, then let your grey show as you will.
Always nourish your hair, grey or not, with proper hair care products that nurture so you have the best appearance to your hair. Nourishment also starts from within too, so be sure you’re eating right or supplementing with the vitamins you need for your best inner health.
And of course, keep your hands off! If you see one lone grey, leave it alone! Don’t rip it out at the root. If you really don’t want it standing out in your hair, just snip that one piece out carefully and you’ll still have healthy follicles and plenty of hair to work with no matter how you choose to handle your greys!