Premature gray

Originally Published: January 19, 1995 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: November 26, 2014
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What are the reasons for getting white hair in teenagers?

—Graying prematurely

Dear Graying prematurely,

Graying has a genetic basis, whether it comes along with other signs of aging or if it starts to happen independently and prematurely. Hair turns gray or white when a pigment (melanin) ceases to be produced in the hair root, and new hairs grow in gray or white. The period of life in which this change occurs is highly variable. For some people, graying starts in the late teens, but others don’t experience graying until middle age. There are not many ways to influence or halt the graying process. However, there are a few methods that you may find helpful:

  • Stop smoking: Studies find that smoking may cause premature graying. When compared to nonsmokers in a British clinical study, smokers were four times more likely to experience premature graying. Columbia has a Tobacco Cessation program that you might find helpful.
  • Eat nutrient-dense foods: Copper and B-vitamin deficiencies may lead to premature graying of the hair. Copper is found in asparagus, crimini mushrooms, turnip greens, and molasses. You can get a natural dose of B-vitamins from milk, liver, eggs, and peanuts. Check out Columbia’s get balanced! Guide for Healthier Eating for more information.
  • Don’t pluck your gray hairs: Plucking can cause root damage and infection. If you don’t like how gray hair looks and want to get rid of it, consider dying your hair instead.
  • Take good care of your hair: Spend extra time massaging your scalp during bath time and try to reduce heat styling to a minimum.

Graying of the hair is a perfectly normal biological process. However, if you’re concerned about your premature graying and think it might be symptomatic of something more serious, you may want to schedule an appointment with your health care provider. Columbia students can make an appointment at Medical Services on the Morningside campus. Students at the Medical Center campus can make an appointment at Student Health.

Lastly, there's nothing to worry about in graying prematurely — some say it's rather sophisticated and sexy!