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What is premature greying of hair or premature canities?

We use the term “Premature greying of hair or Premature canities”(1) when hair starts turning grey:

  • Before the age of 20 in white skinned.
  • Before the age of 25 in Asians.
  • Before the age of 30 in Africans.

1. Hereditary: Premature greying is inherited as an Autosomal dominant trait, which means either of your parents; siblings or close relatives might have the history of going grey at an early age.

2. Autoimmune disorders: Premature greying of hair is common in those who have an autoimmune disease like pernicious anaemia, hyper- or hypothyroidism.

3. Premature ageing syndrome: As expected, a rare cause of greying early is premature ageing syndrome like Progeria and Pangeria. This is very rare syndromes wherein other changes of ageing like wrinkling of the face, weak bones, diabetes, cataract, etc. are also evident at a very early age.

4. Atopic diathesis: Allergy in lungs (asthma), eye (allergic conjunctivitis) nose (allergic rhinitis) or skin (atopic dermatitis) might be associated with the early greying of hair.

5. Nutritional causes: Unlike commonly thought of, only severe or chronic loss of proteins, iron, folic acid, vitamin B12 and copper can cause premature greying of hair. This occurs commonly in the case of various malabsorption syndromes, nephrosis, kwashiorkor, etc. One study showed significantly low levels of Calcium, Vitamin D3 and Ferritin in people with premature greying of hair. Yet another study showed low copper level in healthy kids of average age 15 with premature greying of hair.

6. Undue stress: Daily stress cannot cause greying of hair, however, undue stress both physical and mental can cause reversible greying of hair.

7. Medications: Premature greying of hair can be caused by following drugs:

  • Chloroquine
  • Mephenesin
  • Phenylthiourea
  • Triparanol
  • Fluoro butyrophenone
  • Dixyrazine
  • Epidermal growth factor receptor inhibitor
  • Interferon-alpha

8. Medical disorders: Premature canities can also occur in diseases like HIV infection, cystic fibrosis, and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

9. Smoking and substance abuse: Both chronic smoking and drug abuse have shown correlation with early greying of hair.

10. Environmental damage: Damaging reactive oxygen radicals generated as a result of pollution, UV rays from sun, inflammatory stress in localised scalp diseases, harsh chemicals, etc. might damage pigment forming the cell of hair and hence, lead to premature greying.

Treatment of grey hair

The dermatologist consultation usually begins by finding the cause of premature grey of hair. If needed, your doctor might request you to check the levels of iron, folic acid, copper, vitamin B12, thyroid hormones, etc.

If test result shows a nutritional deficiency, then you might have to take supplements.

If the thyroid hormonal profile is deranged, you might need a further check-up to rule out the auto-immune cause.


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