Gray Hair in Young People
Are you one of the lucky ones who noticed gray strands in your teens or twenties? Are you wondering why you are dealing with gray hair so early in life? Gender and ethnicity play a part in the graying of hair, but genetics appears to be the biggest culprit for young grays. How early those pesky grays will begin to show themselves "varies greatly from person to person" although why hair loses its pigment in the first place and becomes gray is still something of a mystery.
The first thing to understand about hair color and lack thereof is melanin. There are tubes of tissue underneath the scalp called hair follicles which encase the root of each hair strand. Every follicle "contains a number of pigment cells that produce melanin, the polymer that gives the growing hair shaft its color." Without pigment hair is quite transparent. Generally, such pigment cells will keep producing melanin, but if the body stops the process the hair strand will not have enough pigment to keep the strand from looking transparent. This is what results in gray and white strands of hair. Gray hair has less melanin while white hair has none at all.
Currently there is no scientific means of knowing when cells will stop producing melanin. What is known is genes control "the lack of deposition of melanin" in hair. For some families this can happen as early as in the teen years and early twenties. Whether it is a single or common gene remains unclear, and since it varies so much depending on the individual, "age is not the only factor" in the graying of hair.
Gender does play a role, as the average man will start noticing gray strands around age 30, whereas for women the average age is 35. Ethnicity is also a factor as "50% of Caucasians are 50% gray by age 50." This is not necessarily true for other ethnic groups, which again points to genetic reasons for graying hair.
Going gray at a young age does not mean "the body’s aging process has sped up" nor is it symptomatic of underlying health problems. There are a few rare diseases in which graying hair in a young person is a symptom. Werner’s syndrome, for example, is a disease in which the aging process seems to accelerate. This disease is believed to affect one of every 200,000 people in the United States. Pernicious Anemia, a disease caused by a B12 deficiency in the body, is also believed to decrease melanin production.
"Going gray overnight" occurs due to a rare disease called Alopecia Areata in which pigmented hair strands appear to stop growing leaving the gray strands to take hold. Again, these diseases are all very rare and finding gray strands at a young age is not something to worry about health-wise.