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Gray Hair Percentage Chart by Age: What the Data Says

Gray hair is often no stranger to the aging process. Much like wrinkles, natural hair with gray color is typically a given as an effect of getting older. 

Whether you embrace your salt-and-pepper hair, cover your gray hairs with highlights and hair dye, or something in between, we may want to know more about what causes hair to turn gray.

Going gray is associated with aging, but this isn’t always the case. Some of us may experience premature graying, while others will never have a single strand of gray hair on their heads. Numerous components are at play, ranging from environmental factors to family history. 

Most women begin to experience graying in their 40s and 50s. You may be surprised to know that the percentage of women with gray hair at any given age most often lies within our genes and ethnicity. 

Here’s what the data says about gray hair — how it happens, at what ages we can expect the graying process to begin, and how to care for your silver locks.

Why Does Hair Turn Gray?

Our scalp is covered in tons of hair follicles — this is where our hair grows. Each of these hair follicles contains pigment cells known as melanocytes. Like the pigment of paint, these melanocyte cells influence our hair color. 

Pigment cells produce melanin, giving the hair strand a unique color. Melanin also gives our skin its color and is present in freckles. How dark or light the color of our hair ends up is determined by the amount of melanin present in each individual strand.

As we age, the pigment in our hair follicles begins to decrease. The hair strand will contain less melanin with fewer melanocytepigment cells in a hair follicle. Hair pigmentation will then become more transparent, producing light shades like white, gray, and silver. 

Eventually, aging hair may go completely gray. Getting older means that because less melanin is present in our hair, our hair texture also changes. Gray hair is often more coarse and frizzy.

Whether or not you will experience salt and pepper strands, a few white hairs, or a completely silver mane will depend on numerous considerations.

What Percentage of the Population Has Gray Hair?

It makes sense to assume that most of our natural color soon becomes dappled with gray as the years go on. But just how many people experience the graying of hair or premature hair graying?

Dermatologists once claimed to have a statistic in regard to gray hair. The saying was that 50 percent of the population has a 50 percent chance of having gray hair at age 50. This is known as the 50-50-50 rule. 

In reality, only six to 23 percent of 50-year-olds have primarily gray hair. And only around one percent of the population is believed to have gray or white hair. While a single percent sounds small, that is approximately 78 million people.

Rest assured that you are not alone when it comes to gray-colored hair. Let’s take a look at more of the data surrounding gray hair. 

When Will I Go Gray?

When it comes to the graying process, many factors come into play. Genetics, gender, ethnicity, health, and age are all at play with gray hair production.

Some people will begin to see their first gray hairs in their 20s. This is known as premature hair graying and can be caused by genetics and psychological stress. The most notable signs of graying tend to occur in the 30s and 40s and a significant, or full graying, starts around 50 years of age. 

Another noteworthy piece of information? Women tend to gray later in life compared to men. But most importantly, genetics can be the biggest indicator of when you’ll start seeing gray hairs instead of the natural color in your hair shaft. Look to your parents to see what age they began to gray and what age they became fully gray. 

What’s the Average Age for Getting Gray Hair?

You may remember when you looked in the mirror and noticed your first gray or white hair coming in. After a few days, you may have noticed multiple gray hairs. You likely began seeing them around the same time as your peers. 

Depending on your race, the average age for first signs of graying is the mid-30s for Caucasians, late-30s for those of Asian descent, and mid-40s for African Americans. It is believed that the overall average age when human hair starts to turn gray equates to a person’s early 40s.

Other Factors That Can Cause Gray or White Hair

Gray or white hair doesn't just come with age. There are both external and internal circumstances that can come into play.

Much like alopecia or hair loss, gray hair can be caused by deficiencies, medications, or illnesses. Vitamin B12 deficiency is one of the most common reasons for signs of gray hair. Vitamin B12 is found in a variety of animal products like poultry, eggs, dairy, and fish. 

One surprising source can be found in a highly concentrated form in nutritional yeast. Five grams of nutritional yeast contains 313 percent of the recommended daily value. 

According to the USDA, chicken only contains four percent of the daily value in 100 grams. Vitamin B12 is an important nutrient that we should be mindful of. With age, the deficiency rates of Vitamin B12 increase. Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin that maintains the health of blood and nerve cells.

Thyroid disease is a very common cause of gray hair in those under 50. The thyroid controls how you metabolize nutrients. When nutrients aren’t properly absorbed, this can take a toll on every cell in the body. 

