Children and Gray Hair

My 4-year-old son has had scattered gray hairs for about two years. Does he have a vitamin deficiency? Does this mean he will be prematurely gray?
Debbie O’Leary – Indiana University – Bloomington, Indiana

Children and Gray Hair

Dr. Greene’s Answer:

Hair color is produced by tiny cells called melanocytes that live within the hair follicles. In the course of a lifetime, the activity of the melanocytes in each follicle begins to wane, resulting in gray hairs. Each individual’s melanocyte-clock is different, but in Caucasians this reduction of melanocyte activity usually occurs earlier than in other groups. If gray hairs appear in childhood, this is called premature graying, or canities (pronounced kah-nish’-eez).

The appearance of gray hairs may be the result of a child’s genetically determined maturational schedule. If so, it is likely (but not certain) that others in the family tree would have followed a similar schedule. If these others had scattered gray hairs in childhood, but did not progress to a full head of gray hair until later, then it is likely that your son would follow the same pattern. Gray hair can also accompany a number of uncommon familial syndromes, including neurofibromatosis and tuberous sclerosis.

Several conditions can alter a child’s preset melanocyte-clock. If these conditions are present for a short time, a few scattered gray hairs may be the result; if they persist, the graying is likely to progress.

The most common of these is vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, is present widely in foods from animal sources. Dietary deficiency is difficult to achieve, unless a person is eating a strict vegan diet. Breast-fed infants whose mothers have B12 deficiency can also develop a transient deficiency. A lack of vitamin B12 can occur even in the face of adequate B12 intake. The body’s ability to absorb and use B12 can be hampered by surgery involving the stomach or small bowel, diseases affecting the small bowel (e.g. regional enteritis, necrotizing enterocolitis, tuberculosis, diverticulosis, or fish tapeworms), or a congenital lack of the molecules needed to absorb B12 (intrinsic factor or Transcobalamin I, II, or III). A simple blood test can diagnose current vitamin B12 deficiency. If your son’s gray hair resulted from a prior deficiency that has resolved, it will probably not be detectable by a current blood test; however, the graying will not progress in this case.

Some anemias — the megaloblastic ones (including the anemia caused by B12 deficiency) — can produce gray hairs as an early sign. A simple blood test detects current anemia. As in the case of B12 deficiency, previous anemia is not easy to detect, but will not continue to affect your son’s melanocytes.

Several thyroid disorders, particularly hyperthyroidism, reduce melanocyte activity while they are present. Disorders of skin pigmentation, such as vitiligo (which follows the destruction of melanocytes in the skin), can also result in a loss of hair pigmentation. A rare entity called Vogt-Koyanagi syndrome occurs in some children following a viral illness. In an attempt to fight the virus, the body makes antibodies that, unfortunately, also attack the melanocytes.

So, Debbie, it is possible that your son has a vitamin deficiency. It is also possible that the gray hairs are a visible sign of an important internal process. Gray hair in a child should be investigated. When I see a child with gray hairs in the office, I look to three sources to try to determine the underlying cause. First, I find out what I can about the family history. Next, I perform a thorough physical examination looking for helpful clues. Finally, I obtain three laboratory tests: a vitamin B12 level, a complete blood count (CBC), and a thyroid function panel.

Even if we are unable to identify any cause other than his own internal melanocyte-clock, you can readily mask the graying if desired. Although a number of effective chemical rinses and dyes are available, there has been some evidence that their use in children may contribute to later skin cancers. This risk is avoided with vegetable dyes.

Dr. Alan Greene

Dr. Greene is the founder of DrGreene.com (cited by the AMA as “the pioneer physician Web site”), a practicing pediatrician, father of four, & author of Raising Baby Green & Feeding Baby Green. He appears frequently in the media including such venues as the The New York Times, the TODAY Show, Good Morning America, & the Dr. Oz Show.

  1. Mohammed

    Dont be sad!! this was written in Quran Millions of years ago which was revealed by almighty to his messenger prophet Mohammad in chapter 73 verse 17. you nay refer the Quran!!

    73:17. But if you also disobey (the Messenger sent to you), how will you then guard yourselves from the (calamity of the) day which will turn (even) children (prematurely) gray-headed.

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  2. ann

    Hi, I’m 20years old. I started getting gray hair since I was 3 years old and it only became more and more. Most of my hair is gray now. I was bullied throughout my primary school years. It was terrible.

