The Stress Sabotage: Why does it result in Gray Hair?

As your youth may seem like it’s counting its days and the back & knee soreness aren’t perhaps new visitors to you; the age is coming! And with the AGE comes gray hair and diminution in your ability to perform better at physical activitiesFor someone in their thirties, this might be a big concern. You mustn’t be surprised if we tell you that age isn’t the only factor that is pertinent to getting gray hair. 

It is now scientifically proven that stress (oh, hey there best friend!) plays a major role in the early arrival of gray hair in both men and women. Just what a confidence-wrecker is that one.

The graying of your hair can be as untimely as the early twenties, or as late as mid-fifties for some. While genetics do have an important role in this, the amount of stress that you take has a massive impact on the process. Before we take you into the biology of this process, you must not forget that stressing about your stress causing you to get gray hair earlier than you expectedly would is only going to speed up the process, thanks! 

Most importantly don’t make your relationships go sour just because you can’t handle stress. Have some excitement and thrill in bed – it’s a great way to remain stressfully happy and is also known to keep you healthy. It’s a win-win. Talking about stress – you and your partner don’t need all that negativity in your life and definitely not that gray hair, anytime soon. 

The Science Behind Gray Hair

As you might already know, an ordinary human head has about a hundred thousand hair-budding follicles that grow hair by packing tiny cells at the bottom of it. Now, all the cells that work to assemble the coloured hair are helped hugely by a pigment called melanin (produced by the cell melanocyte)[1], which is the colour OG deal for everyone’s hair. Without melanin, there is no colour for thy hair. The hair that has the least or no amount of melanin is gray or white in colour. 

So, what does this melanin thing have to do with my stress and gray hair? Plot twist alert. Stress doesn’t in fact “turn” the hair gray or as science puts it, hair doesn’t turn gray at all.[2]  All the hair that is produced by the follicles is meant to be of the colour it started with, be it black, brown, red, whichever. It is the age that is to blame for the gray hair, especially hair-fall. 

When you age and lose all your “young-melanin-rich” hair, the follicles produce new hair for you, but these clearly lack some of the melanin-magic. As your new hair doesn’t have a lot of melanin-magic in them, it is either gray or white if there’s no melanin at all.

This is where the stress comes into play. 

According to a study by the Harvard Medical, a common scalp disorder called telogen effluvium causes a person to lose a lot of hair at the rate of three times faster. As that hair falls, the follicles go ahead on producing new hair, except this time the hair is a little short of the pigment melanin; which means more gray colour. Therefore, more stress means more hair fall which might result in more production of gray hair.[3]

Another factor to consider is cortisol, aka the “stress hormone”. Cortisol is released by the adrenal gland (which is also the gland responsible for the production of the sex hormones) and helps your body deal with stressful times, but high levels of this hormone do more harm than good.[4]

As the stress hormone releases vital chemicals when the person is facing a stressful situation, such as corticotrophin[5], these chemicals cause a diminution in the melanocytes in follicles. This takes us to yet another factor that is closely related to the whole cortisol situation yet has a bigger role to play in the early hair graying process. It’s the Sympathetic Nervous System.[6]

Researching more is what we need

The Harvard study that we talked about above is just one carried out on mouse, and we need human trials to get more insights. The color change though is just one aspect to it, and as there is more research, we can get to know about other internal changes stress can result in. 

Understanding how the tissues can change under stress might eventually help us get a cure to graying hair too – but that is still a bit farther in the timeline. 

[1] De Fabo EC. Arctic stratospheric ozone depletion and increased UVB radiation: potential impacts to human health. Int J Circumpolar Health. 2005;64:509–522. [PubMed]


[3] Panhard S, Lozano I, Loussouarn G. Greying of the human hair: A worldwide survey, revisiting the ‘50’ rule of thumb. Br J Dermatol. 2012;167:865–73. [PubMed]

[4] Oswald LM, Zandi P, Nestadt G, Potash JB, Kalaydjian AE, Wand GS. Relationship between cortisol response to stress and personality. Neuropsychopharmacology. (2006);31:1583–1591. doi: 10.1038/sj.npp.1301012. [PubMed]