Because you wondered what was up with all those silver strands.
Your mom (or dad) grayed early
Steel-colored locks are partly in your genes, says Doris Day, MD, clinical associate professor of dermatology at New York University Langone Medical Center and author of Forget the Facelift. A new study published in Nature Communications isolated one gene variant linked to graying after researchers analyzed hair features of 6,000 Latin Americans. Though you might be surprised about just how much gray you have if you’ve been coloring your hair for years (or decades), says Dr. Day. And you can blame mom and dad. Just like whether you go bald or not, graying genes come from both sides of the family, says Dr. Day. Don’t fall for these common hair myths.
You may have an autoimmune condition
The autoimmune skin disease called alopecia areata can lead to bright white strands. As the National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF) explains, people with the condition develop small, round, smooth patches on the scalp, and they can completely lose hair on their head or body. “This happens because your immune system attacks your hair follicles, making your hair fall out. When it grows back, it grows back white,” explains Dr. Day. Some 6.6 million people in America have or will develop the condition, according to the NAAF. If you notice worrisome hair loss or a bald patch, talk to your dermatologist.
Your environment is polluted
Pollutants and toxins can cause you to gray faster, according to the Library of Congress. These chemicals generate free radicals—or oxidative stress—that damage melanin production and speed hair aging, studies suggest. But once hair grows out of the follicle, it’s dead, adds Dr. Day. “It’s really about what gets to the follicle level that will make the most marked difference. While these environmental issues may have an impact, other reasons, like stress, matter more,” she says. (More on that in a minute.) Here’s what your hair is desperately trying to tell you about your health.