    I started dying my hair since the age of 16 but the gray hair grows back fast, so I have 2 dye it like every week. I even cut my hair short at a time do to frustration. I’m now 9 months pregnant and fear for my baby’s hair color….all my siblings and cousins from my fathers’s side are going through the same thing. How can I prevent my baby’s hair from being gray?

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  3. precious bello

    I’m 13 and I was born with grey hair. What does it mean?

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  4. Nikki

    Hello I am 17 and I am discovery grey hair. At my age I don’t know if its normal. I discovered my first grey hair when I was in elementary school then it stopped until I got into 10th grade. What should I do? I need to know if its normal…

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  5. simon zhang

    I’m 14.5 years old. My mom discovered my first white hair when she was breast feeding me and now I have about 25 white hairs. I’m Asian so my original hair color is black/brown.

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  6. arpitha

    My daughter 3yrs & 4months has a single white hair on her head it was shocking and please….advice any deficiency…..

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  7. kazi md. zahangir

    My ten years daughter’s hair is graying. Please provide me good solution for stop graying. Can she take B 12 vitamin supplements? Please do something about the issue.

    Thanks
    kurigram. Bangladesh.

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  8. lavette

    I am 16 and my hair is packed with shiny gray hair. I don’t know why, but my mom said I was born with strains of gray hair, but some people say its wisdom. Can I get an explanation please?

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  9. susan

    It’s 3 months since I took my daughter off gluten for her white hairs and it stopped spreading since. I am doing a stool culture to test for bacteria and will give her vitamins I hope her hair will turn dark again. But in the meantime I’m thankful that it is not spreading.

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  10. ANu

    Sir, I am 26yrs Indian girl working as a nurse. My hair started greying from age age of 7.

    Since I was 18 years old, twice a month I used to colour my hair, but no benefit. It has increased and now my 90% of the hair became white. I had so much tension. I have goitre, but my T3, TSH, T4 levels are normal and now I am ashamed to face public.

    Hope that I will get a suitable reply as early as possible. Thank you.

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  11. pearl

    I have 2 daughters 13 and 16. My 13 yr old was diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome at 2. I noticed about a year ago she has some grey hairs. I thought it might be neurological, never talked to dr about it, but i just noticed my 16 yr old does too. Kind of want to know why now, a little concerned…

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    • Carolyn

      I began turning platinum in my 20s. I remember my mother had to have B 12 shots when I was very young, and the platinum hair ran thick in her family and down to me and my kids. I’ve been searching through the literature, trying to find answers to my health issues. A few months ago, I found literature about MTHFR and B-12 deficiency. I self prescribed B-12 shots and then followed with sub lingual B 12. My health finally began improving. I also have the lumps under my skin. I had asked doctors about before and the only reply was they were just insignificant fatty tumors. There is definitely something going on with my nerves. I am thankful to have found an amazing functional doctor to help me with all this now. Thanks for the article!

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    • anna

      I’m 29, have noticed a little gray and white hairs, and I have Aspergers, too! I was wondering if it was stress, I have been exposed to a heck of a lot of stress this year that was uncalled for, also my dad went gray at 28, my grandmother also had gray hairs at a young age, I may need to change habits to prevent and stop any grey hairs too.

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  12. suraj

    My kid has white kind of shiny hair. He is 8 years old. What can I do?

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  13. Mackenzie

    I’m 18 and have been greying since I was 8. I’ve been dying it for over 9 years and yes the greying is slow but never stops and only continues to progress. Lately though, I’ve come to embrace it. I’m perfectly healthy, not anemic and hardly ever sick. In my scenario, it just seems like a freak mutation (but I kinda like it).

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  14. lupe moreno

    I’m fourteen and have a lot of gray hair I’ve tried dying it, but then it will end up fading. I.m tired of dying it. Any help of how to get rid of gray hair?

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    • Damien Munak

      Hi Dr.Greene

      My name is Damien and I’m 14 years old, and I’m from Papua New Guinea (PNG). Please is there any way to prevent myself from early childhood gray hair?

      I’m feeling like I have an unfair life, all my friends have normal colored hair except me.

      Please any solution? I need your help.

