Is it a silver anomaly, or a sign of deficiency?

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Reader question: Why is my hair graying already? It's definitely too early—I'm not even 30! And is there any way to get it back? — Laura Irene

As you age, it's only natural to lose melanin in your hair. Like all signs of aging, different people age differently and present hair color changes at varying times. Generally speaking, grays usually start to sprawl across your scalp in your 30s, and plan an ultimate takeover by the time you reach your 60s. 

But for others, the process may begin as early as their 20s. If you're seeing gray and thinking, "But I'm so young!" find comfort in knowing that it's not necessarily a cause for concern. The timing winds down to genetics—chances are if your parents developed gray hair at a young age, you will too. Feel free to call your parents and yell at them.

That being said, if premature gray hair isn't in your gene pool, or the rate of graying hair is significant, it may be a symptom of something else. One of the biggest culprits, according to trichologists and hairstylists? Stress (surprise, surprise). 

I know it might sound like a cop-out response, but stress directly affects the stem cells that are responsible for regenerating hair pigment. "Stress releases a chemical called norepinephrine into the hair follicle," says William Gaunitz, FWTS, certified trichologist and founder of Advanced Trichology. "The melanocytes that create melanin in the hair stem cells are directly affected by that chemical, reducing the numbers of melanocytes dramatically over time and causing hair to turn gray."

Another very common culprit is deficiency. More specifically, deficiencies in vitamin B, vitamin D, biotin, zinc, and copper can all bring on the early appearance of gray hair. "Keeping these nutrients in check will keep the overall follicle functions at their best, including the efficiencies of anagen, which includes the pigmentation process," says Philip B, scalp expert and the founder of Philip B Hair Care. "Always get enough vitamins and minerals in your diet and eat healthy foods packed with leafy greens, proteins, and B-12 vitamins."

Hairstylist Gina Rivera adds that in addition to ingestion, topical application of these ingredients are also beneficial. "Using products rich in biotin, collagen, and B vitamins are terrific for ensuring that you have a healthy scalp," she says. "Its restoration properties can contribute to maintaining hair health that is needed to maintain your natural hair color longer." She adds that iron, in particular, can help boost the production of melanin in your hair. 

Since deficiencies are a common culprit, it's worth noting that those who suffer from autoimmune disease or thyroid disorders may also experience premature gray hair. If you experience any accompanying symptoms and suspect you may have a condition, consult your doctor straight away.

And lastly, check your products and bleaching habits. Some chemical hair dyes and even shampoos can contribute to premature hair graying. "Products that contain ingredients which decrease melanin are one of the biggest culprits," says Rivera. "Hydrogen peroxide is an example of one frequently used chemical that can cause graying when overused."

Interestingly, there are studies that suggest color lost by deficiency can return with vitamin supplementation, but don't bet on it. Unfortunately, other than the magic of hair dye and implanting pigments, reverting gray hair due to aging is not a known reality—yet. However, if it's any consolation, Philip B. thinks that reversing gray hair will eventually become a reality. "Theories on repigmentation have been circling for years, and there is definitely a future where we find the switch that will help to reverse oxidative stressors based on regenerative medicine," he says. "Now that the skinification of our scalp is such an important part of this industry, these forward-thinking innovations are becoming more possible every day."

Until then, the best thing you can do for yourself is limit UV exposure, get enough vitamins and minerals in your diet, and pay special attention to that scalp—it's the root of all good and bad hair.