Why Does Hair Turn Gray?

Medically Reviewed by Dr Sravya, MBBS, MS 

Am I turning old? This question comes to mind when people see gray hair very first. But no gray hair is mainly due to the absence of melanin in hair rather than an estimate of your age. Nowadays, change in hair color is seen in people of different age groups. Some people may see gray hair at an early age; in others, it is seen in later stages. Hormonal imbalance, stress, genetic factors, and hair color are additional factors for early gray hair.


As the hairs are form, melanocytes inject melanin pigment into the cells containing keratin. Keratin protein makes your hair, skin, and nails. Till years, melanocytes continue to produce pigment keratin leading to the coloration of hair.

Hair follicle slows down or stops melanocyte activity, decreasing the pigment our hair receives. This is seen when the hairs are going to fall off, and the roots become pale.
Age and genetic factors are the reason for the gray factor. Failure of melanocyte stem cells to maintain the production of melanocytes and breakdown of signals to produce melanin leads to graying of hair.

Why does hair turn gray

Causes of Gray hair

 Many causes other than age are seen in the early graying of hair in a person. 

Vitamin deficiency: Deficiency in B6, B12, Biotin, vitamin D, or vitamin E leads to premature graying of hair. Due to nutritional deficiency in the body, changes in hair color are seen, reversible by the intake of adequate supplements needed by the body.

Genetic factor: Graying of hair is related to the genetic factor of the person. Premature graying of hair can be seen in the early 20s and 30s, depending on the genes

Stress: Increased stress levels cause the release of chemical norepinephrine in the follicle. This chemical affects the melanocyte stem cells causing them to change into pigment cells and move out of hair follicles leading to graying of hair.

As graying of hair is mostly related to genetic factors, stress also plays a role in the premature graying of hair. Free radicals are caused by stress, smoking, inflammation, and radiation exposure, which destroy the formation of melanin pigment leading to graying of hair.

Certain medical conditions: Graying hair early is common in people, mainly with autoimmune diseases. Studies also show that hair abnormalities are seen in people with thyroid dysfunction. Regular checkups and a correct treatment plan with the doctors will be helpful in preventing early discoloration of hair.

Smoking: Avoid smoking not only for hair discoloration but also for general health as well. Smokers are likely three times more prone to graying hair early in their 20s than non-smokers. Studies show smoking causes chemical changes that damage the melanin-producing cells in the body.

Chemical hair products and dyes: Premature hair graying is seen when people use chemical hair products, hair dyes, and even shampoo. Decrease in melanin production due to harmful ingredients present in the products resulting in graying of hair. Excessive use of products that bleach hair causes the hair to turn white in colour.

Obesity:  Overweight or obese individuals are likely to develop gray hair.

Preventive measures

1.To prevent gray coloration of hair early, ensure you get an adequate amount of vitamin D, B12, and antioxidants by eating protein-rich foods and vegetables.

2. Try to live a stress-free life to prevent early graying of hair

3.Quit smoking if you are a smoker to keep your hair pigmented and prevent early graying. Excessive tobacco is linked to premature graying of hair.

4. People with autoimmune disorders are prone to early graying of hair. Regular health checkups and correct treatment will help hair to stay pigmented as long as possible.

5. Prevent hair loss by taking proper care:

 a) Try to avoid chemical dyes or bleach to hair as possible

 b) Avoid brushing hair when they are wet. Use a wide tooth comb to detangle the hair.

 c) Massage the hair with coconut oil before hair wash to prevent hair discoloration and give a soothing effect after the massage.

 d) Avoid using heat on the hair.

6. Protect hair from direct sun and air pollutants.Reduce the exposure to the sun on sunny days either by wearing a hat or application of hair sunscreen on hot sunny days.On high air pollution days, cover the hair with a scarf or headwrap.

Home remedies for gray hair

Few remedies are known to stimulate the pigmentation of hair. It helps to prevent natural hair color and prevent graying of hair

Brahmi bhringraj oil : Massage the hair with this oil to prevent dryness in the scalp. It nourishes the route of hair and reduces hair fall. It also helps in the premature graying of air.

Black sesame seeds: Black sesame seeds are known to blacken the hair, so they are applied for white hair. Eating black sesame seeds twice a week helps to slow down or reverse the graying of hair.

Amla: Amla enhances hair pigmentation. Dried amla boiled with coconut oil can be used to prevent graying of hair. Massaging hair with amla oil and drinking amla juice regularly prevents graying of hair.

Curry leaves: Using crushed curry leaves is extremely helpful in preventing graying of hair. Powdered curry leaves, along with yogurt, can be applied two times a week to get its benefit.

Carrot juice: Drink 8 ounces of carrot juice every day

Ashwagandha: Take the ashwagandha supplement with the food.

Ghee: Massage the hair and scalp twice a week with pure ghee

Ginger: Eat one teaspoon of freshly grated ginger and one tablespoon of honey daily.

Catalase: Eat food rich in the enzyme catalase like

a) Cabbage

b) Garlic

c) Sweet potato

d) Broccoli

e) Almonds

Hibiscus flower: Hibiscus contains vitamins A, C, and iron. Mix a flower paste with any hair oil when applied to the hair to prevent the hair from turning gray.

Take away

As your age increases, the hair follicle age too, and so the hair follicle produces less melanin pigment as compare, resulting in the hair turning gray. You can prefer to have a hair color with chemicals. Or you can prefer the natural method for hair color to promote natural healing.

Your doctor may guide you with the best advice base on your current health condition, medications if you are taking any allergies, and the different home remedies that will be helpful.

Frequently Asked Questions

The melanin pigment, which gives color to the skin, and eyes, is responsible for determining hair color.
Gray hair is mainly due to melanin depletion. This is mainly due to decreased number of stem cells that produce melanin. Genes play an important role in melanin production since they regulate it. Other factors like an imbalanced diet, stress, smoking, obesity, and autoimmune diseases add additional factors for gray hair.
Vitamin B12, biotin, folic acid, and vitamin E can be taken as oral supplements to manage gray hair.
Quitting smoking, eating a balanced diet, and consuming more antioxidant-rich foods will be helpful.
You can gradually slow down or reverse the hair color process in case of any nutritional deficiency or medical conditions. Try to maintain a healthy lifestyle with a properly balanced diet and lower your stress level by meditating, exercising, chatting with friends, or watching a favorite movie to get the natural hair color black.
Balanced nutrition and managing stress level will help prevent graying of hair early.
Hair consists of keratin protein which is important for strong, healthy hair. Eggs and fish are a rich source of protein. Protein consists of amino acids. These amino acids are more in animal protein and are easily absorbed. Supplements for deficiency of vitamins like vitamin D, iron, calcium, zinc, B12, and B6 can be taken if needed.

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