From the legendary story of Marie Antoinette’s hair turning white overnight to the press coverage of Obama’s graying temples, the link between stress and gray hair has been a longtime concern. While some scientists blame the salt and pepper look on genetics alone, others suggest stress can send us straight to the salon
Touch of Gray — Why It Matters
Since going gray is part of the normal biological aging process, even fans of ohm-ing the stress away are bound to sport the silver eventually. Gray hair usually appears around the big 4-0, when the body stops supplying strands with melanin, the pigment that gives hair its color
Gray Matter — The Answer/Debate
The issue is anything but black and white: Health experts disagree on how much of a role stress plays in the graying process. Some researchers say worry on, since psychological stress has nothing do with going gray. Others claim genetics largely predict who goes gray when, but that frazzled feeling may also be a factor. (Mental health day, anyone?) Still, there’s some evidence stress can speed up the fade-out. In one study, doctors claimed patients under stress experienced accelerated graying. And other research, conducted on mice, suggests stress triggers biological changes that can cause hair to turn gray (before the experiment, the rodents were starring in these commercials). The science is tricky — some researchers think chronic stress makes the body more vulnerable to DNA damage, causing problems that range from gray hair to malignant tumors
But there may be a shiny, pigmented light at the end of the tunnel. Currently, a group of German scientists is working to develop the first-ever topical cream that reverses the hydrogen peroxide build-up that makes us go grey . The revolutionary cream treatment would also cure vitiligo, a condition in which the skin loses melanin and white patches appear on the skin, hair, and eyes.
For the time being, though, the best solution for those concerned about preserving their lovely locks is to chill out. After all, stressing out about a strand or two might only make things worse.
Photo by Marissa Angell.
Have you found your first gray hair? (Eek!) Tell is whether or not you think stress is to blame.
Originally published December 2012. Updated May 2013