Why did my facial hair grow back white?

11 November 2014

Question

Chris, 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.

Mark

Answer

Sara - To get to the root of the issue, I spoke with dermatologist, Jane Sterling from 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 isn't 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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