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What Causes Gray Hair in Your 20s?

If you've spotted a silver strand before your 30th birthday, your natural inclination might be to panic. But finding your first white streaks in your 20s is nothing to be ashamed of. Especially after the year and half we’ve all just been through. So why not embrace those grays and rock them like the badge of honor that they are? Whether you’re dealing with a few graying strands or fully transitioning to gray hair, we’ve got everything you need to know ahead!

What causes gray hair?

According to New York Dermatologist Dr. Eric Schweiger, your hair goes gray when your body stops producing melanin. Your hair follicles have pigment cells called melanocytes. These melanocytes make melanin, the pigment that gives your hair its color. Dermatologists agree the most common reason your body stops producing this pigmentation is age, but there are several factors that contribute to your hair going gray prematurely.

Causes of going gray in your 20s

The following factors can contribute to a reduction of your melanin production, causing you to go gray prematurely.

  • Genetics — Genetics plays a big role in how and when you go gray. So if your parents and grandparents went gray early, it’s likely that you will too. This is why some people go gray in their 20s, while others don't see their first gray hair well into their 50s. Your genes also determine your graying progress, intensity and the shade of silver or white hair color you have. Gender plays a role as well, with men graying closer to 30, while women begin to notice grays around 35.
  • Vitamin or mineral deficiency — Any deficiencies of vitamin B-6, B-12, biotin, vitamin D, or vitamin E can contribute to prematurely going gray. Similarly, deficiencies in minerals like calcium, copper, iron, protein and zinc can also contribute to graying hair earlier than usual.
  • Stress — If your first reaction to finding a stray white hair among your strands is to lose your mind in a full-blown panic, stop! Stress causes a depletion of melanin in the body, so you could be making it worse. Panicking will only multiplies those grays. 
  • Oxidative stress — Oxidative stress is an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body, which leads to cell and tissue damage. This includes damage to the melanin producing melanocytes. Oxidative stress occurs naturally in the body over time.
  • Certain medical conditions — Some medical conditions, like those involving the thyroid, can increase a person’s risk for going gray early. Studies show a connection between hair abnormalities and thyroid dysfunction. White hair is also common in alopecia, an autoimmune skin condition that causes hair loss on the scalp, face and other parts of the body. When the hair grows back, it’s usually white because of the melanin deficiency.
  • Smoking cigarettes — In addition to causing cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and pulmonary disease, smoking contributes to premature graying, especially before the age of 30. Studies show that smokers are 2 1/2 times more likely to start graying before age 30 than non-smokers. 
  • Chemical hair dyes and hair products — Chemical hair dyes and hair products, even shampoos, can contribute to going gray early. Many of these products contain harmful ingredients that decrease melanin. Hydrogen peroxide and bleach are two such chemicals.

Davines Alchemic Silver purple shampoo

Tips for embracing your gray hair

If you’re on board with going gray, these tips will keep your silver strands looking healthy and bright.

Use a clarifying/silver shampoo combo

Gray hair has no natural pigment so it can become yellow over time. To prevent this from happening, use a clarifying shampoo weekly to get rid of free radicals and impurities. Follow up with a shampoo for silver hairand silver conditioner to counteract any dull, yellow hues in your hair. This powerful shampoo and conditioner duo works together to illuminate silver or platinum blonde hair and are free of any sulfates, silicones, and parabens.

Use a hydrating hair mask

Gray strands are usually drier than pigmented hairs, so they have a tendency to frizz and can easily look dull if you're not vigilant about hydration. Incorporate a moisturizing hair mask into your weekly hair care routine.

Find the right cut

Just because you stop dying your hair doesn’t mean your haircut should suffer. Plus, we already told you that the short gray hair trend is one of the hottest hair looks for summer 21. Whatever cut you choose, be sure to see your stylist for a trim every 6 to 8 weeks. Gray hair can start to look unruly if it's not trimmed frequently.

Keep your strands protected in the sun

Environmental pollutants and UV light can make any hair color—including barely pigmented grays—look dull. So wash every other day with a hydrating shampoo and conditioner containing antioxidants to protect against UV and environmental damage. 

