You were probably expecting your hair to start turning gray when you had kids, but we’re betting you didn’t expect to see gray hairs on your kid’s head. Now that you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it — and you’re wondering if it’s a sign of something serious, especially if there are more than one of those rogue silvery strands.
Here’s what you need to know about white or gray hair in children, from what causes it and how you can treat it to helping your kid cope with looking different than their friends.
Just to be clear, we’re not talking about a single gray hair here. Even little kids can sprout a colorless strand from time to time, and it’s nothing to worry about (it’s also more likely to be noticed if your child has dark hair versus platinum blond).
We’re talking about premature graying. This is the appearance of several gray or white hairs at a young age — before 20 in white people and 30 in Black people, per a
Your child may have premature graying, from infancy through the teenage years, for several reasons. Here are some of the most common.
This is probably the biggest cause of premature graying, according to the 2018 review mentioned just above. If you or someone else in your family started going gray at an unusually young age, it’s more likely that your child will, too. This is a typical cause of gray hairs in high school students.
If your child chronically does not get enough of certain vitamins and minerals, it can lead to premature graying. These include:
- Vitamin B12. This powerhouse vitamin helps keep your blood healthy and can prevent anemia, per the
National Institutes of Health (NIH). However, it has also been linked to premature graying. Researchers in a 2016 studyobserved lower levels of B12 in participants under the age of 25 who had premature graying.
- Zinc and copper. A 2022 study suggests that premature graying may be linked to insufficient levels of zinc and copper, as well as selenium.
- Folic acid. Another possible nutrient deficiency that can cause premature graying is folic acid. A
2017 studyfound that participants under age 20 with premature graying had deficient levels of folic acid.
- Vitamin D. Here’s another reason for your teen to get their daily dose of sunshine: A
2013 studyfound that vitamin D levels were low in high school–age students with prematurely gray hair.
Stress is often linked to an increase in gray hair. Yet with young children who are still growing (and even, in most cases, teens), physical or emotional stress isn’t usually high enough to cause premature graying.
Environmental stress, however, can cause early graying.
Exposure to air pollution, UV rays, and even harsh shampoos or hair products can cause hair to become colorless. The worst factor may be cigarette smoke, which can literally have an aging effect on hair. A
A handful of medical conditions can also cause premature graying in children. If your child is on the younger side, rather than a teenager, you may want to talk with their doctor about possible medical reasons for their gray hair.
These may include:
- Vitiligo. The skin condition vitiligo destroys the color-producing parts of your hair follicles, so a child with vitiligo may experience premature graying.
- Thyroid disease. Either type of thyroid dysfunction — hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism — can have an unhealthy effect on the hair, a 2008 study suggests. This includes causing premature graying.
- Alopecia areata. Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease that can cause the sudden loss of patches of hair. When the hair grows back it may be temporarily or permanently gray.
Most kids are pretty well adapted to surviving on a self-inflicted diet of chicken nuggets and pasta, but over time, a chronically poor diet could have effects on your child’s hair health.
When to talk with your doctor
In general, if your child has more than just a couple of random gray hairs, it’s a good idea to check in with your child’s doctor. They will probably perform a full medical exam, and that might uncover some clear reasons why your child has prematurely gray hair. They’ll also discuss your child’s medical history and that of your family, so you may want to ask around to see if premature graying runs in the family.
It can also be helpful to keep a journal of your child’s eating habits. The doctor will likely ask questions about what your child eats to try to rule out some health conditions. For example, if you mention your child’s refusal to eat any type of protein, they may want to investigate more to see if there’s a deficiency.
You should also discuss your child’s premature grays with your doctor if your child has any other concerning symptoms, like excessive fatigue, weight loss, or hair loss. This might point to a vitamin deficiency or autoimmune disease.
Unfortunately, treating white hairs can be tricky. If there was an easy solution for getting rid of white hair, everyone over age 35 would be doing it! But you do have a couple of options if your child is experiencing premature graying.
- Address health concerns. There’s no magic pill you can take to reverse gray hairs, but if there’s an obvious source of your child’s premature graying, you can work with their doctor to promote healthier hair growth. If your child has thyroid disease, for example, managing their thyroid health may stop the growth of grays. You can also ask your child’s doctor for help implementing some home remedies or adding certain foods and supplements to your child’s diet, like vitamin B complex, which may encourage healthy hair color, a
2020 review of studiessuggests.
- Color it. Whether you use a box dye or take your child to a kid-friendly salon, you can choose to color your kid’s hair to cover the grays. Most temporary, wash-out hair dyes are safe to use on kids, though experts have different opinions on when kids can safely use permanent dye. Just keep in mind that once you start coloring hair, there’s constant upkeep as hair grows. And if you choose to grow out the color, it will take months (or a super short haircut!).
- Leave it alone. Depending on the cause of your child’s white hair, it may be reversible, in which case it may be better to leave the grays alone. Eventually, they’ll shed, and new (potentially colored) hair will grow in. Even if it’s not reversible, you and your child may decide to embrace the gray and leave it as it is.
Helping a child learn to love their gray hair
We know it’s hard to see your child be teased or bullied for looking different. Depending on the age of your child, you may or may not want to get directly involved in their social circles (usually, the older kids are, the more they want to deal with their own peer relationships).
Either way, you can help your child cope with being bullied about their gray hair in some simple ways:
- Encourage your child to learn about the cause of their gray hair, and use it as a teachable moment for their peers. Example: “Yes, my hair is gray! That’s because I have something called alopecia. Do you know what that is?”
- Ask questions about your child’s day and pay attention to their moods, so you can be aware of bullying behaviors.
- Keep tabs on your child’s social media presence, looking for instances of cyberbullying that may need to be addressed.
- Give your child the tools to cope with bullying in the moment. For example, encourage them to walk away calmly toward an adult or safe group of peers rather than engaging, the advocacy organization Changing Faces suggests.
- Offer your child the chance to work with a guidance counselor, therapist, or social worker inside or outside the school setting, so they can maintain their self-confidence and develop solid coping skills.
Whether or not you can prevent gray hair depends on why your child has it. If the cause is genetic, you won’t be able to stop premature graying. Other causes of gray hair (like autoimmune diseases and vitamin deficiencies) can be corrected or managed to prevent the future growth of white hair.
In the meantime, be gentle with your child’s hair by:
- keeping it protected from the sun with hats made from SPF fabric
- using hair products with clean ingredients
- combing or brushing wet hair carefully
- avoiding any heat styling products
Can white hair turn back to its previous color?
Individual strands of white hair can’t go back to their original color. Once a follicle develops as colorless, the color is lost permanently.
If your child’s gray hair is stemming from a medical condition, that condition can be addressed and allow strands in the original hair color to grow again. As white hair is shed and new, colored growth develops, you may be able to see an overall reversal of the hair on your child’s head.
If your child has one or two gray hairs, it’s probably not a cause for concern, but true premature graying in children and young adults might point to an underlying cause, like an autoimmune condition or vitamin deficiency.
However, premature graying is also often genetic, in which case there isn’t anything you can do to prevent or reverse it. Talk with your child’s doctor if you see signs of gray hairs and don’t have a known family history of premature graying.