The public has long associated stress with the development of gray hairs, an observational link so common that it spawned phrases like, “You’re giving me gray hair.” A new study has confirmed that yes, indeed, experiencing too much stress may cause some of your hair to lose its youthful color — but this isn’t a permanent change and you can, with some relaxation, reverse the color loss.
The new study comes from Columbia University, where researchers report that experiencing psychological stress can cause your hair to start graying. This color change impacts new hairs; contrary to popular mythology, existing already-grown hairs can’t be drained of their color.
It’s not surprising that the study confirmed a link between experiencing stress and developing gray hair. What is notable, however, is that the researchers say this impact can be reversed so that, in time, the gray hair disappears and new strands grow with their original color.
The findings were based on a precise analysis of individual hairs from more than a dozen participants. These people likewise kept a stress diary, enabling the researchers to compare the hair data with the participants’ self-reported stress levels. This is the first time scientists have ‘quantitatively documented’ that these hairs can regain their natural colors when stress is removed from the equation.
There is a limit, however, with the researchers pointing out that hair naturally turns gray as a person ages, and dealing with stress can only do so much. Rather, it seems there’s a “threshold” where hair starts to turn gray, and becoming stressed closer to that threshold may push one’s hair over the edge.
For this reason, learning to meditate or reducing the stress in one’s life won’t reduce the gray hair one may have at the age of, for example, 70. At the same time, a child who experiences high levels of stress likely won’t develop gray hairs as they’re far from that transition threshold.