In our youth-obsessed culture, not many people are willing to rock the gray—even if it was trending for a while. And when the white hair starts appearing, men (and women) go through great lengths to hide it. But what does it mean when your hair starts turning gray in your 20s?
More often than not, going gray early is linked to genetics. So it doesn’t matter what you do, if your dad and grandfather both turned into silver foxes before they hit 30, you’re probably destined for the same future.
Dr. Jeffrey Benabio, a physician from San Diego, says your hair turns gray because of pigment cells called melanocytes found at the base of each hair follicle. Apparently, hair growth has three phases: growing, resting, and falling out. As we age, less pigment is produced, and when that happens, we get more gray hair.
But we also produce an enzyme called catalase, which is responsible for breaking down hydrogen peroxide. When there isn’t much catalase, the level of hydrogen peroxide increases. That blocks pigment production, and again, leads to gray hair.
Outside of heredity, however, studies have shown a significant correlation between smoking and early onset of gray hair.
A study found that “smokers are 2.5 times more likely to develop premature gray hair than non-smokers.” And if that doesn’t scare you, smoking’s also been linked to baldness. Chemicals in cigarettes can break down hair cells.
If your hair is turning gray too quickly, though, it’s best to consult a doctor. Dermatologist Dr. David Bank notes, “Vitamin B12 deficiencies, untreated thyroid issues, and types of anemia have been correlated with loss of pigmentation.”
Unfortunately, there is no proven way to reverse gray hair, unless the reason why you got gray hair in the first place was because of an illness. Right now, if you’re desperate to cover up your gray strands, dyeing your hair is still the best option. Also, use a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner to help keep your hair hydrated.
Don’t lose hope, though. Dr. Bank says there’s some investigative work being done right now on gene-therapy: “The two steps are going to be identifying and mapping all of the genes involved, then being able to get to a point where we were able to alter those genes to mirror those of people who don’t [go gray] early on.”