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Expert Q&A

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I noticed a strand of gray hair on my child

Asked by Hari Natarajan, Hillsboro , Oregon

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I noticed a single strand of grey hair on my 3½ year old daughter today. I would like to know if it could be external factors or some vitamin deficiency. There is no known history of young children having grey hair in either my or my wife's family. She is a healthy child. We are vegetarians and our ethnic background is Asian.

Expert Bio Picture

Living Well Expert Dr. Jennifer Shu Pediatrician,
Children's Medical Group

Expert answer

A strand of hair can appear gray when it contains a decreased amount of a pigment called melanin, and it can look white if there is no pigment at all. Gray hair occurs with normal aging because the hair cells on the scalp produce less melanin; in children, early graying tends to be inherited. A single strand of gray hair is most noticeable in people with darker hair and is usually not worrisome if the child's general health is normal.

There are some health conditions that can cause gray hair in children. One such condition is alopecia areata, which causes patches of hair loss on the scalp and other parts of the body. As the hair grows back, it may be gray at first.

Vitamin B12 deficiency can also cause gray hair. This vitamin is found in animal products (such as fish, meat, milk and eggs) but is also added to fortified cereals and multivitamin supplements. Abnormal thyroid hormone levels in the body (either too low or too high) can also cause gray hair. Your pediatrician may perform a blood test if one of these conditions is suspected.

Less commonly, gray hair may be associated with childhood disorders such as vitiligo (which also causes a decrease of pigment in the skin), tuberous sclerosis, neurofibromatosis and Waardenburg syndrome. These disorders run in families and have other symptoms such as seizures, tumors under the skin, and hearing loss. If you are concerned about any of these conditions, I encourage you to talk with your child's pediatrician.

Good luck!

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