How Stress Causes Grey Hair

Medically Reviewed by Dr Sravya, MBBS, MS 


In my childhood, there used to be a funny practice among my friends. Whenever we spotted gray hair on a friend’s head, we would spot it and tell her that he or she was going to have good luck soon.

It was funny back then, but as we near our thirties, seeing a bunch of gray hairs on ours or someone else’s head has made us worry about it. It is commonly said that stress affects the color of the hair, causing it to turn gray. That’s why let’s find out in this article: Does stress cause gray hair ?

In a given time, our hairs are in one of the following stages of growth:

Does stress cause gray hair

How does hair get its color?

Hair by itself doesn’t have any color. The color is produced by the melanocytes and is genetically determined. The melanocytes are melanin-producing cells. They produce two types of melanin. Eumelanin is responsible for brown to black color, and pheomelanin produces yellow to red color. The ratio of eumelanin and pheomelanin determines which color your hair and pupils will have.

The melanocytes are produced from melanocyte stem cells. The bulging region of the hair root contains these stem cells. When the anagen phase begins, some of these stem cells turn into melanocytes and produce melanin. Thus, the newly formed hair gets its color.

Causes of gray hair

Whiter hair is more common in those with darker hair tints, which is more noticeable. Even though colorless hair strands can occur at any age, including while you’re still in high school or college, white hair is a sign of aging. If you’re a teenager or in your 20s, you might find one or
more white hair strands.

Depending on the cause, there might be treatments to restore pigment. Listed below are a few common causes of premature gray hair.


How likely you are to develop white hair depends largely on your genetics. If you start graying or noticing white hair at a young age, it’s possible that your grandparents or parents did the same. Genes are unchangeable. If you dislike the way that your gray hair appears, you can always color it.

Immune disorder

An autoimmune disorder may potentially be the cause of premature white hair. During this stage, the body’s immune system attacks its cells. Immune system assaults on hair can cause alopecia and vitiligo patients to lose pigment.

Thyroid condition

Changes in hormones brought on by thyroid conditions like hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism can also cause premature white hair. At the base of your neck, there lies a butterfly-shaped gland called the thyroid. It aids in maintaining various biological processes, including metabolism. Your thyroid condition might also affect the color of your hair. If your thyroid is overactive or underactive, your body might produce less melanin.

B-12 vitamin deficiency Early-onset

White hair can also be a sign of vitamin B-12 insufficiency. This vitamin is crucial to your body’s functioning. It also helps with healthy hair development and hair color. It offers you energy.

When your body can’t absorb enough of this vitamin, it leads to a condition known as pernicious anemia, which is linked to a vitamin B-12 shortage. Your body needs vitamin B-12 for good red blood cells, which provide oxygen to all of your cells, including hair cells. A deficiency could harm hair cells and affect the production of melanin.


Smoking has also been linked to the early thinning of hair. One study with 107 participants discovered a link between smoking cigarettes and the “onset of gray hair before the age of 30.”

It is well known that smoking cigarettes increases the risk of lung cancer and heart disease. However, the long-term effects can harm the hair in addition to the heart and lungs. Smoking induces the blood vessels to narrow, which reduces the blood flow to the hair follicles and  results in hair loss. In addition, the toxins in cigarettes can harm your body’s tissues, affecting your hair follicles, which results in the early thinning of your hair.

As we age, it is normal for our hair to grow thin or gray. Your hair gets its color from melanin-
containing pigment cells that are formed in tiny sacs on your skin called follicles. White or gray hair results from the hair follicles gradual loss of pigment-producing cells as we age.

However, an underlying ailment can also cause gray hair or the onset of gray hair at a young age.

The medical name for early white hair is canities. Several factors, including deficits, lifestyle choices, and genetics, may contribute to this illness. To properly treat gray hair at a young age, it is critical to understand the causes. To get the best premature gray hair treatment, speak with a dermatologist to better understand city hair. If necessary, they might refer you to a specialist to get the condition treated.

Does stress cause gray hair?

A recent study found that stress can result in gray hair. Researchers discovered that a significant factor in graying hair is the body’s fight-or-flight reaction.

Reducing or managing stress is one method for protecting your mental health. Both our physical and emotional well-being are negatively impacted by stress. For instance, we are aware that stress can lead to wrinkles and an aging appearance.

Grey hair is yet another physical repercussion of stress. Stress has been linked in studies to an irreversible graying of the hair. Quite intriguing, huh? One day, after worrying about something all day, you go to bed with black hair and wake up with gray hair.

