Let's dive deep into the fascinating world of hair and explore a phenomenon that has intrigued humanity for centuries: premature graying. While going gray is a natural part of aging, some of us find ourselves sporting silver strands earlier than expected. But fear not, I am here to shed light on the factors that can cause your hair to turn gray faster than you'd like.
What causes gray hair?
Hair doesn't inherently "turn" gray; once a hair follicle produces hair, its color remains fixed. If a strand of hair is initially brown, red, black, or blonde, it will retain that color unless you dye it. As hair follicles produce less pigment with age, gray hair tends to appear during the natural hair cycle, typically starting around age 35. Genetics can influence when this process begins.
What Can Cause Our Hair to Gray Faster?
1. Genetics: The Blueprint of Your Hair Color
Your genes play a crucial role in determining when and how your hair will gray. If your parents or grandparents experienced premature graying, there's a good chance you might too. Genetic factors influence the production of melanin, the pigment responsible for hair color. When your body produces less melanin, your hair gradually loses its color, turning gray or white.
However, according to Kaustubh Adhikari, a professor of cell and developmental biology at the University of College London the gray hair causing gene, IRF4, only accounts for about 30% of those with premature graying. (1)
2. Stress: A Silver Lining?
Stress is often cited as a potential culprit behind premature graying. While the direct link between stress and gray hair is still a topic of research, chronic stress is known to release free radicals in the body. These harmful molecules can damage melanocytes, the cells responsible for producing melanin, leading to premature graying.
Another theory on the link between stress and premature graying is that stress can lead to a condition called telogen effluvium. This condition causes hair to fall out three times faster than usual. The hair eventually grows back, so it doesn't cause baldness; However, because your shedding cycle is on triple speed, the hair that grows back can be gray rather than your natural color.
Minimize Stress: So, it's not just a myth – high-stress levels might indeed add a touch of silver to your mane. Adopt stress-management techniques like exercise, meditation, or therapy to reduce stress levels and encourage healthy hair growth.
3. Oxidative Stress: Dyeing for Trouble
According to Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, going gray is caused by a massive build up of hydrogen peroxide due to wear and tear of our hair follicles. The peroxide winds up blocking the normal synthesis of melanin, our hair's natural pigment.(2) This build up naturally happens with age; however oxidative stress increases the speed in which this breaks down occurs.
Oxidative stress happens when our bodies can't handle the harmful substances produced inside our cells. (3) It's like a buildup of toxins that our natural cleaning systems struggle to remove. While it happens during the hair coloring process where hydrogen peroxide is used, it also happens from natural causes like:
- diets high in fat, sugar, and processed foods;
- exposure to UV rays and radiation;
- smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products;
- alcohol consumption;
- certain medications;
- pollution; and
- exposure to pesticides or harsh chemicals in products.
Avoid Harsh Chemicals: Opt for clean hair products and minimize exposure to air pollutants to safeguard your hair and promote healthy growth. Recent advances have found that the addition of antioxidants in shampoos such as Vitamins C and E can support melanin longevity. Similarly, green tea extract, selenium, copper, phytoeastrogens, and melatonin are being studied as attractive topical anti-aging compounds. (4)
Products including anti-aging ingredients
Refrain from using box color: Box color products include high levels of hydrogen peroxide which can advance the build up in the hair follicle. Opt for natural or ammonia-free hair dyes over box color if you want to color your hair without causing further damage.
Quit Smoking: If you needed another reason to quit smoking, here it is: smoking has been linked to premature graying. Smoking damages hair follicles and hampers blood flow to the scalp, damaging the melanocytes and speeding up the graying process. (4)
Shield From UV Rays: Protect your hair and scalp from UV radiation by wearing hats or scarves when outdoors. UV rays can make hair brittle and prone to breakage. Additionally, consider using hair products containing SPF to shield your hair from harmful radiation. Ensure to avoid toxic SPF-related chemicals like octinoxate or oxybenzone.
Clean UV Protection
4. Plucking: It’s not an Urban Legend
Frequent plucking of white hair strands appears to accelerate the graying process. When you pluck gray hair, you place stress on the hair follicle, potentially affecting nearby follicles as well. This stress might contribute to premature graying of the hair. Similarly, vigorous brushing can cause stress to the follicles. Ensure you brush gently and use a anti-breakage, anti-pulling detangling brush like Tangle Teezer Original Detangling Brush. And always detangle in the shower with conditioner in your hair to prevent tugging.
5. Nutritional Deficiencies: Are You Feeding Your Hair Right?
A balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals is not only essential for your overall health but also for maintaining the vibrant hue of your locks. Deficiencies in certain nutrients, especially vitamin B12, iron, copper, and zinc, can accelerate the graying process. These nutrients are vital for the production of melanin, and their absence can lead to premature graying.
A research study discovered a connection between premature hair graying in students and deficiencies in specific micronutrients such as ferritin, vitamin D, folate, vitamin B12, and selenium. Addressing these deficiencies with appropriate dietary supplements has the potential to decelerate the process of hair graying.So, load up on those leafy greens, nuts, and lean proteins to keep your hair color radiant.
- Maintain a Healthy Diet and Take Vitamins: Balanced nutrition and regular exercise are key. Both being underweight and overweight can disrupt hormonal balance, affecting hair growth and leading to premature graying. Ensure to include vital vitamins in your diet like erritin, vitamin D, folate, vitamin B12, and selenium. Viviscal Pro Hair Supplements (100% drug-free) include Vitamin C (from Acerola Powder and as Ascorbic Acid), Biotin, AminoMar® Marine Complex, L-Cystine, and L-Methionine among other healthy hair follicle nutrients.
6. Illness or Hormonal Imbalance: The Hormone Havoc
Hormonal imbalances, especially changes in thyroid hormones, can impact the color of your hair. An underactive or overactive thyroid can disrupt the melanin production process, causing premature graying. Additionally, hormonal changes that occur with age, particularly during menopause, can also contribute to the loss of hair color.
Similarly illnesses like vitiligo, tuberous sclerosis, neurofibromatosis (also called Von Recklinghausen's disease), alopecia areata, and vitamin B12 deficiency can be identified due to premature graying.
See your physician regularly and refrain from endocrine disrupting chemicals in your beauty products to support a healthy operating endocrine system.
(1) This Gene Could Turn Your Hair Gray, By Nancy Shute, March 1, 2016, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/03/01/468699482/this-gene-could-turn-your-hair-gray.
(2) Why Hair Turns Gray Is No Longer A Gray Area: Our Hair Bleaches Itself As We Grow Older. Science Daily, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology,February 24, 2009, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090223131123.htm.
(3) Oxidative Stress: Harms and Benefits for Human Health, Natural Library of Medicine, Oxid Med Cell Longev , v.2017; 2017 , PMC555154, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5551541/
(4) Premature Graying of Hair: Review with Updates, Int J Trichology. 2018 Sep-Oct; 10(5): 198–203. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6290285/
Natalie Palomino is a Master Stylist, educator and Founder of North Authentic. Through advanced education and commitment to her craft, she built a vast clientele providing haircare education and hair services. In 2020, she created North Authentic, a conscious haircare retailer that puts the health of its customers and the planet at the forefront.
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