My mother used to point to her graying head of hair, and say to me and my two sisters we were responsible for it. I never felt the guilty party, but what was impressed on my sullen teenage brain was the link between stress and gray hair. The memory haunted me when I discovered a rogue clump of white hair around my forehead, that seemingly appeared overnight. I recalled my looming deadlines, late nights, and run-ins with a few strong personalities. Was stress making me turn gray?
I reminded myself to stay calm, and did what everyone in our modern age does, I went straight to the Internet for answer and found more anecdotal evidence. Witness how President Obama and President Bush turned gray as their terms progressed. Heavy (and silver) is the head who wears the crown. Legend has it, Marie Antoinette's locks turned gray the night before her date with the guillotine.
Yet, when scientists and doctors are asked whether stress causes the acceleration of gray hair, you won't get a definitive answer. Most experts say the connection between stress and graying is a myth, though extreme stress may cause a hair loss event (the condition is known as telogen effluvium, but that is a different area of investigation).
One of the reasons aging, not stress, has been attributed to graying is because the rate in which we lose pigments is slow and steady. Hair grows about half an inch per month and the lifespan of a strand is about two to three years. This cycle may get disrupted during physiological stress, such as illness, drastic weight loss, or childbirth, but psychologically-derived stress is too temporary to change hair color.
If not stress, what causes hair to go gray? This much we know, hair color is produced by melanin, and as we age, we produce less of it. The rate of our melanin production is determined by genetics. Blaming your parents, in this context, would not only be scientifically accurate, but also productive. You can gauge when you'll begin to gray by finding out what age it happened to your parents.
The good news: concern for your children, your high-pressure career, and other anxiety triggers are not causing or accelerating your change in color. Stress still is linked to wrinkles and hair loss (plus it's unhealthy), but in the area of hair color, the bottom line is, it's not a factor.
Another upside, if you're reading this blog, you can cover gray quite easily and painlessly with Madison Reed. If you're on a mission to banish your gray, check out our pro tips for covering stubborn grays.
Be sure to read our in-depth article on Gray Hair.