Does white hair fall out easier?

Having white hair is a natural part of the aging process, but many people wonder if white hairs are more prone to falling out than pigmented hairs. In this comprehensive article, we’ll examine the science behind hair pigmentation, the changes that occur as hair turns white, and whether white hair is actually more fragile and susceptible to shedding.

What causes hair to turn white?

Hair gets its color from a pigment called melanin, which is produced by melanocytes. As we age, the melanocytes in our hair follicles gradually reduce their melanin production until they stop making pigment completely. This causes each new hair strand grown by the follicle to be colorless and appear white or gray.

The process of hair turning white is called achromotrichia. It usually starts in our 30s and 40s when melanocytes begin tapering off melanin synthesis. By the time we reach 50 years old, 50% of our hair is likely to be white. Towards 70 years old, most people have predominantly white hair.

While achromotrichia occurs naturally with age, there are some other factors that may cause premature graying or white hair:

  • Genetics – Some people are genetically predisposed to go gray earlier.
  • Oxidative stress – Free radicals can damage melanocytes and reduce melanin production.
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency – Lack of B12 can speed up graying.
  • Autoimmune disorders – Conditions like alopecia areata, vitiligo, and thyroid disease are linked to white hair.
  • Smoking – Chemicals in smoke increase oxidative stress.
  • Poor nutrition – Lack of copper and iron in the diet can contribute to early graying.

While it’s normal for hair to turn white with age, getting white strands prematurely can be concerning. See your doctor if your hair is going gray significantly before 40 years old to rule out any underlying conditions.

What happens to hair follicles as they produce white hair?

Hair follicles undergo certain changes when they stop generating melanin pigment and transition to growing white hairs.

Some key differences between pigmented hair follicles and white hair follicles include:

  • Melanocyte density – Pigmented follicles have a higher number of melanocytes than white hair follicles.
  • Melanosome production – Melanocytes in pigmented follicles churn out tiny sacs called melanosomes that contain melanin. White hair follicles produce far fewer melanosomes.
  • Melanin transfer – With pigmented hair, melanosomes move from melanocytes into keratinocytes that form the hair shaft and give it color. This melanin transfer is absent in white hairs.
  • Hair shaft structure – White hair shafts have lower iron and lipid content compared to pigmented shafts. They also tend to be rougher in texture.
  • Growth rate – Some studies show white hair may grow faster than pigmented hair by up to 0.14 mm per day. The hair growth cycle may also be shortened.

The decreased melanin production combined with structural differences in the hair follicle and shaft turn hair white as we age. Understanding how this process happens provides clues into whether white hairs are more prone to shedding than pigmented hairs.

Are white hairs more brittle and prone to breakage?

Many people complain that their white hairs seem finer, drier, and more fragile than their original hair color. This perception has led to the common belief that white hair is more brittle and falls out faster as a result.

Scientific research has investigated this theory by analyzing the structure and strength of white hairs compared to pigmented hairs. Here is what we know so far:

  • Lipid content – White hairs contain less of the fatty acids and lipids that help strengthen and moisturize hair. This makes the cuticle layer more prone to cracking and damage.
  • Cortical fibers – White hairs have lower iron levels within the cortex. This weakens the cortical fibers that comprise the bulk of each hair strand.
  • Protein bonds – White hairs can exhibit more bubble-like cavities within the hair shaft, possibly due to weaker hydrogen bonds between proteins.
  • Tensile strength – Multiple studies show white hairs require less force to break and have reduced elasticity compared to pigmented hairs when subjected to mechanical stress.
  • Weathering – White hair lacks the protective eumelanin pigment against UV radiation and chemical damage, so it tends to weather faster.

Based on this evidence, experts believe white hair undergoes structural degradation that makes it more prone to breakage and fragility with age.

