Science Questions

Why did my facial hair grow back white?

Tue, 11th Nov 2014

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Mark Munro asked:


I am a huge fan of your podcast and I've thoroughly addicted many of my colleagues here in Canada.

Recently I've participated in Movember a fundraiser nation wide for cancer research in which men raise money by growing a moustache, beard, or any combination of facial hair growth over the course of the month of November

hence the "M" in ovember. My question is: its been 10 years since I've grown a goatee or any hair on my chin and this year its grown in snow while in two distinct strips at the corners of my mouth. I've trimmed it twice now and in each case the while has been cut away to reveal my natural brown colour in my moustache. My eyebrows do the same thing but to a lesser degree.

Given your recent question about red heads, blonds and brunettes, I was wondering why later growth would come in a different colour.


I don't want people to think I'm dyeing my chin hair as I have almost no grey anywhere at 44.


Thank you for the great show.















Sara -   To get to the root of the issue, I spoke with dermatologist, Jane Sterling bearded ladyfrom Cambridge to find out how hair gets its colour in the first place.

Jane -   The colour that comes into any hair comes right from the root and there are some cells there, those are the tiny little bits of the body that actually make the hair and they inject into the hair some hair colour, the pigment called melanin.  So, that might be a lot in black hair, a bit less in brown hair or very much less in blonde hair.  And red hair has a slightly different type of melanin.  So, when we lose our hair colour, what's happening to the cells in the root of the hair is that they start to produce less and less of the pigment until eventually, they don't produce any at all.

Sara -   Now, we often see grey hair speckled in among darker strands, but is it possible for people to grow grey in a distinct patch of hair while the rest keeps its youthful shade?

Jane -   That sounds like a condition called vitiligo in which the immune system for some reason attacks a small area of your skin and that makes both the skin and the hair growing within it go very pale compared to the rest of the skin.  You can see it on the body, in the scalp, or in the beard area and obviously, a hairy area, you'd notice the hair going white more than the skin.

Sara -   Vitiligo isnít dangerous and affects about 1 in 100 people.  But remember, a lack of melanin means less protection against UV rays.  So, make sure to put sunscreen on the white skin when you shave to avoid any nasty burns. 


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I can't say I've ever noticed this.  I do have both grey and brown hair, in some places more salt than pepper, and in other places, more pepper than salt.

I wonder if in your case, the grey hair is a bit more vigorous growing than the brown, so trimming the grey reveals the slower growing brown.

Perhaps some hair follicles are slower growing than others.  Notes I'm seeing about grey hair indicates that over time the melanocytes die off, or produce less colorant.  Perhaps it is also related to the amount of hair that grows.  So, in your case, the follicles with the most vigorous growth turn grey quicker while the slower growing ones retain their natural color longer.

Assuming a reasonable amount of symmetry, grey does often come in around the edges of the hair, or in certain areas before hitting the entire head. CliffordK, Thu, 13th Nov 2014

Isn't it the same reason people go grey at the temples first , ( rather than vitiligo ),
possibly due to the way cells-migrate and features-grow as the face forms ... RD, Thu, 13th Nov 2014

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