What Causes Gray Hair at a Young Age

What causes gray hair at a young age? For most people, the answer is simple genetics. Also referred to as “premature graying of hair,” genetics play a huge role in determining your natural hair color, and if you will ever experience any sort of premature greying. While there are other factors that can contribute to grey hair at a young age, such as medical conditions or chemical treatments, genetics are the most common cause. In this article, we examine what exactly goes into creating our unique genetic code — and how that influences our natural hair color and susceptibility to premature graying.


Your hair is a few shades lighter than it was as a child, but your parents have dark brown or black hair. How did that happen?

Like almost everything else about your appearance, the color of your hair is determined by genetics. When you’re young, the pigment cells in your hair follicles produce melanin and give your strands their characteristic color. Over time, your hair follicles lose the ability to produce melanin, which means the cells no longer make the coloring pigment and your hair turns gray.

As it happens, genes are also partially responsible for how quick that process is! Let’s take a closer look at what causes gray hair at a young age.

Vitamin B12 deficiency

Nutritional deficiency is a common cause of premature gray hair.

In addition to vitamin B12, the other key nutrients that contribute to healthy hair include protein and iron. A diet that doesn’t include enough protein can contribute to premature gray hair because hair follicles are made mostly of protein. And without sufficient iron in your body, the oxygen might not be properly distributed to your scalp to nourish your hair follicles.


Granted, smoking is bad for your health. It’s also bad for your hair (and teeth and skin and everything else). While scientists have yet to find a direct link between smoking and gray hair, it’s been proven that smoking prematurely ages the body by increasing free radicals in the bloodstream. Free radicals are unstable molecules that damage healthy cells, including those responsible for pigment production. While we can’t say definitively that smoking causes graying hair, it’s clear that if you want to keep your natural color as long as possible, you should stay away from cigarettes.

The biggest culprit behind gray hair at a young age is smoking. Here’s why:

Smoking affects collagen, which helps to keep hair healthy, strong and robust. Without collagen, your hair becomes brittle, weak and fragile. As a result, the melanocytes (cells responsible for coloring your hair) do not receive nutrients necessary to maintain the production of melanin (the pigment that colors your hair). As a result, your hair starts to turn gray prematurely.

Smokers are four times more likely to develop gray hair than nonsmokers, according to an Indian study of people in their 30s and 40s. The reasons for this aren’t clear, but smoking does accelerate aging and may damage the DNA in hair follicles. Smoking also reduces blood flow to your scalp, which can interfere with the production of melanin — the pigment that gives hair its color.

Eating a lot of sugar

Sugar is one of the top things that cause gray hair at a young age. It also causes wrinkles, tooth decay and inflammation — which can make you look older.

If you’re interested in keeping your hair color looking youthful, avoid processed foods, artificial sweeteners and refined sugars as much as possible. Eat more vegetables and enjoy whole fruits to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Several studies have shown that the body’s ability to break down sugar decreases with age, which is why we often see an increase in gray hair with age. But if you eat too many sugary foods, your body may become resistant to insulin while it’s still young, making you appear older before your time.


It’s natural for people to get gray hair as they age, but premature graying is a sign of stress. Stress can lead to hair loss and graying.

Hair on the scalp goes through three phases in its life. Anagen phase is the growth stage where hair follicles produce hair at the rate of roughly half an inch every month. This phase can last between 2 and 7 years. After anagen comes catagen phase, which is a transitional stage where the follicle shrinks and goes into a state of rest. The final phase, telogen, is when the hair follicle is dormant and isn’t producing any new cells. At this point, you may notice some thinning of your hair or even areas with no hair at all.

Stress can disrupt these phases and bring about gray hairs very early in life. The most common kind of stress that makes people go gray early on is emotional stress from things like divorce, death in the family, or job-related issues. Some researchers have also found out that so-called oxidative stress can lead to premature graying of hair. Oxidative stress occurs when there are high levels of free radicals in the body and not enough antioxidants to fight them off.

Exposure to the sun

The sun’s intense rays can make your hair look bleached, but that’s not the only way it can cause graying. Just like the skin, hair cells are damaged by UV rays.

The long-term exposure to UV light can cause DNA damage that leads to premature graying.

The researchers found that exposure to UV radiation changed the hair follicle stem cells and created inflammation in the pigment producing tissue of the hair follicles. In other words, it had a negative effect on two of the most important aspects of healthy hair growth.

Nutrient-deficient diet

Graying is often blamed on poor nutrition. While nutrient-deficient diets can lead to health problems, the link between what you eat and how much gray hair you get isn’t clear.

B vitamins such as folate, vitamin B-12, and vitamin B-6 appear to play a role in hair color. Low levels of any of these B vitamins may lead to premature graying.

The body needs copper to make melanin, but copper levels that are too high or too low can cause premature graying. High levels of copper are toxic.


These are not the only reasons why a young person will have gray hair. Hair loss can also be caused by other factors, including genetics and stress. But generally speaking, if you’re going to have gray hair at a young age it’s most often caused by one or more of the above reasons. Having said this, we think you will agree that this was quite an informative article on what causes gray hair at a young age!

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