Seeing a few silvery-white strands of hair at an early age can be troubling. If you’re in your twenties or thirties, you don’t expect to see too any graying. However, premature gray hair is more common than you might think. But, is there a link between dry scalp and gray hair?
The answer is: Yes and no. There are several conditions that are also associated with dry scalp that can cause a loss of pigmentation. Scientifically, the medical term for graying hair is canities. Most people will experience it during their lifetime, but the age that we start to see it is different for everyone.
It’s normal to have at least half a head of white hair by the time you reach 50. Of course, there are exceptions both ways. Some people won’t experience a lot of graying until they’re older, and others experience it much earlier in life. Race and gender can be factors. For example, men tend to turn gray sooner than women, but it is perceived differently.
In this article, we’ll talk about canities. We’ll also cover what causes it, both naturally with aging, and why people experience it prematurely. Since your hair is such a great tool to showcase your health and vitality, we will also cover the link between dry scalp and gray hair, and if there is anything you can do to treat it or reverse it. If you do feel your hair is whitening prematurely, know that you’re not alone.
Table of Contents:
- 1 What Is Canities?
- 1.1 What is Melanin, & How Does it Affect Hair Color?
- 1.2 Is Getting Gray Hair Early Avoidable?
- 1.3 Is Gray Hair Dead?
- 1.4 What Are the Causes of Canities?
- 1.5 Is There a Way to Treat a Loss of Pigmentation?
- 1.6 How to Treat a Dry Scalp
- 1.7 Embracing Gray Hair at Any Age
What Is Canities?
Canities is the diminishing nature of the natural pigment in your hair. We often call it ‘gray hair,’ but there is actually a spectrum of different colors that it can be, from white, to a silvery-white, etc. Typically, it’s a perfectly normal part of the aging process. To better understand canities and why it occurs, it’s important to understand the parts of the hair.
Every single hair is made up of two different parts: The shaft and the root. Understanding the difference in those specific parts helps us to understand why our hair changes color.
The shaft is the part we typically see. It’s what grows out of our heads, has color, etc. The root keeps our hair secured within the scalp. It is the hub of everything that happens as far as hair growth and color. Obviously, we don’t always pay as much attention to the root as the shaft, but it’s actually what’s more important in understanding why hair loses its pigmentation.
Underneath the skin, the root of each hair is surrounded by a hair follicle, which is a tube of tissue. The follicle is what contains the pigmentation for our hair, in a number of cells. The pigment cells in the follicle naturally create a chemical called melanin.
What is Melanin, & How Does it Affect Hair Color?
This chemical gives your hair its color. Whether you have red, black, brown, or blonde hair, it’s caused by melanin. It’s also the chemical that gives our skin its pigmentation and makes some skin darker than others. So, if melanin gives our hair its color, why does it eventually become gray?
With age, the pigment cells in our hair follicles begin to die out. When there is less pigmentation, the hair becomes a lighter color, or more transparent. This can give it the appearance of being gray, or white. The older we get, the less melanin cells we have, which explains why elderly people often have full heads of white or gray hair.
Why Do We Stop Producing Melanin?
Even though some research has been done on the subject, we still don’t know exactly why our bodies produce less and less melanin as we get older. There is also no synthetic substitute for the chemical. Some research suggests that getting more sun, and beta carotine can help to boost the melanin your body naturally produces, but this tends to focus more on skin pigmentation, rather than hair.
One of the most popular theories as to why we gray over time has to do with free radicals. Free radicals are naturally produced within our bodies, when different metabolic processes take place. The production of melanin is actually one of these processes.
It has been suggested that free radicals can damage the cells that produce melanin over time, but this is a controversial statement with little evidence. Until more research is completed, we may never know exactly why the natural aging process allows our body to produce less and less melanin. But, it is that process that gives us white, silvery locks of hair as we get older.
Why Do People Get Gray Hair At a Young Age?
Premature gray hair isn’t all that uncommon. It can happen to people in their early twenties, or even teenagers in high school. In most cases, the age in which we start experiencing canities is based on our genes. If your parents and/or grandparents started getting gray hair early on, it’s not unlikely that you will experience the same situation. It is considered to be a dominant trait in genetics.
