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    Experts explain why some of us are destined to sport the 'distinguished' look at an early age.

    By Daphne Sashin

    Reviewed by Emmy M. Graber, MD

    WebMD Feature

    Premature Graying: Reasons, Options

    Salt and pepper, silver, pewter, charcoal. Whatever you call it, gray hair happens to all of us at some point. But why do some people go gray in their 20s while others don’t see the first sign of silver until age 50? If you’re going gray early, what are your options?

    woman looking in mirror

    What’s 'Premature'

    Hair goes gray when color-producing cells stop producing pigment, says Jeffrey Benabio, MD, a dermatologist at Kaiser Permanente in San Diego. Naturally occurring hydrogen peroxide can also build up in the hair, bleaching the color.

    Typically, white people start going gray in their mid-30s, Asians in their late 30s, and African-Americans in their mid-40s. Half of all people have a significant amount of gray hair by the time they turn 50.

    A white person is considered to be prematurely gray if his or her hair turns gray by age 20; gray before 30 is early for African-Americans.

    Medical Problem?

    Going gray, by itself, does not mean you have a medical problem, except in rare cases.

    Contrary to popular belief, stress has not been shown to cause gray hair. Scientists don’t know exactly why some people go gray early, but genes play a large role.

    Also, a vitamin B-12 deficiency or problems with your pituitary or thyroid gland can cause premature graying that’s reversible if the problem is corrected, Benabio says.

    Some research has suggested a connection between premature graying and lower bone density later in life. But in 2007, a study of about 1,200 California men and women showed no such link.

    "Your level of bone density is related to activity level, your weight, your height, your ethnicity. It’s not related to your hair or the things controlling the color of your hair," says researcher Deborah J. Morton, PhD, of the University of California, San Diego.

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