However, other factors may also contribute to white hair shedding:

  • Detangling damage – Aggressive brushing or combing can break fragile white hairs.
  • Heat styling – Frequent use of hot tools like curling irons and blow dryers can permanently weaken white hair.
  • Chemical processing – Bleaching, dyeing, perming, and relaxing hair reduces structural integrity.
  • Shampooing habits – Too much cleansing strips the hair and scalp of protective oils.
  • Environmental factors – Sun exposure, pollution, and hard water damage hair over time.
  • Scalp conditions – Dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis can accelerate white hair shedding if left untreated.

While white hair is inherently more susceptible to breakage, how we care for and style our hair affects its condition and exacerbates weakness.

Does white hair go through the growth cycle faster?

Some research indicates that white hairs may have a shortened growth cycle compared to pigmented hairs. The hair growth cycle consists of three main phases:

  • Anagen phase – Active hair growth that lasts 2-7 years for pigmented hair.
  • Catagen phase – Transitional resting phase lasting 2-3 weeks.
  • Telogen phase – Resting phase of 2-4 months before hair sheds.

It’s thought that white hairs spend less time in the anagen growth phase compared to pigmented hair. One study found white hairs may remain in anagen for only 2-4 years rather than the normal 2-7 years.

This means white hairs could progress through the cycle and shed faster. As we get older, more of our hair is white, so a higher percentage may be in the telogen shedding phase at any given time.

However, other studies show mixed results about whether white hairs truly have a truncated growth cycle. More research is needed to confirm if this contributes to increased shedding of white hair.

Tips to minimize white hair shedding and breakage

If you feel your white hairs are shedding excessively or appearing dry and brittle, try these tips to strengthen hair and reduce breakage:

  • Use a gentle, hydrating shampoo and conditioner.
  • Detangle hair with a wide-tooth comb when wet.
  • Let hair air dry or use cool setting on hair dryer.
  • Avoid harsh styling including dyes, bleach, relaxers.
  • Reduce frequency of hot tools like curling and flat irons.
  • Protect hair from sun with a hat or products with SPF.
  • Take vitamins such as biotin, vitamin D, zinc, iron.
  • Massage scalp to increase circulation and growth.
  • Ask doctor about medicated shampoos for scalp conditions.
  • Get regular trims to reduce split ends.

While white hair is more prone to structural damage, taking steps to be gentle with your hair and improve hair health may help reduce excessive shedding and fragility.

When to see a doctor about white hair shedding

It’s normal to shed around 50-100 strands of hair daily as old hairs are replaced by new growth. However, see your doctor or dermatologist if you notice:

  • Sudden increase in hair shedding, especially patches of hair falling out
  • Hair thinning all over the scalp
  • Scalp redness, itching, dandruff or pain
  • Hair breakage when combing or styling
  • Hair not growing back after shedding

Significant white hair shedding or loss may be linked to an underlying medical condition that needs proper diagnosis and treatment such as:

  • Alopecia areata – Autoimmune disorder causing patchy bald spots.
  • Androgenetic alopecia – Hereditary hair thinning condition.
  • Thyroid disease – Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can trigger hair loss.
  • Lupus – Inflammatory autoimmune condition.
  • Iron deficiency anemia – Low iron disrupts hair growth cycle.
  • Telltale signs of permanent hair loss include a widening part or reduced thickness at temples and crown. This requires an evaluation by a dermatologist. They can assess the cause and discuss treatment options like topical or oral medications to promote hair regrowth.


It’s well documented through scientific research that white hair undergoes structural changes that make it weaker and more prone to breakage over time compared to pigmented hair. The lack of melanin, reduced lipid content, and lower protein bonds contribute to greater fragility.

However, hair care habits and aging processes also impact hair health and shedding. While white hair is inherently more brittle, how you shampoo, brush, style, and treat your hair also influences its condition.

If you notice increased shedding or breakage of white hairs, try being gentler with your hair and consider hair-strengthening treatments. But sudden dramatic loss of white hair warrants seeing a doctor to diagnose and treat any underlying medical causes.

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