Protect your hair from heat damage

Gray hair burns more easily due to its texture and porosity. Be sure to use caution when heat-styling your hair. Use high quality hair tools with temperature controls. Don’t exceed 350 degrees, and never let your tool remain in one place on the hair for more than a few seconds. And always coat your grays with a heat protection spray first.

Davines MELU hair shield heat protectant spray

Use lightweight hair products

Skip heavy pomades, waxes, and oily serums. These can coat gray hair, making it look dull. Use a shine spray to combat frizz instead. This will make your grays feel softer and look healthier.

Wear complimentary colored clothes

Accent your silver, gray or white hair with clothes in complimentary colors like black, white, shades of gray, and jewel tones like ruby red, sapphire blue, and deep purple. Avoid earth tones like beige and olive, as these can make you look washed out.

Wear complimentary colored make-up

Choose a blush in a shade like apricot, peach, or rose for a pop of color that really works with gray hair. Stay away from nude or tawny colors that can make skin look dull against gray hair. 

Tips to prevent gray hair 

Gray hair is gorgeous, but if you’re just not ready to rock it yet, here’s what you need to know to prevent gray hair and preserve the pigment you have left.

Color your hair

Hair dye is the only way to cover existing grays. If you color your hair, plan on regular trips to the salon to avoid a strong demarcation line as it grows out. A more low-maintenance option is highlighting your hair to diffuse the look of the grays for a more natural grow-out. 

Avoid stress 

Chronic stress can lead to inflammation. This inflammation affects the melanin-producing cells in our scalp while shortening our hair growth cycles, leading to premature gray hair. So less stress = less grays.

Get enough vitamins

Make sure you’re getting enough of the vitamins that keep your hair healthy, including:

  • B vitamins, especially B-12 and biotin
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin A

Get enough minerals

Minerals also play a vital role in hair growth and repair, so make sure you’re getting enough

  • Zinc
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Selenium
  • CoppeR

Don’t smoke cigarettes 

This one is a given not only for hair health but for your overall health as well. Among other negatives like cancer and heart disease, smoking has the same accelerated aging effect on your hair that it does on your skin. There's extensive research that shows smoking is correlated with prematurely graying hair in people of all age groups.

Schedule yearly checkups 

We discussed how certain illnesses like autoimmune can cause premature gray hair, so it's important to check in with your doctor on a regular basis. In addition, it's important to speak with a medical professional anytime you have a hair or scalp health concern. Physicians, dermatologists, and trichologists can all help make sure there’s not a more serious underlying issue.

Limit your exposure to pollutants 

To keep your graying hair looking as bright and healthy as possible, try to reduce the oxidative stress around you. Keep your living environment pure, and breathe fresh air every day. And try to avoid all types of pollution.

Protect your hair from the sun

If you’re planning to be in the sun for an extended period of time, protect your grays from UV damage the way you would your skin. Slather your strands with UV-protectant products or cover up with a hat or scarf.

Sleep on a silk or satin pillowcase

Sleeping on a satin or silk pillowcase protects your hair from damage while you sleep. These materials create less friction, protecting the hair from breakage, unwanted frizz, and fly-aways. Your grays will break less and hold a style better if you wear your hair up while sleeping on a silk or satin pillowcase.

Gray hair needs sun protection, and this moisturizing hair and body wash offers two-in-one care.

Moisturizing and repairing hair mask that restores hydration and body to hair.

Gray hair burns more easily, so always use a heat protectant spray before using any hot tools.

Final thoughts on caring for gray hair and going gray prematurely

The healthiest thing you can do when it comes to graying strands is to control your emotional response to it. Whether you're a full on silver fox or just starting to notice some silver streaks, going gray is totally normal and a natural part of life. Whether you want to cover or embrace your grays, going gray is nothing to panic about. If you’re on board with going gray, great! Our tips will keep your silver, white or gray hair color looking healthy and bright. And if not, that’s ok too. Decide on your approach to cover those grays and adjust your lifestyle and hair care routine accordingly. 

by Jaclyn LaBadia, featured contributor

Cover photo by @the.plan.holyoke

Other photos by @goldandglowco

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