Woman with gray hair standing in front of buildingWoman with gray hair standing in front of building

Fact or Fiction: Can Stress Cause Gray Hair?

Stress is known as the "silent killer." It's a key risk factor for heart disease and stroke, which is something to keep an eye on as you age. Stress is also suspected of causing gray hair, but is it true? VEGAMOUR dug into the research and talked to an expert to determine if stress can cause gray hair. Plus, find out what products you should use to combat graying strands from the inside out.

Can Stress Cause Gray Hair?

It's an old wives' tale that stress causes gray hair, but is there any truth to this widely believed myth? Before we dive into that answer, it's important to understand the role that stress plays in the body.

Stress activates your sympathetic nervous system, which contributes to what is known as the "fight or flight" response. This signals the adrenal to release hormones called adrenalin (epinephrine) and cortisol, as well as the stress hormone corticosterone.

"[When] your body is in a fight or flight mode, it releases high levels of cortisol and affects the hair follicle," said Katelyn Ellsworth, lead stylist, color and extension expert and founder of The Roslyn Salon in San Diego, California. "The stress can affect the scalp health and ultimately the hair cycle and hair follicle, which can result in more gray hair. The melanin (color part of your hair) is reduced in this case, which is when you see the gray."

Hormones have a huge impact on your hair health, so it's actually not a huge leap to assume that stress can turn hair gray. Your sympathetic nervous system is spread out across the body, including at the base of the hair follicle. Stress hormones cause pigment-producing cells to activate prematurely, depleting the hair's “reserves” of color.

As you age, those reserves are depleted more quickly, which might cause you to gray prematurely. Chronic stress, life stress and psychological stress all have the potential to trigger this snowball into this stress response and lead to graying hair.

What Scientists Are Saying About Stress and Gray Hair

Scientists who study the impact of stress-induced graying confirm what our moms and grandmothers always told us: stress causes gray hair. What conventional wisdom didn't know is that hair graying caused by stress is actually reversible.

It's true: studies show that taking the stress away could actually allow white strands to return to the natural color at the root. Why? Aging is not a linear process that sets you on an irreversible course once it starts. The aging process is slightly malleable and allows for some wiggle room in the right context, whether that means slowing down the aging process or, in some cases, a reversal.

One study found that an increase in stress corresponded with hair graying, which scientists correlated through interviews with the participants. When the participants reported a reduction in stress, like going on vacation or resolving a stressful event, the hair regained its pigment.

Although the results of this study were promising, the sample size was small and more research needs to be done. Timing also plays a key role in this process. If you're around middle age and about to go gray, stress can push you across that threshold faster, but there's also a chance that when you remove that stress, your hair pigmentation could return. If you've been gray for 20 years, it's unlikely that your gray hairs will revert back to their natural state, even if you reduce your stress levels.

Also: What to Know About Stress & Hair Loss

Other Ways Stress Can Impact Hair

Stress can affect more than just your hair color. When your body is under stress, it will divert resources from your hair follicles to the rest of your body, which needs the nutrients more than your hair. Your immune and circulatory systems are essential for survival, whereas your hair is not. This can exacerbate hair thinning and shedding and trigger certain types of hair loss that are closely linked to acute and chronic stress: telogen effluvium, alopecia areata and trichotillomania.

Telogen effluvium is a type of hair loss characterized by the sudden and diffuse thinning over the entire scalp, typically triggered by acute stress.

Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition that occurs when the immune system attacks the hair follicles, resulting in patchy hair loss. According to some studies, trauma or intense stress might increase your chance of developing an autoimmune disease, like alopecia areata.

Finally, trichotillomania is a mental disorder characterized by a compulsive impulse to pull out hair in your scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows or any other part of the body. For some people, extreme stress could trigger trichotillomania.

Read More: 7 Lifestyle & Nutrition Tweaks to Reduce Stress in No Time

How to Address Gray Hair Caused By Stress

Avoiding stress completely isn't an option for most people, but reducing stress is possible no matter your lifestyle — and it can have compounding effects on your overall health and wellness. By incorporating a few strategies and lifestyle changes into your daily routine, you'll be ready to handle any stress that happens to come your way. Here are a few easy strategies for dealing with stress:

  • Eat healthy, whole foods: A well-balanced diet gives your body the nutrients it needs to work effectively. Aim for color and variety and avoid skipping meals, which can cause your blood sugar to spike.
  • Exercise: Daily exercise can help relieve tension and elevate your heart rate, which your body and mind in sharp form. (Always ask your doctor before starting a new exercise program if you have preexisting conditions.)
  • Meditate: A daily meditation practice can do wonders for your health, including mental and emotional health. A few minutes of meditation per day can help clear the mind, improve mood, boost brain function, reduce stress, slow down the aging process and support a healthy metabolism.
  • Prioritize sleep: The body and mind recover while you sleep, which is necessary to operate at peak performance. Strive to get eight hours of sleep per night.

Upgrade Your Hair Care Routine

If your hair is going gray from stress, it's important to take a good look at the products in your hair care routine. Some products contain allergens or other potentially damaging chemical ingredients that could be hurting your hair when it's already feeling the effects of stress. But there are also products available to help keep grays under control.

GRO AGELESS Anti-Gray Hair Serum

But there's also something else you can use. GRO AGELESS Anti-Gray Hair Serum can give stressful strands a helpful boost, reducing the appearance of gray on new hair growth and restoring color and shine to graying strands. This age-defying serum is formulated with powerful plant-based active ingredients clinically proven to dramatically restore color and shine to graying hair. In clinical studies, 64% of participants saw less gray hair in as little as 90 days.

GRO AGELESS Gray Delay Hair Supplement

Hair health starts from the inside out, which is why supplements are often part of a holistic wellness routine. They fill in the nutritional gaps left by a poor diet, which tends to happen with increased stress.

GRO AGELESS Gray Delay™ Hair Supplement is formulated to help preserve hair color and prevent gray hairs while also promoting healthy hair and sleep. Each capsule includes a proprietary blend of bioavailable adaptogens and minerals, including:

  • Selenium, copper and keranat™ to neutralize and protect hair from free radicals and help reduce shedding.
  • Vitamin blend (B6, B12, Folic Acid and PABA), iron and zinc to help prevent premature hair graying and support healthy hair growth.
  • GABA, L-Theanine, Venetron®, 5-HTP to alleviate stress, improve sleep and increase serotonin production.

Stress Less for Optimal Hair and Overall Wellness

Stress can seriously affect your health and hair color as you age. By reducing your stress levels, eating healthy foods, using clinically proven anti-graying and gray-delaying products, exercising and sleeping well, you can actually slow down or even halt normal age-related graying. Not only does reducing stress improve your hair health, but it also your overall health, as stress can affect every area of your body. Aging is a natural part of life, but it doesn't have to be stressful. Healthy hair is possible at any age, and by taking care of your hair and body from a holistic perspective, you can encourage stronger, healthier strands in this decade and the next!



Photo credit: Alexandra Tran/Unsplash

Disclaimer: Information in this article is intended for general informational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to constitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek professional medical advice from your physician.