Understanding the science behind white hair

WHITE HAIRS are part and parcel of growing older. As we age, our hair naturally loses its colour. This is typically because the hair follicles on our skin lose their melanin (natural pigmentation) over time. But did you know there are various reasons apart from ageing that can cause us to go white?

In fact, colourless hair can appear at any stage of your life. Whether you are a senior citizen or just a youth in high school, you can grow one or more strands of white hair. So, what or who is the culprit to blame?

Well, lucky for you, we will be discussing some of the common causes of prematurely white hair in this article. Along with them, we will also touch on a few possible ways to fight the process.


If you have had white hair since an early age, this is largely due to your genetic makeup. Your family’s genetic history plays a significant role in deciding when and how much white hair you develop. For instance, I have had white hair since high school simply because I inherited my father’s genes.

Aside from family genetics, race and ethnicity are also influencing factors. According to Dermatology specialist, Dr Neelam A. Vashi, hair greying varies for different races.

“Graying is premature at different times in different populations,” she said.

“It is at about age 20 in [White individuals], 25 in Asians, and 30 in [Black individuals]. A lot of the differences can be attributed to pigment.”

$!A deficiency in Vitamin B-12 can reduce hair cells and weaken melanin production. – PINTEREST

Lack of Vitamin B-12

Developing white hair at an early age is also an indication of a Vitamin B-12 deficiency. As we all know, Vitamin B-12 is crucial for the formation of red blood cells and DNA. It is also a key player in the function and growth of brain and nerve cells. As such, it is highly needed for the development of healthy hair growth and colour.

Without it, our bodies are unable to produce healthy red blood cells, which carry oxygen to cells in our bodies, including hair cells. A deficiency can reduce hair cells and weaken melanin production.

$!Damage on our hair caused by stress can be permanent. – 123rf


There is a good reason why anger and stress are often discouraged. This is because stress can harm our bodies. From high blood pressure to heart attack, the consequences of chronic stress can be detrimental. But did you know that stress can also effect our hair?

Yup, researchers have proved that stress causes a reduction in the production of melanocyte stem cells (produce and distribute melanin).

“When we started to study this, I expected that stress was bad for the body – but the detrimental impact of stress that we discovered was beyond what I imagined,” said Dr Ya-Chieh Hsu of Harvard University, who led the study.

“After just a few days, all of the melanocyte stem cells were lost. Once they’re gone, you can’t regenerate pigments anymore. The damage is permanent.”

Medical conditions

Sometimes, white hairs are also a result of certain medical conditions. Premature white hair is common among patients with certain illnesses. For example, patients battling alopecia and vitiligo often grey early because their immune system attacks their hair cells. When their hair grows, most times it is white due to melanin deficiency. Patients with thyroid disorder are also known to have white hairs.

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of our neck. Its function is to produce hormones that influence things like our metabolism, heart rate and body temperature. Too much or too few of these hormones can cause issues – among them is white hair. An overactive or underactive thyroid can result in less production of melanin.

$!Correcting our diets is one way to reverse the process. – 123rf

Eat up your deficiencies

It is no doubt impossible to reverse the process if the cause is genetics or ageing. Nonetheless, there are a few methods that you can try that can allow for colour pigmentation to return. If diet and vitamin deficiencies are the main cause, it is only natural that you start with your diet choices.

After all, a rich diet can do wonders in preventing the growth of white hair. So, you can start by adopting food that is rich in Vitamin B-12 such as seafood, eggs, and meats into your diet. Taking vitamin supplements also assists in boosting the health of your hair follicles.

$!Dyeing is one fun and creative way to cover white hair. – 123rf

Colour them all

But if you are looking for more fun and creative solution, your hair salon is definitely the right avenue to look into! Don’t like your white hairs? Dye them all then! Not only is it effective in coating your white hair, but it also strengthens the state of your hair.

If you have weak or slightly damaged hair, colouring your hair can help to build your hair strength. Dyeing can also shield your hair from excessive heat from the scorching sun.