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Is white hair a concern?

White hair is a natural part of the aging process, but it can occur earlier in life due to genetics or other factors. For many people, getting those first grays can be cause for concern. Let’s take a closer look at why hair turns white and when you should see your doctor.

What causes white hair?

Hair gets its color from a pigment called melanin, which is produced by melanocyte cells in the hair follicles. As we age, melanocytes become less active and produce less melanin, resulting in white hair. This natural aging process is called achromotrichia.

In addition to age, there are other factors that can cause premature graying:

  • Genetics – Some people are genetically predisposed to going gray early. It can be inherited from either parent.
  • Stress – High levels of psychological and physiological stress can deplete the melanocyte cells and cause early graying.
  • Medical conditions – Thyroid disorders, vitamin B12 deficiency, alopecia areata, and autoimmune diseases are linked to premature graying.
  • Lifestyle factors – Smoking, poor nutrition, excessive alcohol use, and environmental pollutants are associated with early graying.
  • Hair care – Excessive use of hair dyes, bleaches, straighteners, and other chemicals can damage melanocytes and speed up graying.

When is white hair a concern?

Getting a few grays in your 20s or 30s is usually no cause for alarm. Up to half of all people have some white hair by age 50. Graying that occurs after age 34 but before the 40s falls within the wide range of normal variation.

However, there are circumstances when white hair at a younger age is a concern:

  • Sudden onset of extensive graying over a short period of time.
  • Graying before age 20, which may signal an autoimmune disorder.
  • Rapid graying coupled with hair loss and fatigue, which can indicate a thyroid disorder.
  • White hair concentrated in patches, suggesting alopecia areata.
  • Other symptoms like weight changes, heart palpitations, or muscle weakness accompanying premature graying.

If you experience any of these situations, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor to identify any underlying causes.

When to see a doctor

You should consult your physician or a dermatologist if you:

  • Develop extensive graying before age 20.
  • Lose scalp hair rapidly along with the graying.
  • Notice white patches on your scalp, eyebrows, or beard.
  • Experience premature graying along with fatigue, weight changes, or other concerning symptoms.
  • Are distressed about going prematurely gray and want to explore treatment options.

The doctor will review your family history and perform a physical exam. You may need blood work to check thyroid levels, vitamin B12, and inflammatory markers. They can diagnose any underlying medical conditions contributing to early graying.

Medical conditions linked to premature graying

These health problems are associated with prematurely gray hair:

  • Thyroid disorders – Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can accelerate graying. The thyroid gland regulates hair pigmentation.
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency – Low levels affect melanin production and hair color.
  • Alopecia areata – An autoimmune disease causing hair loss and whitening in patches.
  • Pernicious anemia – Reduced ability to absorb vitamin B12 leads to graying.
  • Vitiligo – Loss of skin pigment also affects hair pigment.
  • Addison’s disease – Adrenal gland dysfunction can trigger early graying.

Treating the underlying condition may help slow or reverse premature graying in some cases.

Will my hair turn back to its original color?

Once hair has turned white, it cannot revert to its original natural pigmentation. The melanocyte cells that produce melanin permanently stop functioning. However, there are cosmetic options to cover up gray hair.

In rare cases, white hair has spontaneously repigmented after conditions like vitamin B12 deficiency or thyroid disorders were treated. But this is the exception, not the rule.

What lifestyle factors influence graying?

While you can’t necessarily prevent graying that occurs naturally with age, healthy lifestyle habits can help delay the process:

  • Stop smoking – Smoking can damage DNA and melanocyte cells, speeding up graying.
  • Eat antioxidant foods – Fruits, vegetables, nuts contain antioxidants that counteract oxidative stress contributing to graying.
  • Avoid sun damage – Use sunscreen and hats to prevent UV rays from depleting melanin.
  • Reduce stress – Manage stress through exercise, meditation, therapy, or other relaxation techniques.
  • Get vitamin B12 – Eat foods like salmon, eggs, fortified cereals or take supplements to get enough B12.

While you can’t change your genetics, healthy habits can help delay the onset of graying that comes naturally with age.

Does hair dye cause more graying?

No good evidence shows that hair dye leads to more graying. However, some experts advise caution with hair dye:

  • Hair bleach and relaxers can damage melanocytes, contributing to earlier graying.
  • Sensitivities to hair dye chemicals may develop over time.
  • Metal ions and hydrogen peroxide in dyes produce oxidative stress.
  • Repeated dyeing makes hair brittle and dry, which worsens the appearance of gray hair.

Being very gentle with hair care and using only semi-permanent vegetable dyes may help reduce any theoretical risks of increased graying. Consult a dermatologist for advice.

What are the best ways to cover gray hair?

If you wish to cover up gray hair, whether natural or premature, you have options:

  • Semi-permanent rinses – Deposit pigment that washes out over 4-5 shampoos.
  • Permanent hair dye – Penetrates shaft to artificially color hair until new growth appears.
  • Lowlights – Color only some strands to blend grays naturally.
  • Highlights – Lightening surrounding hair makes grays less conspicuous.
  • Gloss treatments – Coat hair surface for temporary color and shine.

Work with a skilled colorist to select the right products and techniques for the most natural look.

Are gray hair vitamins effective?