How does stress cause gray hair?

Melanocytes are pigment-producing cells that control your hair’s color. New melanocytes are created by melanocyte cells called stem cells, which are located in the hair root at the base of each hair strand.

These stem cells gradually vanish as we mature. The scientists demonstrated that stress also causes the loss of these pigment-producing stem cells.

The sympathetic nervous system, which regulates the body’s response to danger, is made up of nerves that pass through the body and into hair follicles. The results of the recent study demonstrated that norepinephrine is released into the follicle in response to stress.

The melanocyte stem cells that reside there are impacted by norepinephrine. They quickly transform into pigment-producing cells as a result, and they leave the hair follicles. New hair turns gray or white when there are no stem cells left to produce new pigment cells.

Stem cells, which are converted into pigmentation when new hair is created, give hair follicles their color. Graying hair is caused by a lack of pigment. There are a finite number of stem cells, which are kept in a warehouse. Norepinephrine, which stimulates stem cells, is released by
sympathetic nerves when you’re stressed out, putting you in a fight-or-flight situation. As a pigment, the stem cells leave the storage. Hair turns gray when stem cells are destroyed because it can no longer obtain color. In this way, stress can cause gray hair.

Dr. Ya-Chieh Hsu of Harvard University, who oversaw the study, said, “When we started studying this, I assumed that being stressed was bad for the body—but the detrimental effect of stress that we found was beyond what I imagined.” All of the melanocyte stem cells were gone in just a few days. Once lost, pigments can no longer be renewed. The harm is irreparable.

Reversal of gray hair due to stress

Scientists have found that when the stress component is eliminated, the hair follicle may return to its original color. But if you are old, then it might be a challenging process.

Stress can be reduced by

Stress has a critical role in assisting our ability to respond quickly to threats and stay safe. However, prolonged stress exposure may exacerbate existing physical health problems or mental health problems like anxiety and depression.

According to Dr. Borland,”a large body of investigation demonstrates that elevated levels of stress conflict with your capability to handle physical illness.” While stress is impossible to eliminate, you could try to control it in a manner that will help you recover more quickly.

Whatever you are drinking and consuming can help your health

For some people, binge drinking is a typical form of relaxation. Even if, in the short run, these actions seem to lessen stress, they might really make it worse. Stress might be negatively impacted by caffeine as well. While having a diet that is nutritious and balanced may help you
feel less stressed,

Regular exercise

In addition to its benefits for physical health, exercise is an excellent stress reliever. Consider non-competitive aerobic exercise, weightlifting, or movement techniques like yoga or Tai Chi, as well as setting reasonable goals for yourself. Endorphins are organic compounds that help you feel better and maintain a positive outlook. Endorphins are demonstrated to be released during aerobic activity.

Give up using nicotine and tobacco products.

People who use nicotine usually describe it as a stress reliever. However, since nicotine increases physical arousal while lowering blood flow and breathing, it makes your body feel more stressed. Smoking won’t help if you experience prolonged stress or physical discomfort because it can make the suffering worse.

Researching and using relaxation techniques every day

You can control your stress levels and protect your body from the harmful effects of stress by relaxing. There are numerous methods you can use, such as deep breathing, visualization, guided imagery, gradual relaxation of muscles, and meditation for mindfulness. There are numerous websites and mobile apps with instructions for these procedures. While many are free to access, some do require payments.

Reduce stress-inducing factors

Utilizing time-management strategies like setting priorities, pace-setting, identifying priorities, and scheduling time for self-care, however, may help you find more time.

Examine your principles and uphold them.

No matter how hectic your life is, you’ll feel better the more your actions align with your convictions. Think about your values before choosing your activities.

Be assertive

It’s acceptable to say “no” to time and energy requests that will put you under too much stress. You’e not always compelled to live up to     others’  expectations.

Make reasonable expectations and goals.

Realizing you can’t succeed in everything you try at once is also acceptable and beneficial. Focus on enjoying the elements that you can’t change while taking into account the things you can.

Promote your interests

Remember your strengths while you’re feeling overwhelmed. There are methods you might employ to cultivate a strong sense of self-worth. Good hygienic practices should also be followed to maintain hair health. This includes proper hair washing, using mild shampoos and conditioners, limiting the use of heat, etc.

Through such practices, external stress on the hair can be limited.


Your body can suffer a lot of harm from stress, including physical alterations as well as mental and emotional issues. If your hair color is important to you, you should stop being trapped in a never-ending worry cycle. Contact doctors right away if it appears that you are having trouble handling stress on your own.

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