If genetics are the only factor causing your hair to lose its pigmentation, there isn’t much you can do to stop the process. It’s something that is essentially ‘set in stone’ from the time you are born.
Additional Hereditary Factors
As touched on above, how quickly you go gray can also have a lot to do with your gender, and ethnic background. Most men will begin experiencing gray hair in their 30s, while it can take longer for women. Caucasians also tend to experience gray hair earlier than other races, such as Asian and African American.
There are some medical conditions that can also contribute to white hair at an early age, including things like vitiligo, which affects the pigmentation of the skin and hair. Or, Werner’s Syndrome, which gives the appearance of premature aging. These conditions are why it’s so important to understand the causes of gray hair at an early age.
Normal graying of the hair can simply be a part of genetics as you get older. Most genetic conditions or medical issues that cause premature discoloration are discovered at an early age. If you don’t feel as though it’s genetics that may be causing your gray hair, let’s take a look at some of the other common causes, including how dry scalp may factor into a loss of pigmentation.
Is Getting Gray Hair Early Avoidable?
Unfortunately, when genetics are a factor, there isn’t much you can do to avoid them. Getting gray hair at an early age may not be easy from a cosmetic standpoint, but there is likely nothing you can do to stop it, other than consider other possible factors and make the changes necessary to make sure it doesn’t continue as much as possible.
Gray hair will happen to just about everyone over time. Experiencing it at a younger age doesn’t have to feel so traumatic. If need be, you can cover your graying locks with dye, or other head coverings.
Is Gray Hair Dead?
There are many common myths behind gray hair. Some include the idea that if you pull one hair out, two will grow in its place. Or, washing it every day will keep it from whitening. One of the most questioned of these myths is whether or not gray hair is actually ‘dead’ hair.
Technically, all hair is dead. The long locks that come out from your scalp aren’t actually living. That’s why getting a haircut doesn’t cause any pain. It is the roots of the hair, underneath the scalp that are alive. The shaft is not.
Your actual hair is dead whether or not it is gray, or full of color and vibrancy. Don’t assume because you’re experiencing grayness that you’ve done something to kill your hair, or damage it for good. Hair without pigmentation can be perfectly healthy and strong when taken care of properly. Because myths like this are so popular, and can be confusing, knowing some of the actual causes of canities can be an important resource.
What Are the Causes of Canities?
Aside from hereditary factors, there are other reasons why people experience gray hair, especially prematurely. While it’s mostly a cosmetic issue, it can be frustrating if you’re younger and don’t want the stigma of being ‘old’ attached to you.
Some of the other common causes of canities include:
- Stress: One of the most common causes of premature gray hair is stress. There are some theories and myths that suggest your hair can turn white overnight if you’re stressed or frightened enough. While there isn’t much research to back that up, prolonged stress can absolutely change the pigmentation of your hair.
Stress hormones can affect the cells that produce melanin. Because your body will concentrate on making sure your necessary organs have the nutrients and oxygen they need, it will focus less on things like hair follicles. Thus, these cells can become weaker and die out, causing gray hair. It doesn’t happen overnight, and normal everyday stress isn’t likely to cause it. But, severe prolonged stress can absolutely play a factor.
- Smoking: Smoking is harmful to many areas of the body, including your scalp. It actually reduces the amount of oxygen your hair receives. This makes it hard for the hair to stay healthy, and reduces its ability to produce pigment. Thus, resulting in graying hair. Unfortunately, getting dry scalp after quitting smoking is common.
- Nutritional/Vitamin Deficiencies: Again, your hair is usually a good indicator of your overall health. Sometimes, issues with it can stem from something as basic as your daily nutrition – or lack thereof. Vitamins play a huge part in the overall pigmentation of hair. A loss of things like Vitamin B12, iron, and folic acid can cause graying. If you’re concerned that you may not be getting adequate nutrition, a doctor can perform a blood test to determine what you’re lacking.
Is There a Link Between Dandruff and Gray Hair?