Specialty supplements and vitamins claim to prevent or reverse graying, but there is limited evidence that they work:

  • Vitamin B12, biotin, copper, and zinc support melanin production but can’t undo graying.
  • Antioxidants like vitamin C combat oxidative stress but have mixed results on graying.
  • Results for supplements like catalase, Fo-Ti, and black tea extract are unreliable.
  • Eating a balanced diet with these essential vitamins and minerals is preferable to relying on pills.

While a daily multivitamin can’t hurt, there is no magic vitamin to cure graying. Work with your doctor for solutions.

Are there medical treatments for gray hair?

Two emerging medical therapies show promise for stimulating pigment in white hair:

Low-level laser therapy

Some small studies demonstrate that devices using 650 nm red or 755 nm infrared lasers can reactivate melanin in gray hair follicles. However, results are inconsistent, and optimal treatment protocols are still being investigated.

Topical drugs

Certain topical drugs that treat other pigment disorders have shown potential to repigment white hair:

  • Ruxolitinib – a JAK inhibitor approved for bone marrow disorders.
  • Tofacitinib – also a JAK inhibitor used for rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Ruxolitinib + simvastatin – a cholesterol drug that enhanced results.

More research is needed to confirm their efficacy and safety for gray hair reversal.

Does stress really cause gray hair?

It’s a common belief that stress can instantly turn hair white or make people go gray overnight. But while psychological and physiological stress is linked to premature graying, the association is complex:

  • There’s no evidence hair can dramatically change color overnight except after extreme events like accidents or comas.
  • Stress is unlikely to be the sole cause of graying on its own.
  • Stress may contribute indirectly by depleting antioxidants, reducing thyroid function, or causing hair damage.
  • Stress can accelerate genetic tendencies for graying.
  • Managing stress and anxiety may help delay onset of age-related graying.

Overall, stress plays a secondary role that may exacerbate other factors leading to early graying in susceptible individuals.

Does gray hair mean you are old?

Graying hair has long been associated with aging, leading to negative stereotypes about older people. But gray hair itself does not indicate how old you are:

  • Plenty of seniors retain their natural hair color well into old age.
  • Many younger adults start graying prematurely in their 20s and 30s.
  • Hair can turn gray at any adult age depending on genetics, lifestyle, and health status.
  • Going gray is a reflection of biological mechanisms, not someone’s abilities or self-image.
  • Equating gray hair with being feeble or unattractive promotes ageism.

While graying is an outward sign of aging, it should not be used to judge someone’s competence or worth. Each individual ages differently.

Does plucking or shaving cause more gray hairs?

No – removing individual white hairs will not cause more graying. However, the myth persists because of misconceptions about how hair pigmentation works:

  • Plucking or shaving does not affect melanocyte cells that determine hair color.
  • New hairs regrow with the same melanin content programmed by your genes.
  • Plucking a gray may make it seem grayer when it grows back coarse and wiry.
  • The natural graying process continues independently of plucking hairs.

So go ahead and pluck or shave as needed – it will not accelerate overall graying.

Can gray hair be reversed naturally?

Despite many home remedies, there’s no solid scientific proof that any natural treatment can reverse gray hair once it has lost pigment. Methods touted include:

  • Onion juice – Has temporary staining effect but no evidence for long-term repigmentation.
  • Curry leaves – Contains antioxidants but minimal research on graying.
  • Bhringraj oil – Traditional Ayurvedic medicine with no clinical trials.
  • Black tea – Has contradictory research. Any effect would be minimal.
  • Foods like berries – Provide antioxidants but cannot replace melanin.

While these natural remedies will not reverse graying, they may help improve hair health and slow additional aging. But consult your doctor if you have concerns about premature graying.

Does gray hair run in families?

Genetics play a major role in determining when someone starts to go gray. Research shows:

  • People with one gray-haired parent are 45% more likely to begin graying before age 40.
  • Having two gray-haired parents makes early graying up to 80% more likely.
  • Caucasians with light hair color tend to go gray sooner than other ethnic groups.
  • Premature graying genes can be inherited from either maternal or paternal lines.

While you can’t change your genes, being aware of family history can help prevent stress when those first grays appear.

Does premature graying run in your family?

Family Member Age Graying Started
Mother 42
Father 55
Maternal Grandmother 38
Maternal Grandfather 50
Paternal Grandmother 60
Paternal Grandfather Never

Based on this family history, there seems to be a genetic tendency toward premature graying, especially on the maternal side. This is important information to share with your doctor.

Is premature graying a warning sign?

Premature graying itself is benign, but can serve as an external marker of underlying health issues:

  • May indicate vitamin deficiencies like iron, B12, or D.
  • Associated with higher risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis.
  • Linked to increased likelihood of anxiety, depression, and stress.
  • Correlates with greater CAD risk factors like smoking and sedentary lifestyle.
  • Suggests potential autoimmune disorders like vitiligo, thyroid disease, or alopecia.

Talk to your doctor if going gray early concerns you – it can motivate you to get proactive about health screening and prevention.


While gray hair is a normal part of aging, premature graying can be distressing. Understanding the factors that cause early graying and seeing your doctor promptly for evaluation can help address any underlying conditions.

With a few lifestyle changes and cosmetic solutions, most people can embrace going gray gracefully. And decreasing the stigma around gray hair promotes aging with wisdom, confidence, and dignity.