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  15. Anonymous

    A girl in my school noted I had grey hairs. I can’t go to a doctor. I remember noticing a few when I was 7 or 8, but my parents thought it was from clothes bleach or something. I’m 13. Anything I should do?

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  16. sumitra

    Dear sir
    I sumitra from India….west bengal ..my 5 year baby getting hair grey slowly slowly..
    suggest me i m tense….

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  17. mehak

    Hi Dr. Greene. My son is 9 years old. He has had many white and grey hairs. I have asked his docter. No one has been able to tell me why. I’m worried.

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    • hamida

      Hi Mahek,
      I am going through the same problem. My son is also 9 and his grey hair started at age 6. I am so worried. He’s seen so many doctors and they did blood work, but no answer.

      We live in Canada and you?
      Hamida

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  18. Chili

    I was born with gray hair. According to my mother, she asked the doctor, why I had it & his reply was that it was nothing to worry about. No test were done. I’m 41 now, I do have more gray but still not completely gray. Should I get any test done?

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  19. pavithra

    My age is 14, but I have grey hairs. I am a vegetarian. Can you give a solution for this please?

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    • precious bello

      stop being a vegeterian ur lacking vitermins

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      • wowursocool

        Says who? I know many of vegetarians who are lacking zero vitamins and are perfectly healthy including me. In fact I’m lacking less vitamins than many people I know who eat all types of food.

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  20. Darlene

    I AM CONCERNED ABOUT MY ONE YEAR OLD GREAT-GRANDSON WHO HAS GRAY HAIR SCATTERED THROUGH HIS BEAUTIFUL DARK HAIR. BUT THEN, HE HAS RED AND BLONDE IN THERE TOO. CAN YOU EASE MY RISING CONCERN???

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  21. susan

    I found white hairs in my 12 year old daughter. She also has some stomach aches and is pale and pretty thin. I did all the blood work but haven’t gotten results yet. However, I think I am taking her off gluten in any case because blood tests are not accurate only stool cultures. My niece had alopecia. She went off gluten and all her hair grew back!

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  22. kiran

    hi, Dr. Green, I am three years daughter mothers,I find in her hair three hair is grey, I am worried, uwe are vegetarian, her cbc, b12, thyroid bkood test is normal, niw what shiuld I do for her, hos cure this problem can you give me guidelines, please thank u

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    • jayasree yelvarthy

      Hi, Dr. Green, I have a son who is three years old. I found one hair is white on his head. I am worried. We are vegetarian. Now what should I do for him? How can we cure this problem? Can you give me guidelines? Please don’t forget to give your feedback.

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      • Khushbu

        Hi, Dr. Green, I have a son who is two years old. I found one hair is white on his head. I am worried. We are vegetarian. Now what should I do for him? How can we cure this problem? Can you give me guidelines? Please don’t forget to give your feedback.

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  23. Koko

    Please answer this query. My younger brother is age 14 and his grey hair is distressing him as he is getting severely bullied at school. His grey hair started when he was around 5 as a few but now 20% of the strands on his hair are grey. We do not want to dye the hair and blood tests have revealed no deficiency. I don’t have grey hair and my dad didn’t start graying till late 40s. My older brother and mum started graying pretty early in their 20s and 30s respectively which they knew how to deal with as adults.

    My younger brother however is having a really hard time.
    Please help.

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  24. Juleah Beth Weikel

    You should absolutely get him to a gastro doc right away. Have him checked for Celiac disease, request the genetic panel as well as the regular initial blood test.

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  25. Swadha Srivastava

    Hi. I am swadha and I am 13 year old . I started finding grey hair from six months. Is there anything I can do for me? Please tell me .

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  26. Hello Everyone!

    Such great questions.

    We’ve just added a new feature — Ask Dr. Greene! If you have a question, just go to http://www.drgreene.com/askdrgreene/ and submit your question.

    Dr. Greene would love to answer every question that is asked, but he can’t (so many great questions). He can answer one question a day and he’s decided to let our readers decide which question they would most like to see answered.

    Here’s how it works – Once a day Dr. Greene will answer the question with the most votes from readers. That means, you have a better chance of getting your question answered if you invite your friends to vote.

    Check it out — http://www.drgreene.com/askdrgreene/ — and let us know what you think.

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  27. christy

    My daughter is 10 yrs old and she has had white & grey hairs since she was about 6 yrs old. I have asked doctors and no one has been able to tell me why . But its nice to know , in a way, that it has to do with her hypothyroidism.

