Beauty

Why Do Some People Get White Hair At a Young Age?

Dr. Zeichner also notes that the texture of gray hair is usually coarser. “It’s unclear why, but the biological process that affects the color of the hair likely also affects the structure of the strands being produced,” he says.

Autoimmune illnesses

Some genetic conditions may be associated with premature graying. “These include autoimmune disorders where the body incorrectly recognizes a cell and attacks healthy tissue by mistake,” says Dr. Eldik. 

Those with thyroid disease have lower levels of T3 and T4 – two hormones that data suggests increase melanin production and the growth phase of the hair, says Dr. Zeichner. When it comes to vitiligo, Dr. Ciraldo blames “antibodies to melanocytes that disrupt melanin production,” causing the skin and hair to lose pigment. 

A vitamin B12 deficiency, which results in a condition called pernicious anemia, is also linked to gray hair, but the exact cause is unknown. A popular theory is that without healthy red blood cells, less oxygen is carried to your hair cells. Alternatively, Dr. Eldik says autoimmune diseases tend to be grouped together; so if you suffer from one, you’re likely to get another. “Vitiligo is shown to be associated with pernicious anemia,” Dr. Eldik explains. “So it’s likely that patients who had a vitamin B12 deficiency also had vitiligo, which presented as premature graying, as opposed to a vitamin B12 deficiency causing it directly.”

Suffice it to say, if you are graying prematurely and the look doesn’t run in your family, or if you have a sudden change in hair color, discuss your symptoms with your doctor.

Certain drugs

“There are reports of antimalarial drugs like chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine altering hair color by inhibiting a key enzyme responsible for pheomelanin production,” notes Dr. Eldik. “After three to four months of use, blonde or red hair can become increasingly silvery,” he adds. No need to worry too much, though, as these changes are usually reversible once the drug is flushed out of the body.

Smoking

Yes, smoking cigarettes can impact your hair follicles dramatically. “Smoking is known to cause oxidative stress in the lungs, skin, hair, and even nails by creating a surge of free radicals,” says Dr. Eldik. “When these accumulate in the hair they target the pigment-producing cells and destroy hair color.” And with a study directly linking smoking to the premature aging of your hair, it’s another great reason to stop lighting up.

Stress

Ever wondered why U.S. presidents get sworn in with a headful of colored hair but leave the White House with a helluva lot of salt-and-pepper? Well, the stress hormone cortisol could be a factor. One 2020 study found that mice who were exposed to stress had a noticeable loss of melanocytes and more obvious graying. Dr. Ciraldo confirms these findings, adding “stress interferes with the production of melanocyte stem cells in the hair bulb and produces gray hair.”