Skip to Content

What does GREY hair indicate?

Grey hair is a natural part of the aging process. As we get older, the pigment cells in our hair follicles gradually die. When there are fewer pigment cells in a hair follicle, that strand of hair will no longer contain as much melanin and will become a more transparent color like grey, silver, or white. While genetics play a role, grey hair is primarily caused by aging as the majority of people develop some grey hairs by the age of 50.

Grey hair is not necessarily an indicator of health issues or disease. While it can sometimes be caused by health conditions like vitiligo, thyroid disorders, and alopecia areata, in most cases grey hair is merely a natural sign of aging. However, the timing and pattern of when grey hairs start to appear and spread can provide some clues about a person’s overall health and wellbeing.

When Does Grey Hair Typically Start?

On average, Caucasians begin to grey in their mid-30s, Asians in their late 30s, and African Americans in their mid-40s. However, grey hair can appear in people as young as their 20s and as late as their 50s. Here is a breakdown of when grey hair often begins for most people:


While less common, some people start greying in their 20s and 30s. Premature greying before age 30 affects about 6-23% of the population. It tends to run in families and occurs more often in people with dark hair. Stress may also play a role in premature greying.


Many Caucasians first notice grey hairs in their mid to late 30s. The average age for Caucasians to start greying is 34-35 years old. For Asians, grey hair tends to begin later in the late 30s on average.


African Americans usually start to see grey hair in their mid-40s. By age 50, about 50% of the population has at least some grey hair. At this point, greying is quite normal and expected as part of the aging process.


By the time most people reach their late 50s to early 60s, about 85-95% of their hair has turned grey. Once the greying process starts, it usually spreads relatively quickly over the next 5-10 years.

70s and Beyond

By age 70, most Caucasians have predominantly grey or white hair. For Asians and African Americans, this transition typically occurs in their early to mid 70s on average.

Where Does Grey Hair Appear First?

The greying process does not affect all hairs at the same time. Grey hairs usually start to grow in a scattered and sporadic pattern at first. Here are the places where grey hairs tend to appear first:

  • Sideburns
  • Temples
  • Around the ears
  • Top of the head or crown
  • Front of the head near the forehead and hairline

These tend to form the typical “grey at the temples” pattern we associate with aging. Grey hairs around the sides, top, and front then spread back gradually to the back of the head in most cases.

What Causes Grey Hair?

Let’s take a closer look at the main causes behind those stubborn grey hairs:

Aging and Genetics

As we age, the pigment-producing melanocytes in our hair follicles gradually die. Hair follicles contain reservoirs of melanocytes that can pump out melanin to color our hair. Over decades of wear and tear, these melanocyte stem cells become depleted. Without fresh reservoirs making melanin, our hair turns grey and white.

Genetics play a major role in this aging process. People inherit genes that determine how fast or slow their stores of pigment cells decline over their lifetime. If your parents went grey early, you are more likely to as well.

Oxidative Stress

Oxidative stress accelerates the process of melanocyte death. It causes free radical damage that kills off pigment cells more rapidly. Poor nutrition, smoking, pollution, toxins, and too much sun exposure can lead to more oxidative stress.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency

A lack of vitamin B12 can speed up greying because vitamin B12 helps to regulate the production of melanin. Older adults and vegetarians are prone to B12 deficiency, which may contribute to their grey hair.

Autoimmune Disorders

Certain autoimmune disorders like vitiligo, alopecia areata, and pernicious anemia can cause patchy grey hair. They lead to the immune system mistakenly attacking hair follicles and impacting melanin production.

Medical Conditions

Some medical conditions are linked to greying as well like hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, and Addison’s disease. Premature greying can be an early warning sign to get checked for these disorders.

Emotional Stress

There is some truth to the idea of hair turning grey suddenly due to emotional stress. One theory is that stress hormone fluctuations interfere with melanin production. However, more research is still needed to directly link stress and premature greying.

Does Grey Hair Indicate Health Problems?

While genetics are the primary cause, premature greying can sometimes be a red flag for medical issues. Schedule an appointment with your doctor if greying starts unusually early or seems abnormal:

Thyroid Disorders

Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism have been associated with premature greying of hair. Getting your thyroid levels tested can help rule these out as a cause.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Since vitamin B12 helps produce melanin, a deficiency can contribute to greying. Vegans, vegetarians, and the elderly are at higher risk of B12 deficiency.

Autoimmune Disorders

If your hair is greying in unusual patchy patterns, it may signal alopecia areata or vitiligo. See a dermatologist to check for these autoimmune skin disorders.

Cardiovascular Disease

Some research shows a link between premature greying and heart disease risk factors like smoking, hypertension, and high cholesterol.


Those with insulin resistance and diabetes tend to grey earlier than average. High blood sugar levels can contribute to oxidative stress.

