Gray hair does come with age but finding a few paler-toned hairs on your head is certainly no indication that your body's aging process has somehow dramatically accelerated. Many women and men have a few gray hairs even by the time they reach their late 20s. Definitions of "premature" or "early" graying vary, but it's generally agreed that someone who has some gray hairs on their head before their late teens is graying prematurely. Alternatively, if more than half your head overall is covered in gray hair by the time you hit 40, you're considered to be prematurely gray.
Why Hair Grays
Each hair on your head grows from a hair follicle in the skin on your scalp. These follicles also contain a pigment called melanin. Melanin is produced naturally by your body - its function is to color each individual hair. As the body gets older, it doesn't produce as much pigment as before. The pigment in individual hair follicles dries up, and all hair that grows from these follicles in future will be without color, namely white.
Gray Hair Or White Hair?
Actually, most people who have noticeably gray hair on their heads have a mixture of white and their normal colored hair - the overall effect is gray. An individual hair that is truly gray probably comes from a hair follicle in which the pigment has become "diluted", but hasn't disappeared completely.
Causes Of Premature Graying
Graying usually becomes noticeable in Caucasians between the ages of 34 to 35 years old, and in Africans or Asians between the ages of 43 and 53. If you've started to go noticeably gray earlier than this, the chances are it's in your genes. If other members of your family were also gray at your age, you may be genetically programmed since birth to start going gray now.
There are some medical conditions associated with early graying. These include: thyroid problems (very common among women), vitamin B12 deficiency, anemia, osteoporosis and an autoimmune condition called vitiligo. Vitiligo attacks the pigment cells in the body and reduces the body's melanin levels. People who suffer from this condition may have patches of white hair on their heads and patches of white skin on their bodies.
Tackling Early Graying
Unfortunately, early graying is similar to "normal"graying in that there's really nothing you can do to stop gray hairs growing...
You do have the option of plucking out gray hairs, but as the numbers of gray hairs increases over time, this strategy becomes less and less realistic.
Alternatively, you could color your hair artificially using hair dyes (it's a good idea to get advice from a professional hair stylist before doing this). If you can't afford a trip to the salon every month or so to maintain the effect of the artificial color, buy a do-it-yourself hair dying kit that's specifically designed to cover gray hair. There are many reputable brands available in pharmacies, beauty stores, and even in supermarkets.
You can, of course, choose to embrace the fact that you're going gray and do nothing to hide the fact. This is a little easier for men than for women, given that women are under so much social pressure to stay young looking - but you could be the woman to kick start the revolution!
Lastly, no matter how you decide to deal with your prematurely gray hair, you can take steps to keep your hair looking healthy. This involves regular trimming, good diet and nutrition, using a quality shampoo and conditioner, and keep heat exposure (use of hair dryer, hair straighteners, etc.) to a minimum).