It is normal for hair color to change as people age. But gray or white hair can appear at almost any time in life. Genetic factors, stress, hair dyes, and other factors may contribute.

The human body has millions of hair follicles or small sacs lining the skin. The follicles generate hair and color or pigment cells that contain melanin. Over time, hair follicles lose pigment cells, resulting in white hair color.

In this article, we look at some common causes of prematurely white hair, along with ways to slow down or prevent the graying process.

There can be many causes besides age that result in a person’s hair turning white.

Vitamin deficiencies

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Any deficiencies of vitamin B9, B12, biotin, or vitamin D can contribute to premature graying.

One 2018 review notes various deficiency studies on vitamin D3, vitamin B12, copper, zinc, and calcium and their connection to graying hair. It finds nutritional deficiencies affect pigmentation, suggesting color can return with vitamin supplementation.

In 2017, a small study found an association between vitamin B12, folic acid, and biotin deficiencies and premature gray hair in Asian people 20 years old or younger.

More recently, researchers concluded there is an association between low serum ferritin (which stores iron in the body) and raised anti-thyroid peroxidase antibodies (a protein produced by the immune system that mistakenly attacks the thyroid gland) and premature graying in young Indian people.


According to a 2017 study, there is a strong family history and genetic component to premature hair graying.

Race and ethnicity play a role, as well. Premature graying in white people can start as early as 20 years old, while a person can be as young as 25 years old among Asian people and 30 years old in African-American populations, according to a 2013 study.

Oxidative stress

While graying is mostly genetic, oxidative stress in the body may play a part when the process happens prematurely.

Oxidative stress causes imbalances when antioxidants are not enough to counteract the damaging effects of free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that damage cells, contributing to aging and disease.

Too much oxidative stress can promote the development of diseases, including the skin-pigment condition vitiligo. Vitiligo may also turn the hair white due to melanin cell death or the loss of cell function.

Certain medical conditions

Some medical conditions, including autoimmune diseases, may increase a person’s risk for graying early. In fact, older research published in 2008 showed a connection between hair abnormalities and thyroid dysfunction.

White hair is also common in alopecia areata, an autoimmune skin condition that causes hair loss on the scalp, face, and other parts of the body. When the hair grows back, it tends to be white due to melanin deficiency.

Real-life stressors

There are conflicting research studies on real-life stress, such as that caused by injury, leading to premature graying.

One study concluded that stress induces the release of noradrenaline from sympathetic nerves, which depletes the stem cells that give hair its color.

Other studies indicate that while stress may play a part, it is only a small part of a bigger picture where disease and other factors contribute.


A 2018 study reported that people with a history of smoking were associated with premature hair graying.

Indeed, older research shows that smokers are two and a half times more likely to start graying before age 30 than non-smokers.

Chemical hair dyes and hair products

Chemical hair dyes and hair products, even shampoos, can contribute to premature hair graying. Many of these products contain harmful ingredients that decrease melanin.

Hydrogen peroxide, which is in many hair dyes, is one such harmful chemical. Excessive use of products that bleach hair will also eventually cause it to turn white.

If genetics or aging is the cause, nothing can prevent or reverse the process. However, treating graying hair could allow color pigmentation to return if the loss is due to a medical condition.

When diet and vitamin deficiencies are the cause of prematurely white hair, correcting these may reverse the problem or stop it from worsening.

Eating more antioxidants

A person’s diet plays a part in preventing white hair. A diet rich in antioxidants can reduce oxidative stress.

Antioxidant-rich foods include:

Addressing deficiencies

Anyone who has white hair resulting from a vitamin deficiency should consume more foods loaded with those vitamins.

For example, seafood, eggs, and meats are good sources of vitamin B12, and milk, salmon, and cheese are excellent sources of vitamin D.

Vitamin supplements that are available over the counter can also correct deficiencies.

Quitting smoking

Smoking has adverse effects on the body and contributes to white hair. Therefore, quitting smoking is advised to prevent new white hairs from forming. Researchers have also found a link between the habit and loss of hair pigmentation.

Natural remedies

There are plenty of hair dyes on the market that cover white hair, but many of these contribute to premature graying and may cause allergic reactions.

The following natural remedies may offer an alternative to slow down hair-whitening without harming the body or causing further hair pigment damage.

Curry leavesThe medicinal use of curry leaves goes back centuries. When combined with hair oil and applied to the scalp, curry leaves can slow premature graying.

One report highlights the traditional use of curry leaves to retain black hair color and even prevent premature graying. Curry leaves can be purchased at Indian supermarkets, as well as traditional grocery stores.
BhringarajThe false daisy or bhringaraj will darken hair and prevent it from becoming white early, according to some reports. The juice of the leaves is boiled in coconut oil or sesame oil and massaged into the hair. It is also available in oil form.
Indian gooseberryAlso called amla, this is an herbal supplement recognized for reversing premature graying by promoting pigmentation. Its effectiveness is believed to be because the gooseberry is rich in antioxidants and anti-aging properties.

Amla is available as a fruit in Indian grocery stores. It can also be found as a powder or supplement and is available online or in a traditional health food store. The powder can be mixed with coconut oil and applied directly to the scalp.
Black teaBlack tea can make hair darker, shinier, and softer. It can be used by steeping three to five tea bags in two cups of boiling water, cooling them, and adding to clean, wet hair. Tea can also be mixed with conditioner, left in the hair for one hour, and then rinsed out.
CopperLow copper levels can lead to premature graying, according to one 2012 study. Good food sources of copper are beef liver, lentils, almonds, dark chocolate, and asparagus.
Ridge gourdThe ridge gourd is known for restoring hair pigment and stimulating the roots of the hair. Regular massaging of ridge gourd oil can prevent hair from turning white. The oil can be purchased online.

Below are some commonly asked questions about gray or white hair.

Does stress make a person go gray quicker?

Stress does potentially make a person go gray quicker. One study found that stress induces the release of noradrenaline from sympathetic nerves, which depletes the stem cells that give hair its color.

Should a person pluck their gray hair?

Some people claim that if a person plucks a gray hair from their head, then multiple gray hairs may grow in its place.

However, there is no scientific basis for this.

It is possible for a person to pluck a gray hair from their head, but the gray hair will return. Further drawbacks include pain, discomfort, and potentially folliculitis.

How can a person go fully gray gracefully?

A person considering going fully gray could do so in the following ways:

  • letting their hair grow out naturally
  • weaving in highlights or lowlights to their hair so it’s not such an abrupt change
  • cutting their hair so it doesn’t take as long for color-treated hair to grow out

What is the average age to get gray hair?

The average age of gray hair onset varies with race. For Caucasians, the average age to get gray hair is mid-thirties; for Asian people it’s late thirties; and for African people it’s mid-forties.

With the right diagnosis and treatments, white hair progression can be stopped and reversed in some instances. A balanced diet and good hair care can also help. In some cases, however, the process is irreversible.

Regular use of natural remedies may slow down and possibly reverse white hair. But everyone’s hair eventually starts to turn white, and the individual has to decide whether they are comfortable with the white or if they prefer to try and hold back what is a natural aging process.