What is Poliosis?

Poliosis is a term which is used to refer to the development of white hair patches in the head, moustache, eyelashes, eyebrows, beard or another place. It may affect persons of all genders and all ages.

The condition is not very common; some poliosis victims may dye the white hair patch all the time such that it cannot be noticed.

Picture 1 – Poliosis  |Source – dermnetnz

Poliosis and Esthetic Factor

While it may not pose health risks, most people hate it because white hair is mostly viewed as sign of aging by most people. It also makes one look weird and different from the others. Some people especially those with single and small white hair patch term it as normal and they do not see any point of seeking medical care.

The white hair within black or gray hair does not look good. The hairs may be concentrated in one spot or in patches. This condition is problematic when it develops later in life. If one is born with this condition, people will get used to seeing the white patches and will view that as natural and normal birth marks.  Women are more concerned and worried about poliosis more than men because they value their beauty and outlook. Some hair beauty products and chemicals have been attributed as possible cause of this condition in women.

Onset of Poliosis

What exactly happens leading to the development and onset of poliosis is not well known. It is however believed that abnormal changes must occur to the melanocytes which are responsible for colour pigmentation.

Is Poliosis a Sign of Aging?

While development of white hair is sometimes associated with aging, poliosis may be caused by other factors discussed below. Under all conditions, white hair for aging is expected to set up from the age of between 35 and 55. Other people may never develop white hair throughout their entire life. If poliosis sets up from the age of 50, the first suspicion will be that it may be caused by old age. Medical tests must however be done to affirm or dismiss the suspicion.

Poliosis Causes

Poliosis has been diagnosed and reported in very healthy people. It is most cases caused by the following factors

  • Genetic Factors:  Genetic factors like the Tuberous sclerosis infection have been cited as possible cause of this condition. Syndromes like the Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada, Waardenburg’s syndrome and Marfan’s syndrome can also cause poliosis. Piebaldism is also a genetic medical condition in which members from a certain family develop white hair regardless of age or health status. If a person from these families develops poliosis then it should not be taken as something to abnormal or strange.
  • Pigmentation Deficiency:  Low levels of melanin and hair pigmentation hormones can also cause poliosis in the eyes and head.  What causes the deficiency of the pigmentation hormones is not clearly known in some poliosis cases. It is however understood that the melanocytes which are responsible for hair pigmentation may reduce or stop functioning at later ages.
  • Diseases: Diseases like thyroid, hypogonadism and other diseases which cause loss of hair can also cause this condition. It is important to seek proper medication when you suffer from these other diseases in order to reduce the chances of developing poliosis.
  • Skin Localized Changes: These changes can affect the mechanism of growth and development of hair leading to the development of white patches. Vitiligo skin disease can also cause development of white hair patches.  In poliosis caused by vitiligo, the skin will also have patches.
  • Cancer: Some forms of skin cancers can cause development of white hair in the skin parts in which they affect. Some treatments of cancer like chemotherapy and radiation have also been cited as possible causes of this condition. The high radiation may kill or change the functioning of the melanocytes cells.
  • Drugs: Drugs like prostaglandin F2α analogs, cyclosporine and chloroquine have in the past caused poliosis in some people. It is important to read the literature which is packaged with the drugs to learn of all the possible side effects of the drugs. The cases in which the above cited drugs have caused poliosis are very rare.

The causes of poliosis in some people cannot be attributed to any of the above factors.  It is important to take immediate medical care if you or your child develops this condition.  Poliosis may be symptoms of an underlying infection or another medical condition.

The Biological Development of Poliosis

The color of the hair comes from melanocytes; these are cells which are found in the hair follicle. These cells give the hair its right pigment. For reasons which are not known to anyone at the moment, the melanocytes reduce their performance as one grows old. Most melanocytes reduce functioning at the age of 40+ and the hair will start turning gray at these ages.  They may eventually stop functioning as one nears 50 or 60 years of age. When the performance of melanocytes stops completely all the hair may turn white.

Picture 2 – Poliosis Photo
Source – dermnetnz

When the melanocytes stop functioning the hair will turn white because it will completely lack melanin. This happens only in certain people; some people never develop white hair. This only explains the development of poliosis from the early ages in life. If poliosis occurs at teenage or even before birth (meaning a child is born with it), then the other causal factors especially genetic factors are responsible. This condition should not be taken as simple or normal for teens and kids. Seeking early treatment will give doctors ample time to research and offer advice and medical assistance.

Is Poliosis Life Threatening?

The general answer to this question is NO. Poliosis is not on its own life threatening. The condition causing it may however pose health risks especially to kids. Do not take the matter as too simply or with a lot of worry. The reason why most people seek treatment is that poliosis will bring about an undesirable look. You will look different from your age mates and peers if you suffer from this condition especially if the patches are large.

Treatment for Poliosis

Doctors will first try to establish the cause of poliosis before they suggest any treatment for this condition. If what is causing it is properly diagnosed, the poliosis treatment process becomes much simpler. There is no cure for this condition but doctors can prescribe one or several medications to support the functioning of the melanocytes. You may consult a doctor on the right creams and hair dyes which you can use to apply on your white hair.

Do not try any purposed home remedy because it may fail to work or worst of all aggravate the situation. You may read blogs and articles on the internet to get information about the disease. Do not rely or trust 100% what is testified or proposed by anyone over the internet. It is always and recommended that you seek proper medical poliosis treatment.


  1. Jaime Craven November 10, 2016
  2. Noelle September 9, 2017

Leave a Reply