Causes of white eyelashes and how they are treated in adults and children

The color of your hair is determined by a type of pigment called melanin. As you age, the amount of melanin in your hair naturally decreases, causing your hair to appear gray and eventually white.

In addition to the hair on your head, your eyebrows and eyelashes may turn gray or white with age. The graying process often begins with a few hairs before spreading.

White eyelashes are usually caused by the natural aging process, but they can be a sign of an underlying health problem. Most of these conditions are not serious, but some, such as thyroid problems, require medical attention.

Let’s take a look at some of the most likely causes of white eyelashes and explain when to call a doctor.

Here are some of the most likely reasons why you may develop white eyelashes.

Aging

Aging is the most common reason eyelashes turn white.

Your hair tends to lose melanin with age. As the melanin decreases, your hair turns gray and later turns white as the levels continue to decrease.

A 2018 research review showed that approximately 50 percent of the world’s population have half of their hair turned gray by the age of 50. Many people also develop gray or white eyebrows and eyelashes, but the hair in these areas tends to lose color later in life.

In a 2014 study, the researchers compared the whitening levels of eyebrows and eyelashes in 1,545 people aged 1 to 90 years. No one under the age of 40 has had white eyelashes. Exactly 1% of people between the ages of 41 and 50 had some degree of eyelash whitening.

The greatest amount of eyelash whitening occurred in people aged 71 to 80, with 14.7% of people having experienced it to some extent.

Vitiligo

Vitiligo is a condition that causes white spots to form on the skin due to the loss of melanin. The causes of vitiligo are not entirely clear, but the presence of certain genes and a family history of autoimmune disorders may be risk factors.

According to the National Health Service, if patches of vitiligo form in areas where hair grows, the hair may turn white due to a lack of melanin.

Blepharitis

Blepharitis is inflammation of the eyelids that can be caused by:

  • mites or lice
  • bacterial infections
  • medications
  • dysfunction of your sebaceous gland

Some people who develop blepharitis develop eyelashes that turn white, droop, or grow in a strange direction.

Other symptoms include:

  • itchy, inflamed, or swollen eyelids
  • Burning eyes
  • oily eyelids
  • Light sensitivity
  • crisp eyelashes
  • watery or red eyes
  • feel like something is in your eyes

Alopecia areata

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease that causes your hair to fall out in patches. Alopecia areata often affects the scalp and can cause hair loss ranging from small patches to complete baldness.

It can also cause patchy hair loss that affects your:

  • eyebrows
  • eyelashes
  • Fur
  • fur

A 2019 research review showed that it’s common for people with alopecia areata to have temporary white hair when the hair grows back. Sometimes white hair is permanent.

Genetics and hormones

Sometimes hair can grow in strange ways due to genetic mutations or hormonal factors. Some hairs may turn unusually white for no apparent reason, even in young people, and may not be related to particular medical conditions.

Stress

The National Institutes of Health says stress can potentially cause your hair to turn gray prematurely by causing changes in the stem cells in your hair follicles that regenerate hair pigment. However, the link between stress and graying of hair is still not fully understood, and researchers continue to examine this link.

Poliosis

Poliosis is a patch of white or gray hair on your scalp, eyelashes, or other parts of your body. It can occur at birth or appear suddenly at any age. Poliosis in itself is not harmful, but it can be triggered by certain medical conditions such as thyroid disorders and vitamin B12 deficiency.

Thyroid disorder

A thyroid disorder can cause premature gray hair due to changes in hormone levels that affect your melanin production. Thyroid disorders are also associated with poliosis.

Vitamin B12 deficiency

Developing premature gray hair can be a sign of vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 deficiency can be caused by malnutrition or a condition called pernicious anemia, when your gut cannot properly absorb vitamin B12 from your diet.

Smoking

A Research report 2018 found a strong association between smoking and premature aging. Smoking is believed to increase oxidative damage to cells in your hair follicles that contain melanin.

A single long white eyelash can grow in the absence of any special medical condition. A 2015 case study reported that this happened in a 9-year-old girl. It was the first reported medical case, but other people have posted photos or videos of themselves with the event online.

In the 2015 case study, doctors found no physical abnormalities in the girl. She had a family history of premature aging, but had nothing else noteworthy in her medical history.

Another Research report 2018 have found that white hair grows faster than colored hair, so it’s possible that any condition that causes gray hair could lead to just one long white hair.

Many of the same conditions that can cause white eyelashes in adults can cause them in children. Some possible explanations include:

  • thyroid disorder
  • vitamin B12 deficiency
  • poliosis
  • blepharitis
  • genetics or hormones
  • vitiligo
  • alopecia areata

White eyelashes on their own do not require treatment, but it is important to treat other symptoms if they are caused by an underlying condition.

Hair dyeing or waxing

If you are embarrassed by the appearance of your white eyelashes, one option is to dye them. If you only have one or a few white hairs, you can try plucking them out as well.

Lifestyle or diet changes

If stress contributes to your gray hair, reducing stress can help improve your overall health, but it’s unlikely to reverse aging. If you are low on vitamin B12, you may need to change your diet.

Medication

Many types of thyroid disorders can be treated with medication. Blepharitis and vitiligo may also require medication for treatment. Alopecia areata is sometimes treated with corticosteroids.

It’s a good idea to call a doctor if you develop white eyelashes and don’t expect aging to be the cause. Most of the conditions that cause white eyelashes are not serious, but it’s always a good idea to rule out an underlying condition, such as a thyroid disorder.

It is also a good idea to contact your doctor if your child develops gray hair, to rule out potential health problems.

White eyelashes can have many potential causes, but few of them need to be treated. The most common cause is aging, but genetic mutations, certain medical conditions, and vitamin B12 deficiency can also contribute.

Gray hair is usually not a cause for concern unless you have other symptoms that indicate you may have a health problem.

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