The hair is the crowning glory of a woman and many people consider their hair and its color as one of their greatest beauty assets. As we age, our hair turns gray or white, which is an expected part of aging. However, the graying phenomenon is gradually becoming common in younger people, some as young as in their teens, which makes such premature graying an unwelcomed change. How to treat gray hair and the causes of premature graying are the subject this article.
The pigment cells found in hair follicles, produce a chemical called melanin. It is an ingredient in the hair formation process. As you age these cells start to die, and less melanin is available during hair growth. This loss of pigment causes the hair to turn gray, silver and eventually white.
In most of the cases, a deficiency of melanin is the leading cause of hair whitening. The production of melanin depends upon appropriate nutrition and protein supplements. The lack of these nutrients causes melanin to fall below acceptable levels.
So gray and white hair are the result of your hair losing its pigment. When there is a significant reduction in the pigment, the hair turns gray. When there is absolutely no pigment present, it turns white. The exact cause of this is yet to be discovered.
The right diagnosis and treatment, can reverse graying. But if the problem is genetic or age-related, it is unlikely to reverse the process. You can , however, slow down the process with a balanced diet and taking care of your hair.
16 causes of premature graying
Although the underlying causes are still not clearly defined, here are some possible reasons why your hair is turning gray earlier than expected.
As I mentioned above genetics is the predominant factor in determining at what age your hair loses pigment. For some people, it can happen even before they turn 20. For others, the first strands of white appear rather late .
2. Vitamin deficiencies
Vitamins and minerals that can play a vital role in hair growth and repair. Among them are zinc, iron, selenium, copper and magnesium. Zinc and copper are essential for hair and skin health. You must get sufficient vitamins especially B12 and biotin. Lack of vitamin C and E is one of the reasons for graying hair. Deficiency of these can cause your hair to prematurely lose some of its pigment or even fall out.
Vegetarians and vegans due to their dietary restrictions are more prone to premature graying because it’s hard to get enough B12 through food other than animal products. The main sources of vitamins are beef, fish, eggs, chicken, milk and egg products as well as fruits, vegetables and nuts .
You may also consider taking multivitamin supplements if you are concerned about going gray prematurely. There is no guarantee that these will keep your hair colorful but you may defer graying a little later. However, do consult your doctor before taking them.
3. Oxidative stress
While graying is mostly genetic, oxidative stress in the body may play a part when the process happens prematurely. Oxidative stress causes imbalances when a dearth of antioxidants fails to counteract the damaging effects of free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that damage cells, contributing to aging and disease.
Too much oxidative stress can promote the development of diseases, including the skin-pigment condition vitiligo. Vitiligo may also turn the hair white due to melanin cell death or the loss of cell function. Eating a diet with lots of antioxidant-rich foods, including vegetables and fruits, may help to prevent hair from graying.
4. Excessive intake of alcohol and junk food
Excessive drinking of tea, coffee and alcohol is also one of the leading causes of premature graying of hair, say experts. Too much fried and oily foods, spices and sour and acidic foods can likewise lead to gray locks.
5. Medical Conditions
Autoimmune diseases can attack cells within the body, including hair follicles, making it possible for premature graying or whitening to occur. For example, the hair that regrows after the scalp is affected by alopecia areata, a disorder in which patches of hair may be suddenly lost, especially the colored (non-gray) hairs. This may lead to “overnight” graying because previously present gray or white hairs suddenly become more obvious. When hair growth resumes, it may be white or gray, but colored hair may eventually return.
Some medical conditions like thyroid disease, or vitiligo cause melanocytes (the cells at the base of hair follicles that produce color) to be lost or destroyed. Some research also links premature graying to heart disease and low bone mass (called osteopenia, a precursor of osteoporosis). How these conditions have an effect on hair graying is unclear.
Your hormones have a huge effect on the pigmentation of your hair. An imbalance in these can cause graying. Issues with your thyroid and pituitary glands play a part.
7. Chronic Stress
Stress caused by hectic schedules can lead to many harmful consequences and is a major cause of premature graying. Shock, sorrow and anxiety can decrease the number of melanin cells in the hair follicles, thus leading to premature graying. Some researchers have found a link between stress and gray hair. However, studies have not conclusively proved this. There are conflicting research studies on real-life stress, such as that caused by injury, leading to premature graying.
Sometimes, the use of chemical-based shampoos, soaps, hair dyes, etc. may directly cause this problem. However, it can result from some allergic infections as well.
9. Dirty and oily scalp
Dirty and greasy scalp can cause the onset of gray hair, because it can weaken the hair roots and slow down the supply of blood to the hair shaft .
10. Stop damaging your hair
Be gentle with your hair. Avoid using a hair dryer, curling iron, dyes,or other chemical straightener. Even brushing your tangles out, especially when your hair is wet, can cause hair loss and breakage. Use a wide-toothed comb.
Some may disagree that dyeing your hair turns it gray prematurely. However, excessive dyeing and bleaching can have a detrimental effect on your hair as it may cause it to fall out and regrow in a lighter pigment. Bleaching, using a brush instead of a wide-toothed comb, especially with wet hair and applying too much heat with a curling iron or a blow dryer harms your hair.
11. Stop smoking
One study showed that smokers are 2 1/2 times more likely to gray before the age of 30 than nonsmokers. It also can make silver gray look yellow. Smoking can damage and shrink hair follicles. It is easier to kick the habit if you are an occasional smoker but you may need help to break the habit or quit smoking altogether. Any form of tobacco is bad for your hair. It makes your hair dull and brittle and damaged hair can fall out more easily. The other negative impact which tobacco has is on your teeth and skin.
12. Race and ethnicity
These play a role, as well. Race is a factor in premature graying. White people start to gray in their mid-30s. Asians start in their late 30s. And African-Americans usually don’t see color changes until their mid-40s.
Usually it may take several weeks after treatment for your hair to recover and begin growing again. When your hair starts to grow back, it will probably be slightly different in texture or color from the hair you lost. It might be curlier than it was before, or it could be gray until the cells that control the pigment in your hair begin functioning again.
14. Traumatic head injuries
Patches of gray hair may result from trauma. This can be due to an injury to the head. Gray hair as a whole is a natural part of aging.
15. Surgery and emotional stress
These may have an effect on earlier loss of pigmentation in people who are already predisposed to gray hair.
Changes to your hair color can occur due to external factors such as the climate, pollution, and exposure to certain chemicals. These factors accelerate the process of ageing .
Some foods and drinks that may cause premature graying and some popular natural remedies for graying hair will be the subject of the second part of my article.