Disorder Possible Symptoms
Thyroid disorders Fatigue, weight changes, hair loss, constipation, depression
Vitamin B12 deficiency Fatigue, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite, weight loss, depression
Autoimmune disorders Patchy hair loss, skin rashes, joint pain, numbness
Cardiovascular disease Chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations, fatigue
Diabetes Frequent urination, increased thirst, fatigue, blurred vision

If you notice any of these accompanying symptoms with premature greying, make an appointment to get checked out. Your doctor can run tests to identify or rule out any underlying disorders.

Can Grey Hair Be Reversed or Prevented?

Unfortunately, grey hair cannot be reversed or prevented altogether. However, some measures may help slow down the greying process:

Eat a Healthy Diet

Antioxidant-rich foods can minimize oxidative stress to your hair follicles. Focus on fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fish, and beans.

Take Vitamin B12

Ensuring you get enough vitamin B12 daily through supplements or fortified foods may postpone grey hair.

Avoid Smoking

Smoking accelerates greying, so quitting can help delay the process.

Use Sun Protection

Limiting sun exposure helps reduce free radical damage that kills pigment cells in hair follicles.

Reduce Stress

While not proven, decreasing emotional stress may help slow the depletion of hair pigment stores.

Try Anti-Greying Formulas

Some hair care products claim to reduce greying. Look for formulas with antioxidants, anti-inflammatory oils, black tea extracts, and B vitamins.

Can You Dye Grey Hair?

Yes, greying hair can easily be disguised by applying either permanent, semi-permanent, or temporary hair dye. Here are some considerations for coloring grey hair:

  • Permanent dyes last 4-6 weeks but permanently change the underlying pigment.
  • Semi-permanent dyes coat the hair and wash out over 4-8 weeks with no bleaching.
  • Temporary rinses or sprays last only 1-2 shampoos and don’t alter pigment.
  • A professional stylist can help match the right tone for natural looking hair color.
  • Grey hair may be more porous and require conditioning treatments.
  • Perform a patch test before dyeing to check for skin sensitivities.

Properly coloring grey hair with professional haircare products can restore your natural color or allow you to experiment with new fun shades.

Does Grey Hair Make You Look Older?

Grey hair is strongly associated with aging and growing older in our society. However, having some grey does not necessarily make someone look significantly older. Here are a few factors to consider:

  • Having around 50% grey coverage tends to age appearance the most.
  • Very little grey (less than 20%) creates a distinguished salt-and-pepper look.
  • Solid blocks of grey or fully white hair signals being elderly.
  • Well-groomed and styled grey hair can look elegant and sophisticated.
  • Going prematurely grey in your 20s-30s can add 5-10 years.
  • Grey hair paired with youthful skin and features appears more striking.

Your overall health, style, and how you carry yourself impact perceived age more than grey hair alone. With smart grooming choices, grey hair can become an attractive and distinctive part of your look.

Does Grey Hair Mean You Are Stressed?

There is a commonly held belief that grey hairs serve as a barometer for your stress levels. While emotional stress may play some role in greying, keep in mind:

  • No direct link between everyday stress and greying has been proven.
  • Genetics are still the primary cause of grey hair, not stress alone.
  • People with anxiety do not seem to grey prematurely.
  • Relaxed, easy-going people also eventually grey with age.
  • Having some grey hairs is not a definitive sign you are stressed.
  • Your hair will likely grey with the natural aging process regardless.

While more studies on stress hormones and hair pigment are still needed, it seems grey hair remains a normal part of growing older for all people regardless of stress levels. Don’t assume your grey hairs mean you are stressed if your hair is greying on schedule based on your age and genetics.

Is Grey Hair Thicker or Coarser?

Contrary to popular belief, grey hair tends to be thinner and finer as it loses pigment. Here is a look at how grey hair changes texture:

  • Grey hair shrinks in diameter compared to pigmented hair.
  • It becomes less dense and loses structural strength over time.
  • Grey hair feels softer and finer to the touch.
  • However, coarse thick hair may seem even more wiry when unpigmented.
  • Curly hair can appear more frizzy when greying due to lack of weight.
  • Hair conditioners may be needed more frequently for grey hair.

The coarseness of your natural hair type combined with this thinning effect impacts how textured grey hair appears. In general, healthy grey hair is more fragile and delicate than pigmented hair. Gentle handling and moisture are important.

Is Prematurely Grey Hair Genetic?

Grey hair that develops before age 30 is largely influenced by your genetics. Research shows:

  • Up to 23% of premature greying is hereditary.
  • People with family members who went grey early are more likely to as well.
  • Premature greying genes lower the age threshold for pigment loss.
  • Genes that control melanin production and storage underlie premature greying.

However, keep in mind many genetic factors and lifestyle habits team up to influence when you ultimately go grey. If you notice premature greying, get your full health evaluated to identify any potential contributing factors you can modify to slow the process.


While greying hair is a natural part of aging, our hair color continues to profoundly shape our self-image and how the world perceives us. Understanding the factors that cause hair to turn grey can help you determine if medical attention is needed for premature greying. With knowledge and smart cosmetic choices, grey hair can become an attractive hallmark of maturity rather than an unwanted sign of advanced age.