This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclaimer for more info.

grey hair

QUESTION: “What are the main causes of grey or white hair at an early age?”

DR. NEAL: Thank you so much for your question.

This question is personal to me, too. I still remember when my dad took me to his barber when I was about 10 or 11 years old.


Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 1274 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.


It was a Sunday afternoon outing… just me and him. My dad was loyal to his barber, so even though my family had moved out of the city, we still drove about 30 minutes (one-way) to get to his go-to barbershop.

At some point during my haircut, the barber said to my dad, “Hey, Gil… your son must be stressed out, he’s already got some grey hair.” It didn’t really bother me at the time. By the time I got to high school, there were a few more that popped up.

They weren’t super-obvious, but if you spent more than a few seconds staring at the back of my head, you could spot a few glistening in the sun. That’s when my friends started to notice. They would say, “Dude, you’ve already got some grey hair.” I would say, “I know and thanks for noticing.”

I would then tell them that they probably have some grey hair too, it’s just easier to see on my head because my hair is jet black… so, you know, the contrast was more noticeable. It was funny to watch them squirm when I said that. Even though, at the time, I was just making stuff up to get my friends off the topic of my prematurely greying hair, it turns out that I was kinda sorta right.

I’ll explain.

Seeking easy ways to improve your health and fitness? Join our free 5-day email course to get started.

Racial or Ethnic Groups and Premature Greying

Researchers have found that there are some racial or ethnic groups that are more likely to experience premature greying.

First, I should mention that, globally, most people start to experience some graying of the hair around age 45. But in certain racial and ethnic groups, it may start sooner.

Studies have found that those of Caucasian descent are more likely to experience early greying. Asians are next in line, followed by those of African descent. In fact, because this trend is so well-known, dermatologists (medical doctors that specialize in skin disorders) have different age cutoffs for each racial or ethnic group when determining if someone is experiencing premature greying.

In those of Caucasian heritage, someone would be considered prematurely greying if they experience this before the age of 20. In Asians, before the age of 25, and in those with African heritage, before the age of 30.

Premature White Hair and The Genetic Component

So there seems to be a genetic component to early greying. If a first-degree relative like your mother, father, brother, or sister experienced early greying, you’re more likely to experience it too.

If you find that your hair is turning grey before some of these age cutoffs, it could be genetic. There’s always that evolutionary question – “What possible survival advantage does having grey hair have??”

Well, there’s an interesting theory is that grey hair grows faster than normal hair and tends to provide more insulation. So, grey hair may have led to a survival advantage for trapping heat on our heads.

Premature White Hair and Medical Conditions

But scientists have also discovered that there may be something else going on. For example, there are underlying medical conditions that could be contributing to premature greying. Some autoimmune conditions can cause it, like certain thyroid conditions. There’s a syndrome called Werner’s syndrome that leads to premature aging. Werner’s syndrome is rare, though.

Melanin and Hair Color

We know that the reason our hair (and skin for that matter) has color is because of a pigment called melanin. In some people, harmful compounds called free radicals start to build up in the scalp. These free radicals damage the cells that produce our skin and hair pigment.

Damaged pigment cells means less pigment produced which can lead to greying of the hair.

What Causes Damaged Pigment Cells?

So, what can cause the buildup of these free radicals?

It turns out that smoking cigarettes is highly related to premature greying. Smoking cigarettes exposes the body to lots of free radicals and these free radicals can buildup in the scalp, damaging the cells that produce melanin. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation can also lead to this same effect – basically overexposure to sunlight.

But other than these two risk factors, and some other underlying condition, there doesn’t seem to be any other strong lifestyle connections to premature greying. More studies are needed to determine whether diet, exercise, and stress for example are actually related to premature greying.

Premature White Hair: Conclusion

So, what should we do? Whether you’re already experiencing premature greying or want to slow down the process, quitting smoking and avoiding excess sun exposure can be helpful. Reducing sun exposure could include wearing a hat when you go outside of course, but you could also apply sunscreen to your hair and scalp.

Some shampoos also contain ultraviolet blockers, so it may be worthwhile to discuss those with your dermatologist.

Other than that, when it comes to the main cause of premature aging, we can blame our genetics.

Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 1274 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

mm

Neal Malik

Dr. Neal Malik ("Dr. Neal") is currently a professor at California State University, San Bernardino. Before this, he served as Department Chair at Bastyr University California. Dr. Neal has also published peer-reviewed scientific research and presented at national conferences.Send in your health related question and Dr. Neal will answer it on the Optimal Health Daily show!
Minimalism Tips for Family Cheat Sheet

Minimalism Tips for Family Cheat Sheet

Enter your email to get our free PDF cheat sheet on minimalism tips for family members. You'll also get a weekly email with inspiration and life tips!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Join my weekly newsletter for life tips, quotes, and free tools to optimize your life (and make my day)!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Minimize Your Wardrobe: Inspiration File

Minimize Your Wardrobe: Inspiration File

Enter your email to get our free Inspiration File on minimizing your wardrobe. You'll also get a weekly email with inspiration and life tips!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Checklist: How to Declutter Sentimental Items.

