The follicles still have a normal number of melanocytes (cells that make pigment), but these cells stop working over time, and the hair turns gray or white.It’s not super common to go gray at a young age since gray hair usually follows the 50/50 rule, Dr. Goldenberg says—50 percent of the population will go gray by 50 years old.
But, again, gray hair happens in younger people, too. Genetics plays a big role, says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist. “If your mom or dad developed early gray hairs, you likely will too,” he says. And, of course, you can’t do anything about that.
But if no one else in your family started graying early, it might be due to some other factors. A deficiency in vitamin B12 is linked to early grays, Dr. Goldenberg says, but experts aren’t sure why this happens other than the fact that B vitamins are important for hair health. Talk to your doctor if you think a lack of B12 might be the issue. (Check out the 6 best supplements for men.)
Smoking has also been associated with early gray hair.
“This may be related to nutritional deficiency that’s associated with smoking, or other poor health and lifestyle choices,” Dr. Goldenberg says. “It’s also possible that free oxygen radicals that are increased by smoking damage hair follicles and cause premature gray hair.”
So, naturally, quitting cigarettes should help. (Here’s the best method to quit smoking for good.)
And, you’ve heard it before, but it’s true: Constant stress can cause you to go gray earlier.
“Although there is no direct link, stress increases cortisol levels, which increase free oxygen radicals that can damage hair follicles and cells that make pigment in the hair,” Dr. Goldenberg explains.
Obviously it’s one thing to say you’ll de-stress and another to actually do it, but scaling back on your stress levels (if you can) should help your hair. (Here are 19 ways to live a stress-free life.)