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  28. Thara

    Hello Doctor, One of my friend’s son has complete silvery / grey hair by birth. Is there something we can do about this? The family is worried.

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  29. rell

    I am a child tween 12 and I found gray hair in school then went home and found more

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  30. omar mohamed

    hi I’m 13 years old and i am really starting to worry about my grey hair . Is there anything else i can do instead of dying my hair every more please if you know anything please tell me i really need to know because people have been taking the mik out of me and its really annoying please tell me thanks Omar Mohamed i have been trying to find a solution for this
    Omar Mohamed cool_omar_mohamed@hotmail.com

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  31. JAGANNATH DAS

    My 2 year old son has had scattered
    white hairs for about born . Does he have a vitamin deficiency ? Does
    this mean he will be prematurely white ?

    Jagannath Das

    Kolkata,India

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  32. Jayne Ives

    Hi, my son is six and has autism, he has just recently had a clump of hair turn white! With little white highlights also! He is a strange but lovely little boy!! Animals flock to him and his hearing is amazing to say the least x he can hear word perfect underwater, with external noises! Erm.. Getting to the point, should I be worried?

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    • Juleah Beth Weikel

      He may have vitiligo.. My 9 year old has autism and celiac disease, I have Celiac and Lupus (mom) and most of the boys in our family have vitiligo including my Dad. The point is that auto immune issues and gut issues along with autism seem to have a strong connection. One of my brothers was born with grey hair and my other brothers have patches of white where the vitiligo is present. Hope that helps.

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  33. swapna nath

    my two years old son has two grey hairs on his head .i too have lots of grey hairs since 15 years of age.plz help.

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  34. Raj Vijay

    dear sir,

    i am 17 years old. my friends plucked a grey hair from backside. As i read all your report i came to know that it is not about the vitamin deficiency i am worrying about. My father used to say that he saw grey hair on his head when he was 30 years old.COULD LIVESTYLE AFFECT IT?

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  35. Stephanie

    Im worried about my Two year old in which I found grey hair in his head and one on his eyelash. I have a Dr apt set up for later in the month but i have reason to think he might have a bigger issue. He been have the loose stools like his body isn’t processing his food right. Might even be allergic to dairy. He’s also delayed in speech for almost a three year old. Doesn’t count, say ABC’s, nor speaks in sentences of any kind no matter how hard I try. I dont know whats wrong with him but I feel like its all related some how.

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    • Amit Tamakuwala

      For delayed speech, you should consider a hearing test right away.

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    • Juleah Beth Weikel

      Please take him to a pediatric gastro doctor ASAP. Get him tested for Celiac disease, request the genetic panel as well as the standard blood test. My autistic son became highly verbal after discovering that he has Celiac disease and changing his diet. I was misdiagnosed until 32 because all tests came back negative including biopsy, however my genetic came back positive and I was diagnosed after my son was. Your son very much sounds like he has all of the symptoms of Celiac. Also take him to your local Regional center for autism support and diagnostic testing.

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    • Kitty

      Look into methylB12 injections. Dr Neubrander protocol.

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  36. Pamela Mariel Mauna

    i was born with white hairs gentically by my father and i want to know is there any way that i can get rid of them without dying my hair?

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  37. Alexander Terrazas

    should I worry my son is 7 and i found 1 white hair.. he is a very, very picky eater and only eats certain foods so he might have a vitamin deficiency. Will giving him vitamins solve this problem or should i get a blood exam? PLEASE HELP (worried mother)

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    • Ram

      Hello,
      I would like to know more about your reply – I too found 1 hair in my 7 daughters hairs, should i go for blood test?
      what did you do for your kid? : please reply

      thanks
      Ram

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    • Ameliah Haneh

      Massage with egg oil. Massage your scalp twice a week with egg oil and leave it on overnight. Egg oil contains anti-oxidant xanthophylls like lutein and zeaxanthin which arrest premature aging (graying) of hair and even reverses early stage grey hair. Hope this helps :)

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  38. Muhammad Zubair

    dear sir
    please tell me the food which contain vitamin b12 because my son have quantity 02 hair with white color and i am very worry about it may increase in number of white hair with the passing of time please……………suggest some good advice thanks
    Regard: Muhammad zubair from Pakistan

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