Checklist: How to Declutter Sentimental Items.

Enter your email to get our free PDF checklist on decluttering sentimental items. You'll also get a weekly email with inspiration and life tips!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

5-Day Email Course - Get Started with Minimalism

5-Day Email Course - Get Started with Minimalism

Enter your email to join our free 5-day ecourse on getting started with minimalism. You'll also get a weekly email with inspiration and tips to optimize your life!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Checklist-How to Declutter Paper

Checklist-How to Declutter Paper

Enter your email to get our free PDF checklist on how to declutter paper. You'll also get a weekly email with inspiration and tips to optimize your life!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Checklist - How to Declutter Books

Checklist - How to Declutter Books

Enter your email to get our free PDF checklist on how to declutter books. You'll also get a weekly email with inspiration and tips to optimize your life!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Checklist - How to Help Kids Learn to Declutter Toys

Checklist - How to Help Kids Learn to Declutter Toys

Enter your email to get our free PDF checklist on how to help kids learn to declutter their toys. You'll also get a weekly email with inspiration and tips to optimize your life!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Checklist - Bare Minimum of Items for Moving

Checklist - Bare Minimum of Items for Moving

Enter your email to get our free PDF checklist on the bare minimum of items you need when moving. You'll also get a weekly email with inspiration and tips to optimize your life!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Checklist - Why Personal Finance is Important

Checklist - Why Personal Finance is Important

Enter your email to get our free PDF checklist on why financial literacy is important. You'll also get a weekly email with inspiration and tips to optimize your life!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Cheat Sheet - How to Overcome Money Fears

Cheat Sheet - How to Overcome Money Fears

Enter your email to get our free PDF cheat sheet on overcoming money fears. You'll also get a weekly email with inspiration and tips to optimize your life!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Bonus - Debt Payoff Tracker PDF

Bonus - Debt Payoff Tracker PDF

Enter your email to get our free PDF debt payoff tracker. You'll also get a weekly email with inspiration and tips to optimize your life!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Cheat Sheet - How To Stay Motivated When You Feel Stuck

Cheat Sheet - How To Stay Motivated When You Feel Stuck

Enter your email to get our free PDF cheat sheet on maintaining your level of motivation. You'll also get a weekly email with inspiration and tips to optimize your life!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Cheat Sheet - What Should I Do After A Deep Tissue Massage?

Cheat Sheet - What Should I Do After A Deep Tissue Massage?

Enter your email to get our free PDF cheat sheet on what to do after a deep tissue massage. You'll also get a weekly email with inspiration and tips to optimize your life!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Cheat Sheet - Tips for Sitting at a Computer All Day

Cheat Sheet - Tips for Sitting at a Computer All Day

Enter your email to get our free PDF cheat sheet on tips to counter sitting at a computer all day. You'll also get a weekly email with inspiration and tips to optimize your life!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Cheat Sheet - How Do I Stick to a Budget?

Cheat Sheet - How Do I Stick to a Budget?

Enter your email to get our free PDF cheat sheet on tips to stick to your budget. You'll also get a weekly email with inspiration and tips to optimize your life!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Expert Tips - How to Get Over a Breakup

Expert Tips - How to Get Over a Breakup

Enter your email to get our free PDF with expert tips on getting over a breakup. You'll also get a weekly email with inspiration and tips to optimize your life!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Expert Tips - How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

Expert Tips - How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

Enter your email to get our free PDF with expert tips on how to stop comparing yourself to others. You'll also get a weekly email with inspiration and tips to optimize your life!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Expert Tips - 10 Health & Fitness Quotes

Expert Tips - 10 Health & Fitness Quotes

Enter your email to get our free PDF with health and fitness quotes from Optimal Health Daily episodes. You'll also get a weekly email with inspiration and tips to optimize your life!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Cheat Sheet - Toxic Relationships

Cheat Sheet - Toxic Relationships

Enter your email to get our free PDF with tips on how to spot -- and get out of -- a toxic relationship. You'll also get a weekly email with inspiration, quotes, life tips, and more!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

A Brand New You

Join our weekly newsletter for life tips, quotes, and productivity tools to optimize your life!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

OLD Podcast: Library

OLD Podcast: Library

Enter your email to get your password to access our handy library. You'll also get a weekly email with inspiration and life tips!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

5-Day Email Course - Get Started with Personal Finances

5-Day Email Course - Get Started with Personal Finances

Enter your email to join our free 5-day ecourse on improving your personal finances. You'll also get a weekly email with inspiration and tips to optimize your life!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Journaling Worksheet - PDF

Journaling Worksheet - PDF

Enter your email to get a sample of our journaling worksheet PDF with quotes and templates based on Optimal Living Daily episodes. You'll also get a weekly email with inspiration and tips to optimize your life!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

5-Day Email Course - Improve Your Health and Fitness

5-Day Email Course - Improve Your Health and Fitness

Enter your email to join our free 5-day ecourse on improving your health and fitness. You'll also get a weekly email with inspiration and tips to optimize your life!

You have Successfully Subscribed!