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Does stress turn hair gray?

Charles J. Sophy, MD
Adolescent Medicine

It's the gradual depletion of stem cells that leads to the loss of pigment in the hair; the process of graying is a multivariable equation. Stress hormones may impact the survival and/or activity of melanocytes, but no clear link has been found between stress and gray hair.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
There is no scientific evidence that stress, alone, can turn hair gray. However, there is some emerging evidence that stress in some people may accelerate hair graying. Hair turns gray when the hair’s pigment cells, melanocytes, stop depositing color on the hair fibers, leading to less color and eventually no color. Graying hair is a natural part of the aging process and most people notice their first gray hairs when they are in their thirties.

Whether or not extreme stress, especially the psycho-emotional kind, can turn hair prematurely gray is a contested area of study. Stress has been shown to affect melanocytes in hair follicles, which are responsible for giving your hair color. No one goes gray overnight, though, contrary to old wives’ tales. Researchers are now finding that stress may have detrimental effects on melanocytestem cells, suggesting this could result in permanent damage that contributes to stress-induced graying.

From The Mind-Beauty Connection: 9 Days to Less Stress, Gorgeous Skin, and a Whole New You by Amy Wechsler.

Several studies are working to determine if there is a link between physical or emotional stress and gray hair. Most hair turns gray as a sign of normal aging. Cells called melanocytes inject a pigment called melanin into the substance called keratin that becomes our hair. Melanin reduces as we age, meaning less pigment is injected into the future hair, turning the hair gray or white. Stress has been known to cause hair to fall out, so some speculate that gray hair becomes more noticeable as we lose pigmented hair. Currently, there is no direct evidence proving that physical or emotional stress causes gray hair, but one 2009 study in Japan found that environmental stressors such as ultraviolet light and chemicals could deplete melanocytes like aging does.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.