7 Sneaky Reasons Your Hair May Be Turning Grey
If you're looking in the mirror and wondering what causes grey hair, here are the factors that can play a role in premature greying of hair.
What causes grey hair?
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. In general, grey hairs happen when melanin (natural pigment or colour) stops forming. However, there is a lot of variability.
Here are the reasons why your hair might be turning grey sooner than you’d like.
Your parents greyed early
You’ve probably always wondered what causes grey hair? Well, steel-coloured locks are partly in your genes, says Doris Day, MD, clinical associate professor of dermatology at New York University Langone Medical Center. A 2016 study published in Nature Communications isolated one gene variant linked to greying after researchers analyzed 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. Just like whether you go bald or not, greying genes come from both sides of the family, says Dr. Day. (Grey hair is a natural part of aging, but dermatologists want you to stop believing these anti-aging myths.)
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 aging. 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. (Plus, here are more things your hair can reveal about your health.)
You’re super stressed
The link between stress and grey hair is hotly debated. However, says Dr. Day, “stress will accelerate your genetic destiny.” Meaning, if you’re not going to go grey any time soon, stress is unlikely to change your hair colour. But if going grey is in your genes, stress can make your hair turn grey faster and earlier—unless you make an effort to manage stress.
You’re exposed to cigarette smoke
If you’re still asking yourself, “What causes grey hair?”, you may want to blame the cigarettes in your house. Whether it’s you or someone else doing the puffing, exposure to cigarette smoke can affect your hair colour. Research published in the Indian Dermatology Online Journal found that smokers have 2.5 times greater odds of early greying, likely because of the huge amounts of free radicals generated by lighting up.
Your hormones are changing
Thanks to hormones, your hair can change over time in texture, density, and, yes, colour. “This process starts to be most noticeable when you turn 30. “That’s the age when people start to come in and complain about these issues,” says Dr. Day. Experts are still trying to understand precisely how hormones (like estrogen, progesterone, and cortisol) influence greying, she says. And certainly, there are women in their 50s going through menopause who have not a strand of grey hair. It may be a trifecta of events coming to a head: your genetics, environmental factors, and hormonal changes. (Also, you may want to check out these anti-aging secrets that could add years to your life.)
You may not be ready for the grey, but your hair is. Melanin production—what gives hair its pigment—decreases with age. For every decade after you turn 30, your risk of going grey increases 10 to 20 percent, according to the Library of Congress. So while some people may be able to maintain their natural hair colour for longer, it’s inevitable. “In time, everyone’s hair goes grey,” according to the site.
Aside from greying early, here are other signs your body is aging faster than you are.