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Now we know what causes some to go gray earlier than others

Ever find yourself scanning your head furiously for those errant gray hairs so you can banish them from your scalp? You’re not alone. According to a worldwide survey, up to 23 percent of the population can expect to have about half their hair turn gray by the time they’re 50.

But why are people (and several other species) afflicted with the graying experience? And more important, why do some people get gray hairs far younger than others? The simple answer is that your parents probably have something to do with it. No, not because they stress you out, although I’m sure that’s responsible for making you look older in other ways, but rather because of their genes.

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According to a study conducted by University College in London and recently published in the journal Nature Communications, if you’re prematurely going gray, you can throw your parents a big chunk of the blame. The researchers looked at the hair types of 6,300 Latin American people of European, Native American and African descent and compared them to the owners’ genomes. What they discovered was that the Europeans who went gray sooner have the gene IRF4, which scientists believe is one of the genes responsible for taking the color out of hair follicles.

After analyzing all the data, the researchers came to the conclusion that 30 percent of graying is caused by genetics, while 70 percent is caused by environmental factors. So you can send at least about a third of the blame to your folks.

As for the environmental factors that are at work robbing you of your lustrous hair color, these are the biggest culprits:

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1. Smoking

Along with a slew of other terrible side effects, smoking has been linked to premature graying. According to a 2013 study, smokers are two and a half times more likely to develop gray hair early on (like, before 30). That’s certainly the quickest way to stop getting carded at bars.

2. Stress

While there is no hard-and-fast evidence that says stress can cause those little gray hairs to show up faster, photos of Obama before and after his eight years in office have convinced many. According to a 2011 study conducted by Nobel Prize winner Robert Lefkowitz, the energy your body uses up in fight-or-flight scenarios could be damaging your DNA, which in turn can cause premature aging and graying.

3. Pollution

If you live in a bustling metropolis, chances are you’ll go gray before your friends in the suburbs. There are harmful reactive oxygen radicals in pollution that can go to work on your hair follicles, damaging the hair cells as they form. That’s one great reason we all should give up the busy life and move to the country!

So what can you do if you start to notice more and more of those silver strands taking up residence on your scalp? Well, you can either pluck them (because the idea that three will grow in its place is a myth) or wait for a cure from Europe, which, according to a long-standing study, is imminent.

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