Does Your Hair Turn Gray Faster When You’re Stressed?

A man looks at his gray hair in a mirror.

There’s an old adage that too much stress will lead to gray hair. Let’s be real, stress doesn’t exactly have good effects on our bodies, so why shouldn’t this be true? But when it comes to science, can stress turn hair gray faster or is this just a popular myth?

Table of Contents

Why Does Hair Turn Gray?
Is There a Link Between Stress and Gray Hair?
What to Do About Graying Hair?

Why Does Hair Turn Gray?

Each hair on your head is made up of two parts: the shaft and the root. The shaft is the long, colored part that grows outside your head, while the root is what keeps the hair attached under the scalp.

The root of the hair is enveloped in a tube of tissue called a hair follicle. Each follicle contains pigment cells that produce melanin, a substance that gives each strand of hair its unique color and is also responsible for our skin tone. These pigment cells gradually die off as we age. So as the pigment cells in a hair follicle deplete, they start to produce less melanin, which causes the hair’s color to lighten. The hair eventually goes completely gray or white.

However, pigment cells aren’t just affected by age. People’s hair can go gray or white at any age, even while they are still in their teens. How quickly our pigment cells die depends largely on genetics. In fact, most of us start to go gray around the same age that our parents did.

Is There a Link Between Stress and Gray Hair?

Until recently, the majority of scientists believed that stress wasn’t responsible for the development of gray hair. Any supposed connection between the two was mostly attributed to coincidence or stress-related symptoms—such as telogen effluvium, a stress-induced condition that speeds up the process of hair shedding.

However, a 2020 study on mice links the development of gray hair to the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for your “fight or flight” response. This system induces stress in your body and releases norepinephrine to prepare you for action.

Researchers have found that norepinephrine can also damage melanocyte stem cells, which are responsible for regenerating color in your hair follicles. Therefore, frequent stress could indeed damage pigment cells and increase the speed of the graying process.

In the study, the mice went irreversibly gray within mere days of the stressful activities they underwent. This suggests that once your hair turns gray, it can’t return to its old color. While there’s nothing abnormal about hair going gray, there’s now potential scientific evidence that stress could speed up the change.

What to Do About Graying Hair?

Finding ways to destress can decrease the speed at which your hair turns gray if studies definitely prove the connection. It will also do wonders for the rest of your body and brain, as stress is known to cause a whole host of other problems. Eating a nutrient-rich diet, exercising regularly, and staying hydrated can all contribute to decreased stress levels. Participating in soothing activities like meditation and yoga will also help.

If you’ve noticed that your hair is turning gray prematurely and you’ve already ruled out genetics, try destressing to slow the process down. If this doesn’t have any effect, see a doctor for further recommendations.

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