Yes, stress can make you gray because stress causes your body to produce more of a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine causing the follicle to turn gray. We go into more detail a bit lower with the medical examples. But graying hair from stress isn’t what you should worry about.
Stress can make your hair fall out before it should, no matter what color it is (source). This is why it is important to determine the causes of your stress and find ways to eliminate it.
If stress is making your hair gray like a foggy day, then some meditation, relaxation, or even a vacation can be your ray of sunshine to help restore color to your hair (source).
Fun fact: The origin of stress making your hair go gray may originate with Marie Antoinette. This myth started back in 1793 when urban legend held that Marie Antoinette, the final queen of France, turned gray overnight due to the stress and fright of her date on October 16. (source)
Outside of elitism, Marie was known for beauty and elegance. Her going gray from stress may have ricocheted across the world starting the rumor that your hair will turn gray from stress. She had an extreme circumstance, and this circumstance is a likely origin of the urban legend (with some basis in truth) that we still believe today.
How Stress Makes Your Hair Gray and Whether It’s Reversible
Stress is another way of saying your body is in a state of fight or flight. This can be acute (you get genuinely scared by horror movies while watching) or chronic (you constantly worry about horror movies in real life.)
When your body goes into fight or flight mode it produces a cocktail of hormones, with a double shot of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, a.k.a. noradrenaline (source). When this chemical reaches the hair follicle, it causes stem cells called melanocytes to prematurely turn into pigment and leave the follicle. And without enough remaining melanocytes to color the new hair, it comes out gray (source).
But that’s not the end of the story. Cortisol is another ingredient in that stress cocktail, and even though it doesn’t affect the color of your hair, cortisol does slow your hair growth. This is one of the reasons cortisol is commonly linked to thinning hair or full blown alopecia (source).
But don’t worry, there’s a lot of good news too! First, make sure you don’t listen to the urban myth about plucking your grays. It’s not going to make you regrow hair any faster, and plucking your hair could even damage the hair follicle. Not to mention, plucking hair means you have less hair on your head, and if you’re already “stressed” about hair loss, this illusion may add to it.
If you find more and more gray hairs because of stress, the best thing to do is relax. Yes, that’s just a cliché, but in this case the science backs it up. Getting rid of stress allows your body to catch its breath and get back to the daily grind of coloring your gorgeous locks (source). When your body leaves panic mode, the hormones mentioned above can begin going back to their normal levels and your hair can begin regaining its natural color.
How Hair Gets Its Color or Lack Thereof
Your hair doesn’t “turn gray.” What actually happens is your body stops coloring it. That’s right, inside each one of those 100,000+ hair follicles on your head is a microscopic salon.
The melanocyte stem cells in your hair follicles produce the pigment that colors your hair. There are only two types of pigment, dark (eumelanin) and light (pheomelanin). Like the paint station at a home improvement store, your body mixes these two pigments in different ratios to create your natural hair color.
To the naked eye, you might look like a pure blonde, brunette, or redhead, but under a microscope, each strand of hair looks more like a gradient than a solid color (source).
So, what causes any individual strand of hair to appear gray is not the result of hair “turning” gray. It’s the result of your body no longer having active melanocyte cells, either because they took off during a stressful situation, or because they died off completely.
Live long enough and we all go gray, but it can happen to some people before others. This is usually because of genetics, but can also happen because of health issues such as thyroid disease or vitamin B-12 deficiencies (source).
So, if you’re stressed about going gray, take a break, take a vacation, or enjoy a long massage and bubble bath because now you know that you can keep the gray away (at least for a while longer). If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the TELETIMES blog below and get new content like this to your inbox.