What Causes Gray Hair in Your 20s?

Your genes primarily affect when gray hair appears. However, stress, certain health conditions, and nutrient deficiencies also raise factor in.

A pigment called melanin determines your hair color. However, as you age, your body produces less melanin, which results in gray hair.

Gray hair is nothing to be ashamed of. After all, it's a natural part of aging. Still, you may be curious why some people get gray hair earlier than others.

Potential Causes of Gray Hair in Your 20s

Some contributing factors, like stress or certain health conditions, can cause many people to notice gray hair in their 20s. Genetics is one of the most significant factors causing premature gray hair.


There may be a link between stress and premature gray hair. In a study published in 2021 in eLife, researchers compared hair samples with journals in which people reported stressful events. The researchers found that people with gray hair were likelier to report stressful events than others.

Research conducted with animals has found a link between stress and premature gray hair. For example, one study published in 2020 in Nature found that stress caused mice to lose stem cells that produce new melanocytes. Melanocytes are cells that produce melanin. As we age, the body naturally loses those stem cells.

More research is needed to know whether the link between stress and premature gray hair is the same in humans.

To possibly reduce the risk of gray hair in your 20s, try some stress-relieving activities, like:

  • Regularly exercising
  • Replacing negative thoughts with positive ones
  • Engaging in your favorite hobbies, like reading, listening to music, or watching a movie
  • Deep breathing, meditating, or practicing yoga and tai chi
  • Hanging out with family or friends
  • Eating a healthy diet of vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, and lean protein
  • Set your limits
  • Ask trusted loved ones for help if you need it

Health Conditions

Certain health conditions may cause gray hair or make gray hair appear noticeable.

For example, alopecia areata is a condition that causes patches of hair loss. People with alopecia areata may have gray hairs that appear in areas of hair loss. Also, vitiligo, which causes patches of skin to lose pigment, can result in gray or white hair.

Vitamin or Mineral Deficiencies

Low levels of vitamins and minerals may cause premature gray hair. For example, some evidence suggests a lack of the following nutrients may cause gray hair in your 20s:

Protein deficiency may cause your hair to lose its pigment, as well. Research has found that vegetarian diets may increase the risk of premature gray hair. Therefore, making sure that you get enough protein is key.

Also, ensuring your diet meets the daily recommended intake of those vitamins and minerals may slow down how rapidly your hair grays. Some evidence suggests that B-complex supplements may darken gray hair. However, more research is needed.

Is Premature Gray Hair Hereditary?

Genetics plays a key role in whether your hair goes gray in your 20s. Some evidence suggests certain genes and traits are responsible for premature gray hair. 

For example, a study published in 2022 in the Journal of Kerman University of Medical Sciences noted that people are three to five times more likely to prematurely develop gray hair if their parents had done the same before turning 30.

If your gray hair is simply a function of genetics, you can embrace having gray hair in your 20s. Or you can change your hair color if you're not allergic to any hair dyes.

Who Gets Premature Gray Hair?

Some people are more likely to notice gray hair in their 20s than others. For example, the structure of hair varies by race and ethnicity. Research has found that premature gray hair happens before 20 years old in White people and 25 years old in Asian people. In contrast, premature gray hair occurs before 30 years old in Black people.

Also, premature gray hair affects women and men equally. However, in women, hair typically first turns gray near the forehead. In men, hair first begins to gray on the sides of the head.

Risk Factors

Some factors don't directly cause premature gray hair but may quicken the process by damaging your hair follicles.


Research has found a link between cigarette smoking and the onset of gray hair before age 30. Specifically, smoking may cause nicotine to build up in the hair follicles, which affects hair pigmentation.

A study published in 2021 in Skin Appendage Disorders found that premature gray hair is more common among people who smoke than others.

UV Exposure

The sun's UV rays are a common source of oxidative stress, an imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants. Free radicals are harmful substances that damage your cells. 

UV exposure may damage the melanin in your hair follicles. Melanin absorbs free radicals, reducing hair pigment.

Chemicals and Heat

Damage from chemicals and heat can increase the risk of premature gray hair. For example, the chemicals in hair dye can damage your hair structure. The heat from hair tools like blow dryers and hair straighteners also causes damage.

A Quick Review

As you age, your body makes less melanin, causing gray hair. However, some people notice gray hair in their 20s. Genetics plays one of the most significant roles in the onset of premature gray hair. Still, stress, certain health conditions, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies might raise your risk, too. 

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13 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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