Usually, dandruff and/or seborrheic dermatitis don’t cause gray hair. However, there are issues with the scalp that can contribute to it. A dry scalp itself won’t produce gray hair, but some of the factors that cause a dry scalp can also be linked to a loss of pigmentation.
Two of the biggest components that link dry scalp with canities are:
- An unclean scalp: Our scalps naturally produce sebum. This keeps the scalp healthy, and keeps our hair shiny. However, a buildup of these oils isn’t good. Not only can it cause itching and flaking, but it can eventually lead to a change in your hair color.
If you haven’t washed your hair in several days, a buildup of oils can occur on the scalp. This is different from seborrheic dermatitis, where the body creates an overproduction of sebum. By not washing your hair/scalp, the buildup can clog your pores. When the pores are clogged, you may not be getting adequate nutrition to your hair follicles. As you now know, the follicles are what contain melanin. If your follicles can utilize the nutrients and oxygen they need, you could experience gray hair, or even hair loss.
- Hair habits: It’s not uncommon for most people to process their hair in some way. Between the use of chemically-enhanced products and tools for the hair, it can easily become damaged and over-worked. This can become a vicious cycle. Things like blow dryers and flat irons can damage hair follicles because of excess heat. If the follicles are damaged, the melanin cells also become damaged.
More often than not, people who discover gray hair (especially prematurely) try to cover it up. This is often done by dyeing it, either at home or professionally. Unfortunately, dyeing your hair can also cause damage to the follicles. Over time, it can do so much damage, that your hair may not be able to naturally produce its proper pigmentation. Be aware of the hair products and tools you’re using on a regular basis.
A dry, itchy scalp can also sometimes be caused by environmental factors. Everything from harsh, cold weather to UV rays can cause damage to the scalp. It can also increase the likelihood of graying hair. Any of these factors can damage the pigmentation cells needed for hair color, and lead to premature discoloration.
Is There a Way to Treat a Loss of Pigmentation?
Unfortunately, there is no way to reverse the effects of your hair turning gray, no matter the cause. Once a follicle has been damaged, that particular strand of hair will remain gray. The only way to potentially reverse the effects is if your body had some type of underlying rare illness that triggered it to begin with.
So, while there is no way to turn back the hands of time, even in premature graying, there are things you can do to help hide your gray hair, and ways to prevent further graying.
While the most effective method for hiding whitened hair is dyeing, that can be damaging over time. If you do choose to dye your hair, try to use products without harmful chemicals or ammonia. The more natural of a product you can find the better. Some people even use home remedies to temporarily get rid of the gray. Some of the most common home solutions are:
- Rinsing tea through the hair
- Rinsing coffee through the hair
Again, these solutions are usually temporary. Using a hair dye will last longer, but that too will eventually fade out, so it’s something you need to remain consistent with if you always want to hide the look of your hair.
How to Prevent Additional Graying
Some of the causes listed here can be remedied by a few choices and changes. Unfortunately, other causes won’t allow you to prevent further graying very much. Like many scalp and hair conditions, there is nothing that can prevent a loss of pigmentation 100%.
However, there are a few things you can do to slow the progression of gray hair, and try to prevent it from coming on earlier than expected. Try some of the following preventative methods to keep your scalp, hair, and pigmentation cells healthy.
- Avoid blow drying as much as possible if you have white or gray hair. If you can let it air dry, it’s best for the overall health of your hair.
- Try to avoid using all heated styling tools, such as flat irons and curlers. Heat can make white hair look frizzy and even coarser. If you must use heated tools, be sure to use a heat protectant spray beforehand.
- Don’t expose your hair or scalp to harsh environmental elements. If it’s a bright sunny day, cover your head with a cap or bandana to avoid exposure to UV rays.
- Limit dyeing your hair, and increase the gap between your coloring sessions.
One of the unfortunately realizations about gray hair is that it is often much coarser and rougher than hair with pigmentation. It is also usually dryer and can even be brittle. While using the right shampoo and conditioner might not help you to get rid of gray hair, moisture-rich products can help to hydrate it and improve the appearance.
Making Lifestyle Changes to Reduce the Risk
Again, once you get gray hair, you can’t reverse it. But, once you know the cause of it, you can make some preventative changes to slow its appearance. Based on the possible causes listed earlier in this article, you can use the following tips to counteract the graying of your hair.
