The lowdown on the causes behind junior’s premature salt-and-pepper mane. Plus, learn ways to cover it up…


Sure, academic stress is stressful but can it really bring about premature greying? Now that the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) is just around the corner, Janet Tan, 40, says that grey hairs have been popping up on her 12-year-old son’s head.

She laments, “I think it’s the stress is causing him to have grey hairs because some of his friends have it, too.”

The grey strands so affected her son’s self-esteem, he puts on a cap or wears a hoodie to hide the tell-tale white patches. Tan says, “To cheer him up, we just joke and say that he has grown a lot wiser because of the PSLE.”

Dr Joyce Lee, a senior consultant at the National Skin Centre, notes that there is no scientific evidence to prove that mental stress causes a child’s hair to turn white prematurely. In medicine, the phrase “premature greying” refers to people whose hair turns grey before age 25. In fact, most Asians typically do not develop white hair until they are in their late 30s.

Dr Nisha Suyien Chandran, who heads the Dermatology division at the National University Hospital, agrees that there is no scientific evidence to prove that emotional or physical stress causes hair to grey ahead of its time. However, she points out that melanocyte cells ― which produce the pigment melanin that’s responsible for one’s hair and skin colour ― are sensitive to oxidative stress, such that the amount of free radicals in your body surpasses the level of antioxidants.

“It is difficult to detect grey hairs in the first few months as the infant is covered with lanugo (fine soft hair) — soft and lightly pigmented hairs — on his whole body.”

In fact, Dr Eileen Tan, a Mount Elizabeth Hospital dermatologist, adds that grey hair can develop at any age, even from birth. “It is difficult to detect grey hairs in the first few months as the infant is covered with lanugo (fine soft hair) — soft and lightly pigmented hairs — on his whole body.”



Dr Lee, Dr Tan and Dr Chandran cites four possible reasons for the early greying of your kid’s mane:

1) Diet

WHAT If your young ’un’s diet is lacking in vitamin B12, he may develop anaemia. Premature greying of hair and hair loss are symptoms of the condition, notes Dr Tan. Inadequate levels of minerals such as copper and calcium have also been linked with premature greying, Dr Chandran adds.
EXPERTS SAY It is best to see a doctor as soon as possible as he will treat junior’s vitamin B12 or mineral deficiencies. Dr Tan adds your hair will only regain its colour if the deficiency is corrected early. Foods rich in B12 include shellfish, crab, low-fat dairy, cheese and eggs.

2) Thyroid levels

WHAT If junior’s body does not produce enough thyroid hormones, he could get hypothyroidism ― grey hair is a symptom of this disorder. Other symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, weight gain, dry skin and brittle fingernails. The disorder is diagnosed with a simple blood test.
EXPERTS SAY As thyroid hormones regulate your body’s ability to produce melanin, they can affect the colour of hair follicles. Unfortunately, treating the thyroid dysfunction will not reverse the greying process, Dr Tan explains.

3) Vitiligo

WHAT If you spot patches of pale white skin and hair on your child, he may have vitiligo. When a person’s immune system fights the body’s melanocytes, it can both skin and hair to lose their colour. Look out for pale skin around the eyes, mouth, fingers, wrists, armpits, genitals and even on the inside of the mouth.
EXPERTS SAY Topical meds like Elidel and Protopic may reverse the skin’s loss of pigmentation, although it’s tough to use these creams on the scalp, notes Dr Tan. An autologous transplant — a process where your child’s pigmented skin cells are collected then transplanted to the affected spots — may help the hair and skin regain its colour.

“I would not suggest dyeing of hairs before one’s late teens, but even [at that age], it does not guarantee that [an] allergy will not occur.”

4) Alopecia areata

WHAT This autoimmune condition that’s triggered by stress accounts for about 20 per cent of patients who lose their hair. In alopecia areata sufferers, coloured hair is attacked by the body’s white blood cells or lymphocytes, causing these to fall off. Dr Tan shares that the hair can fall out spontaneously and in clumps, leaving round patchy bald spots on junior’s scalp. More severe cases can leave the person totally bald.
EXPERTS SAY Depending on the severity of the child’s hair loss, treatments include applying medicated cream or taking oral medication, as well as corticosteroid injections — to suppress the immune system. Dr Lee notes that patients stand a very high chance of growing new hair in the bald spots. These fine strands will appear white at first, before it regaining its colour.


How to cover up junior’s grey hair?

In general, medical solutions may work only if the hair loss is due to a reversible or treatable health condition. Dr Lee suggests if the condition is genetic, it’s best to leave it alone. a good idea to use permanent hair dyes on junior, either. Chemicals such as paraphenylenediamine may lead to potential allergic reactions, so you should minimise your child’s exposure to such chemicals. Dr Lee cautions, “I would not suggest dyeing of hairs before one’s late teens, but even [at that age], it does not guarantee that [an] allergy will not occur.” But if junior really has to dye his hair, then stick to a temporary one instead.

As for the belief that plucking your child’s grey strands will cause more to grow in its place, Dr Chandran explains such a relationship proper evaluation remains unproven.

If you’re worried that your kiddo’s white hair can negatively impact his well-being, then bring him to a dermatologist for a check― Dr Chandran notes, “A good history, physical examination and laboratory investigations may be done to work-up the cause.”

Photos: iStock

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