Why is my mustache mostly white on one side?
January 10, 2008 4:08 PM   Subscribe

Why do I grow substantially more white hairs on the left side of my mustache than on the right side?

I'm 27, and I've had a mustache for several years now. It grows out mostly brown, but it's getting more "salt & pepper" as time goes by. My fiance likes to pluck the white hairs out of my 'stache, and I let her do so about once a month.

Going by some rough counts over the past several months, I seem to get about 3-4x times as many white hairs on the left side (my left) as on the right, and I'd love to have an explanation as to why.

I understand that there are lots of body phenomena that involves certain sides of the body, but I've never read anything about hair growth being one of them. My googling is probably limited by not knowing what terms or phrases to use. Any ideas or links to literature would be appreciated.

Thanks in advance!
posted by chudmonkey to Health & Fitness (14 answers total)
Sounds like you have the moustache version of a Mallen streak. (Sorry, dunnno the cause. Though I've heard it's a form of albinism.)
posted by hjo3 at 4:28 PM on January 10, 2008

hjo3, I can't seem to find any references to a "Mallen streak" beyond the fictional works of Catherine Cookson. Is this a recognized physiological condition or strictly an imaginary conceit?
posted by chudmonkey at 4:34 PM on January 10, 2008

I am experiencing the same thing with my beard--white hairs just congregate on one side of my chin. I don't think this phenomenon is reducible to biological design (like handedness). Rather, this seems to be one of those things that just are.

Incidentally, if it were me, I would color the gray, rather than plucking them out. You will get more and more of those little gray suckers, and you don't want a bare patch on your 'stache. Look at women's eyebrows--you don't want a lady's eyebrow on your lip, do you?

Well, maybe if it were attached to a lady and she was coming in for some chudmonkey love. But you don't want an eyebrow growing out of your lip, let me tell you.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:34 PM on January 10, 2008

Thanks for chiming in, Admiral. If it were up to me, I'd leave the white hairs there... I need the illusion of age to compensate for my general childishness. I'm going to let my fiance keep plucking them until she realizes it's a losing battle. She's very careful about avoiding thin patches, thankfully.
posted by chudmonkey at 5:00 PM on January 10, 2008

Why do I grow substantially more white hairs on the left side of my mustache than on the right side?

I cannot say for certain. But try the following experiment:

1. Employ a nasal spray;

2. Sleep on your right side.

Please let me know how this works.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 5:09 PM on January 10, 2008

I had a lot of small, sand-sized "wounds" from a bombing in which I was a victim. As you'd expect, these smaller wounds healed and disappeared very quickly because of their size. They were the result of tiny little bits of exploded brick or metal being propelled at me at a skillion miles per hour. After a month of two, there was no trace of these minor wounds - except on my head, where, directly above my right eye, about three centimeters above my hairline, I had a few white hairs (I have brown hair) which weeks appeared after the bombing. You wouldn't probably notice them if you saw me, and it's definitely not a case of "going grey" or anything like that - years have gone by and I haven' gone grey anywhere else. A doctor explained that serious trauma (even as small and localized as this) to a part of your body where hair grows can affect the color, thickness and straightness of hair. Sometimes this effect won't occur for years, but people who have white patches (I'm thinking of Jay Leno, though I don't know if this applies in his case) may have them as a result of an injury that occurred much earlier. The original injury can be nothing more than a serious bruise or bump, but people don't make the connection because there may be decades between the injury and the appearance of white hair.

So your unevenly white moustache could conceivably have happened because of some long-forgotten injury or something like that. I'm no doctor and can't say for sure, but it's possible.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 5:13 PM on January 10, 2008

Clyde, I do sleep on my right side, and I considered this a possible reason, but I still wouldn't understand why it's the reason. And why nasal spray?

Dee, that's some good thinking... No I wrack my mind for lip trauma from my past....
posted by chudmonkey at 5:27 PM on January 10, 2008

Adding to your list of terms to google:

Poliosis is the term used to describe a localized patch of white hair, unilateral poliosis decribes depigmentation which occurs on one side of the body.

Piebaldism, vitiligo, Waardenburg's syndrome and Marfan's syndrome are often accompanied by poliosis as are certain skin cancers. Nevi (birthmarks) can also create localized differences in the color, texture and density of hair which grows from the lesion as can fungal infections of the skin. As far as I can remember, none of the above are strictly left/right oriented but some present only on the left or right of the midline or are so localized that it seems like they are presenting unilaterally.

A dermatologist would be the sort of doctor who deals initially with pigment variations, if you were concerned enough to follow up after scaring yourself half to death reading the above. IANAD.
posted by jamaro at 5:43 PM on January 10, 2008

I Am Not A Geneticist, but the"Mallen streak" that hjo3 mentions is often a symptom of a genetic disorder, such as "Waardenburg syndrome." A quick Wiki-ing suggests that pigmentation anomalies are may linked to genetic factors.

On preview, what jamaro said.
posted by lekvar at 5:45 PM on January 10, 2008

I'm with the Admiral, about 5 years ago the gray started on the left temple, only in the last year has it moved to the right temple. And since I've been on vacation for a month and have a 14 day shadow on my face... yep, about 3-4x as many gray hairs on the left compared to the right. I have no clue what would cause it other than randomness. I certainly can't remember any trauma to the left side of my face...
posted by zengargoyle at 8:02 PM on January 10, 2008

Hair growth is asymmetrical just like lots of other things. I have one foot bigger than the other, one arm longer than the other and twice as much hair on one side of my head as the other. Just another thing for me to be careful of when getting my hair cut (hair dressers are never phased by it btw, is pretty common). Why would hair growth or pigmentation be any different than everything else?

Your body has to be asymmetrical for normal development. That's how lopsided organs like your heart are made, and there's a genetic switch very early in embryonic development (which I can never remember the details of) which causes this. If the switch doesn't happen and the embryo continues to develop symmetrically it generally aborts, the asymmetry is a fairly important requirement of normal development. Which I always found interesting given that standards of beauty generally involve a high degree of symmetry and this is considered associated with health and genetic fitness.

And yeah, you could have a patch of Vitiligo there causing a localised loss of pigmentation but given it's more a trend than a specific white patch I'm betting it's just another artefact of being a lopsided person to begin with.
posted by shelleycat at 9:36 PM on January 10, 2008

It'll even out as the years tick by. My beard started to go gray on the right side of my chin when I was in my late 20s but now at 43 the whole damn thing is peppery.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 11:16 PM on January 10, 2008

I have seen people with a beard that started to go grey on one side first, then the other side goes too, although it may take a while. In the meantime, I'd just dye it for now and wait for the other side to catch up. (Occam's Razor explanation.)
posted by unrepentanthippie at 6:32 AM on January 11, 2008

It happens. I've been going grey slowly over ten years, and it all started just to the left of my part, near the front of my head. It's spread out from there over the years, but that was where it started, and where it's still the most obvious. My left eyebrow has started greying first, too.

No injury or trauma, either. But, my mom, her brother, and her father all went grey in the same fashion.
posted by Kellydamnit at 7:43 AM on January 11, 2008

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