Could an early gray hair actually be a bad sign for your health?


Does going gray earlier mean I'm aging more quickly?

Silvery strands are one of the more conspicuous signs of aging. That said, getting gray hair doesn't necessarily mean that you're closer to the end of your life span than anyone else your age. Gray hair occurs when the hair follicles produce less melanin, the pigment that gives hair its color. It's most common for graying to begin in your 30s, though some women spot a few grays in their 20s. Your graying age is related to your ethnicity (Caucasians tend to go gray earlier than Asians and African-Americans), as well as your family history, so you may want to ask your parents and grandparents when they noticed their first grays.

If you think you're going gray unusually early, there are a number of possible reasons why. Smoking, for one, has been linked to the early onset of gray hair. Environmental factors—like ultraviolet rays and air pollutants—may also be partially to blame. In rare cases, premature graying can be a sign of a medical issue, such as vitiligo (a condition that causes skin to lose its pigmentation), pernicious anemia (in which the body has difficulty absorbing vitamin B12) or problems involving your pituitary or thyroid glands.

Health’s medical editor, Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, is associate professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine and co-founder of Tula Skincare.