Gray hair is unwelcome at any age, but can be particularly distressful to teens who are at the age where appearance is of utmost importance. Hair color is created by melancyte cells that reside within the hair follicles. At some point during a lifetime, the activity of the melanocytes starts to wane and produce less pigmentation, resulting in gray hairs. Gray hairs typically don't begin to appear until after age 30, but a reduction in melanin production can begin as early as the teenage years, according to the Go Ask Alice publication of Columbia University.
A clinical study published in a 1996 issue of the British Medical Journal found a connection between the appearance of gray hair before age 30 and cigarette smoking. Researchers examined more than 600 women and men, and approximately 300 of them were cigarette smokers. They discovered a link between smoking and premature graying, attributing it to toxins in cigarette smoke that damages hormones and hair follicles, according to an associated article in The New York Times. The cigarette smokers were four times more likely to experience premature graying. Another study, conducted by Jordan University Hospital and published in a 2013 issue of Indian Dermatology Journal Online, concluded that smoking can harm the melanin-producing cells in hair follicles, leading to premature graying before age 30.
Inadequate nutrition is another possible cause of premature hair graying. Deficiencies in vitamin B12, iodine and iron can lead to gray hair in teens, according to Go Ask Alice. Ensure your teen is getting enough natural sources of hair-protective nutrients by including liver, eggs, milk and peanuts in his diet. Vitamin B12 is plentiful in animal foods, so if your teen is a vegetarian, he might be suffering from a deficiency and require vitamin supplementation. Other factors that can hamper the body's ability to properly absorb and use B12 include small bowel or stomach surgery and illnesses of the small bowel, such as diverticulosis.
Certain medical conditions can cause your teenager's hair to become prematurely gray. Premature graying is often an early sign of some anemias, including anemia caused by vitamin B12 deficiency. Thyroid disorders, particularly hyperthyroidism, can slow down melanocyte production. The skin pigmentation disorder, vitiligo, is another possible cause of premature graying. If your teen is fighting certain diseases, such as Vogt-Koyanagi syndrome or neurofibromatosis, the protective antibodies that are battling the virus often destroy the melanin pigment, which can lead to gray hair.
If your teen is experiencing premature graying, schedule an appointment with his physician to learn the underlying cause and rule out any nutritional deficiencies or illnesses, recommends pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene. The doctor will give your teen a complete physical examination, including a full blood count, a thyroid functional panel and a check of his vitamin B12 level. If no serious illness or deficiency is found, your teen might wish to cover the gray hair with chemical rinses or hair dyes. Dr. Greene further advises that your teen only use vegetable dyes to cover gray hair -- chemical rinses and dyes have been linked to the development of skin cancer.