What to Know About Poliosis

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on April 26, 2023
3 min read

Poliosis affects your hair, and can occur in both adults and children. Here’s what you should know about poliosis. 

Poliosis, also called poliosis circumscripta, occurs when you have a white streak in your hair, contrary to your natural hair color. This can affect hair on any part of your body, including your eyebrows and eyelashes, as well as the surrounding skin. 

Poliosis is sometimes called a white forelock because it often affects a patch of hair at the front of your head. This hypopigmented hair doesn’t have any color. 

Poliosis is caused by low amounts of melanin and melanocytes in your hair follicle. Melanin is the pigment that gives skin and hair color, and melanocytes are cells that make melanin. 

There are two general types of poliosis: acquired and genetic.

Acquired poliosis. Acquired poliosis is often caused by different eye diseases but can also coincide with some autoimmune conditions or certain medications. 

Acquired poliosis causes include:

  • Blepharitis: clogged oil glands that cause eyelid swelling
  • Sympathetic ophthalmia: inflammation in your eye after injury or surgery
  • Shingles: a rash caused by a reactivated varicella-zoster virus or chicken pox virus
  • Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada disease: a rare condition where your immune system attacks your pigment cells and affects your eyes, ears, nervous system, and skin
  • Vitiligo: a case where your immune system attacks your pigment cells and causes white patches on your skin
  • Halo nevus: an immune response that causes a white ring around a mole

Some treatments, like radiation and eye medications, can also cause poliosis. 

Genetic. Poliosis may be genetic, or caused by a gene mutation. Some genetic poliosis causes include:

  • Tuberous sclerosisa disease that causes noncancerous growths, patches of white skin, seizures, intellectual disabilities, and other problems
  • Piebaldism: a condition where you’re born with white patches of skin and hair because of a genetic change with proteins in your skin cells
  • Waardenburg syndrome: a group of congenital conditions that cause hearing loss and white patches of skin and hair

The main symptom of poliosis is a white streak or patch in your hair. It can affect patches on your head, eyebrows, eyelashes, arms, and the surrounding skin and scalp. You might only notice a small patch of white hair, or you might have lots of other symptoms if your poliosis is part of another condition. 

These can vary widely and depend on the condition, but they might include:

Your doctor can diagnose poliosis by looking at it. If you have other symptoms, your doctor might do more tests. These might be:

There is no effective treatment for poliosis. There’s one report of a laser treatment that improved poliosis and vitiligo in the eyebrow. The treatment involved 44 sessions of laser, which yielded a 75% improvement. This represents one case and requires intense treatment, though, so more research is needed.  

If you have other conditions, your doctor will diagnose and treat those. Your doctor might give you steroid creams and use light therapy for vitiligo, for example, but these don’t usually stop the white patches from spreading.  

If your skin is also affected, you’ll need to wear sunscreen and protect your skin with hats or long clothing. 

If your white hair bothers you, you’re not alone. Some people feel very upset about how it looks, which can affect self-esteem and confidence. You can choose to hide poliosis with hair dye or wear a hat, headscarf, bandana, or wig. 

If you really struggle to adjust to your poliosis, your doctor might suggest a support group where you can connect with other people who also have poliosis and other conditions that cause it. 

White hair from poliosis, though, won’t return to your natural color again. It’s caused by a lack of pigment and pigment cells, which leads to permanent color loss. 

If your color loss is new, or you notice white skin patches that are spreading, talk to your doctor.