As a young person, it's safe to say that your appearance matters. A lot. From stressing over a pimple, to obsessing over pore-reduction for hours, teens are nothing if not caught up with their appearance. And it's not a bad thing! Your appearance is the first thing people notice about you (obviously), and it helps make a good first impression. But do you know when things start to go south? When you spot a white hair at a young age.
I remember the first time I saw a white hair on my head — I'd just come home from a bad day at school, and was meticulously combing my hair while staring at myself in the mirror. I flipped my part, and there it was. In all its glory, a singular, silver strand that threatened the social order of my otherwise shining black mane of hair. I freaked out and panicked, of course. I asked my mom to tweeze it out immediately, but her response remained something that Indians are accustomed to — "If you take one out, three more will appear in its place."
Since then, I've had multiple white strands spring up on my head — even though I'm really young, for no apparent reason. And if you're in the same boat as me, chances are that you're racking your brains too, trying to figure out what causes white hair at a young age. The short, most scientific answer to this problem is that hair follicles have a pigment called melanin, which, over time, fades away, resulting in white hair. But that still doesn't answer the question — why? To get a broader, more well-rounded perspective in my hunt for answers, I reached out to consultant dermatologists and cosmetologists at Columbia Asia Hospital Whitefield, Bengaluru, Dr. Sravya C Tipirneni for some answers.
When asked about why it's so important to figure out the reason behind getting white hair at a young age, she explained, "Identification of the root cause, as to why the person is greying, what age they're greying at, and what their deficiencies is super important, especially in the beginning." This is so that the issue can be nipped in the bud as quickly as it may arise. Curious to learn what the main reasons for getting white hair at a young age are? Ahead, we're listing down all the factors that contribute to premature greying.
What causes white hair at young age
Just like your height, your eye colour, and everything else that you have no control over, your genetic makeup plays a huge role in determining whether you'll have white hair at a young age. Says Dr. Tipirneni, "So we have to understand that if your parents or grandparents had premature greying of their hair, then you're more likely to get grey hair at a much younger age. And it'll be quicker than they got theirs too because genetics are programmed to advance in the next generation."
2. Nutritional Deficiency
According to Dr. Tipirneni, "The second thing is if you have nutritional deficiencies — if you have a vitamin B12 deficiency, a vitamin D deficiency, or a copper deficiency, you have to investigate which vitamin or mineral is lesser in the body, and then treat it accordingly." However, vitamin B12 is the biggest culprit when it comes to getting white hair at a young age, since it's associated with a condition called pernicious anemia.
In pernicious anemia, your body is unable to absorb an adequate amount of the vitamin — hence weakening hair cells and melanin production. However, it's not all bad news. While it may seem like there's no respite, Dr. Sravya C Tipirneni is optimistic, and says, "There is research and evidence which states that after correcting a nutritional deficiency, there might be re-pigmentation of the hair."
If you've been dealing with chronic stress for a while, chances are that you may be prematurely greying. Whether it's anxiety-packed home life, or you're overworked and tired, unfortunately, this will reflect in your hair, causing strands to grey much faster than they normally would. Studies have found connections between stress and the depletion of stem cells in the hair follicles; to put it in simple terms, if you're hassled and distressed all the time, you're more likely to develop white hair at a young age.
4. Hormonal Imbalance
If you're under the false impression about how you only get a thyroid disorder when you're older, then we hate to break it to you, but you can get it at any age. Also, fun fact: hormonal imbalance, especially caused by a thyroid disorder, can be a leading cause of premature greying — and Dr. Sravya C Tipirneni agrees. "If there is a thyroid disorder, that could also compound, or add to, or even lead to premature greying of hair," she explains, further adding that, "If the hormonal balance is corrected, though, it too can in turn lead to the re-pigmentation of grey hair."
5. Autoimmune Illness
Autoimmune diseases are awful for a lot of reasons, and unfortunately, the body's immune system attacking its own cells doesn't exactly help either — in fact, it can cause white hair at a young age, since the same would apply to the hair cells as well. This is especially prevalent in the case of alopecia and vitiligo, where those who have the illness lose the pigment in their hair very young, and at times, their hair too.
Apart from all the gross, bad-for-you effects of smoking ranging from cardiovascular issues to cancer, cigarette smoking is also linked to premature grey hair, especially when you're young. This is because smoking shrinks the blood vessels and reduces the blood flow to hair follicles, thus reducing the pigment in the hair. Plus, all the baddies in cigarettes can damage your hair, hence causing white hair early.
How to fix white hair at young age
1. Early Identification
The only way to correctly treat a problem is to identify it as early as possible. Now we're not saying that you need to go into a panic-induced spiral the second you spot a singular white strand on your head; in fact, a couple of them won't hurt you. However, if you're noticing an unusual amount of white hair on your head that may have sprouted up suddenly, it may be time to do some damage control. Says Dr. Sravya C Tipirneni, "You need to focus on addressing this as early as possible! Go to a dermatologist to find out and investigate what the root cause is, ASAP."
2. Correct The Issue
Whether you've discovered that you have a vitamin B12 deficiency, or come to the realization that your smoking habit has finally caught up with you, there's no cure quite like something that treats the issue at the roots, rather than just the symptoms. Whatever your problem may be, chances are, it's rectifiable, so you need to work hard to fix it. "Correct whatever hormonal deficiencies there are, and also, correct any nutritional deficiencies that may exist," adds Dr. Sravya C Tipirneni.
3. Live A Stress-Free Life
A stress-free life may sound like a distant daydream, but if you want to retain a head full of coloured and not completely white hair by the time you turn 30? Maybe it's time you took a chill pill. "Stress less and address your mental health issues well — there's no measure, like a blood test to test this, so if you're living a stressful life, fix the issue as quickly as you can," advises Dr. Tipirneni.
Whatever your reason for getting white hair at a young age may be, take solace in the fact that no matter how bad it gets for you, there’s nothing a few lifestyle changes, or a little medication can’t fix. (Thank you, modern medicine!) And always remember, that there are a few ways you can prevent grey hair at a young age too; according to Dr. Sravya C Tipirneni, it’s pretty simple. “Identify the problem early. Eat healthily, and have a healthy sleep cycle as well. Make sure your stress levels are low, and get your thyroid checked regularly along with your vitamin B12 as well, and correct them if necessary with the help of a medical professional in case there's a deficiency,” she shares. “Do this as soon as possible, before it affects the bulbs of the hair. Take care of your hair — don't use harsh shampoos, chemical treatments, and salon procedures. Avoiding these will go a long way in delaying the greying of hair,” she concludes.