- Treating an unclean scalp might seem simple, but there is a fine line when it comes to overall scalp maintenance. It requires using the right hair products, and perhaps showering less. You don’t want to create a buildup of oil because you’re unclean, but showering with hot water too often can actually strip your scalp of these oils and make it dry and flaky. Instead, wash your hair every other day, and use moisturizing, hydrating hair products if necessary.
- It might not always be easy to reduce stress levels, but if constant underlying stress is causing your hair to fall out or become gray, it’s important to take whatever steps you can to alleviate it. Not only is it not good for your hair, but it could have damaging effects to other areas of your body, too. Everything from exercising, to meditative breathing techniques can be used to help with stress and anxiety. Find something that works specifically for you, and stick with it to stay calm.
- Smoking can cause a slew of different health problems, but it’s extremely damaging to your hair. It may not be easy to quit, but if it’s the culprit behind your graying hair, it’s worth it to seek out different options that can help you to get rid of your smoking habit for good.
- If you feel as though you’re not getting the nutrition or vitamins you need, again, you should see a doctor. They’ll be able to give you better insight into what your body needs more of. However, you can start by taking a supplement on your own. Multivitamins are a great way to ensure your body is getting the nutrients it needs. If you need more of something specific, your doctor will likely prescribe that vitamin or protein to you.
How to Treat a Dry Scalp
If you find that your graying hair is linked to the same problems that can cause dry scalp, you need to start by treating the dry scalp issues before focusing on your hair. Otherwise, the loss of pigmentation will keep occurring, even if you try to cover it up.
To treat a dry scalp, you need to first know what might be causing it. The possible causes listed here (environmental factors and hair products/habits) are some of the most common. If you have a skin condition, such as eczema or psoriasis, you should see a dermatologist for treatment options.
Other symptoms of a dry scalp include:
Many of the treatment options for a dry scalp are similar to the ones listed to help with graying hair, including:
- Proper nutrition/vitamins
- Avoiding chemical hair products and heat
- Avoiding extreme environmental conditions
Of course, there are over-the-counter products that can also help with dry scalp and dandruff, including natural shampoos, such as Christina Moss Naturals Shampoo, that won’t strip your hair of its essential nutrients. Home remedies have also become extremely popular for getting rid of dry scalp. Some of the most common home remedies that have seen anecdotal success are:
- Tea tree oil – Has antiseptic, antibacterial, and antifungal properties to help against a variety of scalp/skin conditions. Also works as an anti-inflammatory for itchy scalps.
- Coconut oil – Helps to soothe inflamed skin and lock in moisture to treat an overly-dry scalp.
- Apple cider vinegar – An apple cider vinegar solution can balance out the pH levels of the scalp, making it less itchy and red.
- Aloe vera – Aloe vera helps to soothe inflamed skin and reduce the urge to itch.
Once you discover the cause of your dry scalp, treating it can help to prevent some of the other uncomfortable symptoms. It can also help to reduce the likelihood of you losing more pigmentation in your hair.
Embracing Gray Hair at Any Age
Ironically enough, many young adults and teenagers are embracing the gray hair look on their own, whether it comes naturally or not. Silver and white hair dye has become very popular among a younger audience.
However, dyeing your hair gray or white is quite different from experiencing because of an underlying cause. Gray hair has a different look and feel to it than hair with pigmentation, so it’s easy to spot the difference.
Aside from dyeing your hair back to its original color, and making sure you’re living a healthy lifestyle, there isn’t much anyone can do about hair that grays quickly, even at a premature age. If you have other symptoms of a dry scalp, you may be able to link them together somehow. Be sure to treat the scalp condition first, so it will prevent more white hairs from showing up on your scalp.
Until we figure out why our bodies naturally stop producing melanin as we get older, most of us will be forced to deal with a lack of pigmentation in our hair at some point. It may have something to do with dry scalp at the time, or it may simply be your genetics catching up with you. Whatever the cause, it’s best to embrace the fact that you have gray hair, instead of worrying about covering it up constantly.