If pigment cells (melanocytes) are not receiving the required nutrients to produce melanin, hair can appear gray or white. As we age, our ability to metabolize nutrients lessens. Eating healthier and getting the necessary vitamins and nutrients becomes even more important in our later years. 

Contact your medical provider if you suspect a thyroid problem is to blame for premature graying. They can order a full blood panel to check for any conditions. As we get older, getting routine blood work is a good idea, as it is often a good indicator of general health and wellness. 

Another possible source of premature gray hair or grey hair can be medications. Medication-induced gray hair is not as common of an issue but is still something to keep in mind. 

Certain cancer medications, for example, can inhibit the production of melanin and can lead to premature graying. Gray hair due to medication is typically rare but still worth a doctor's visit to ensure other parts of your body aren’t being affected.

Another interesting possible source of gray hair is through oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an abundance of unstable molecules with not enough antioxidants to remove them. 

The result is tissue damage and a chance of gray hair as a side effect. Sources of oxidative stress can be lifestyle and diet-related, like poor diet, smoking, alcohol, and obesity. There are even environmental causes from air pollution, sun exposure, pesticides, and radiation. 

Premature graying may also indicate a medical problem in certain instances. One of them is vitiligo, a condition that causes depigmentation of the skin, pernicious anemia, which can impact the absorption of vitamin B12 in the body or issues with the thyroid or pituitary glands.

How Do I Care for Gray Hair?

For an aging person, gray hair will be prone to breakage and must be treated delicately. The most important part of caring for aging hair is to keep it moisturized and strong by providing nutrients it could be missing.

The shampoo and conditioner you choose to use can make, or literally break, your hair. Most hair care products available in stores are aimed at the widest customer base possible. With such a wide cast, they aren’t always made with gray hair in mind.

Better Not Younger creates products made to specifically care for and nourish aging hair. Our Better Hair Quiz can get even deeper in determining what hair care products can cater to your unique needs.

Hair Care Products for Gray Hair

Our Gray Hair Bundle is a great place to start when looking for a new shower routine. The bundle includes purple shampoo, a repairing conditioner, a purple mask, and a heat protectant spray. 

The Silver Lining Purple Brightening Shampoo For Gray & White Hair brightens, volumizes, and strengthens gray hair. It was specifically formulated to tone the brassy look of gray, silver, and blonde hair, while it hydrates, strengthens, and adds volume. 

Following up the shampoo in your new routine is our Second Chance Repairing Conditioner for Dry or Damaged Hair. Second Chance will nourish the scalp and strands of fragile gray hair needing special care. It will leave your hair looking moisture-rich and with a healthy shine.

Our Silver Lining Purple Butter Masque For Gray & White Hair works to deeply nourish, soften, and condition gray, silver, and white hair. This hair masque is full of natural ingredients like mango, avocado, green coffee, vitamins, and more. It will gently take care of coarse and brittle hair strands, which often go hand in hand with gray hair. It will also remove any unwanted yellow tones, leaving you with pristine silver.

For the days when styling is a must, our No Remorse Heat Protection & Taming Spray is the perfect companion to these routine. Simply apply before using any heat tools for hydration and protection up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Our proprietary oil blend shields the hair strands from extreme heat while nourishing them.

Whether you’ve just gotten your first gray hair or are a seasoned silver-stranded pro, the data shows you’re not alone. It’s helpful to know your background when it comes to ethnicity, genetics, and any external factors that could come into play regarding gray hair. 

The data doesn’t lie: gray hair can happen at any age. You may choose to color your gray hair or let the silver grow in gracefully — there is no right or wrong answer to owning gray hair.

Sources:

Biology of Aging | National Institute of Aging

Definition of Melanocyte | NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms

The Science of Gray Hair | Center for Healthy Aging

Greying of the Human Hair | PMC

Hair Graying Pattern Depends on Gender, Onset Age and Smoking Habits | Medical Journal

Nutritional Yeast: Nutrients, Health Benefits, and Uses | Healthline

Chicken Nutrition Facts | USDA

Nutrition Concerns for Aging Populations | NCBI Bookshelf

Definition of Oxidative Stress | NCI Dictionary of Cancer Terms

Premature Graying of Hair: Review with Updates | PMC

Pernicious Anemia - StatPearls | NCBI Bookshelf