Children and Gray Hair

Gray hair in children is called premature graying. The appearance of gray hairs may be the result of a child's genetically determined maturational schedule.

Question

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

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.

Causes of Gray Hair in Children

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.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency

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 Types of Anemia

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.

Some Thyroid Disorders

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.

Resources and References

Kumar AB, Shamim H, Nagaraju U. Premature Graying of Hair: Review with UpdatesInt J Trichology. 2018;10(5):198-203. doi:10.4103/ijt.ijt_47_18

Pandhi D, Khanna D. Premature graying of hair. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. 2013 Sep-Oct;79(5):641-53. doi: 10.4103/0378-6323.116733. PMID: 23974581.

Last medical review on: January 13, 2015
About the Author
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Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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Recent Comments

My mother hair was white at young age but it turned black after some years ,my few hairs are tured to white in a young age can it turs to black after some years?

hello, my name is Gracia I live in Madagascar. I have gray hair at the age of 12
and I want a fast solution please friend help me I hate my gray hair.

I have overdosed on Vitamin A for 7 years using dreaded cod liver oil. I did not have grey hairs until I started taking it. Now I am detoxing the Vitamin A from my system and my daughters. I see the grey hairs falling out by the numbers in my brush. Now I only care about results. I received nothing but negative results from YEARS on vitamins. Within a few MONTHS of detoxing I actually have results for the first time!! I have lost weight easily, no more sun sensitivity, my skin is looking better, my hair feels silkier, my periods dropped to a consistent 3 days within the first few weeks and grey hairs dropping out of my head…Yay!!

hi
my daughter is 14 and she is developing grey hair every passing day, she don’t have ani thyroid disorders. she was having iron deficiency last year which is now cured after medication. but her are turning grey each passing day. so question is
1. we have family history of grey hair from her father side. so does that affect her too ?
2. should I start any vitamin b12 otc meds for her ?
3. How do I stop her graying hair at this early age ?

otherwise she is a very happy healthy teen.

thanks in advance
ashwini

Hi, I’m May from England and only 12.
My left eyebrow seems to be half grey and I really don’t understand why it kinda bugs me abit I’ve learnt to live with it but it just annoys me sometimes.

Will hair greying post viral infection in a 2 year aggravate??if yes,at what rate??
Please reply
Thaanks

Thankyou,for such a wonderful explanation on hair greying.
My 2 year old got a strand of grey hair,post a viral infection(this article mentions about viral infection too),a month later i saw another strand of grey hair.
Will this continue to increase??
Is there any remedy??
Thankyou

Hi, my name is Cindy. My grey hairs had been growing when I was at the age of 8 and I had a lot but whenever I got to the age of 15 to 16 it kind of started going away but their now coming back with even more when I turned 17 and I kind have blonde hair but not a lot but I have a lot grey hairs and my hair color is black I don’t really care that I have grey hairs but I’m kind of worried if they is anything wrong with me having any disorders

Dear Bwalya,

I understand your concern.

Your gray hair may be caused by genetics. If so, there is nothing to do except either accept it or dye your hair. Using Kiwi polish and other dark black solutions not intended for hair dye can be toxic and is not recommended.

If your gray hair is caused by a current condition, you need to know which condition in order to be treated. Have you been tested for vitamin B12 deficiency, anemias and thyroid conditions (especially hyperthyroidism)? If not, this is the place to start.

I hope that helps.
Best, @MsGreene
Note: I am the co-founder of DrGreene.com, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.

my name is bwalya from zambia.i have gray white hair it was noticed during my early age maybe when i was 5 years old it matured into pure white grey hair my mom used to dye it using all sorts of dyes one of them was kiwi polish and other dark black solutions. i hate my white hair i have been looking for a way to stop it but i cant please kindly help

Dear Bwalya,

I understand your concern.

Your gray hair may be caused by genetics. If so, there is nothing to do except either accept it or dye your hair. Using Kiwi polish and other dark black solutions not intended for hair dye can be toxic and is not recommended.

If your gray hair is caused by a current condition, you need to know which condition in order to be treated. Have you been tested for vitamin B12 deficiency, anemias and thyroid conditions (especially hyperthyroidism)? If not, this is the place to start.

I hope that helps.
Best, @MsGreene
Note: I am the co-founder of DrGreene.com, but I am not Dr. Greene and I am not a doctor. Please keep that in mind when reading my comments and replies.