People do have different explanations as to why they have gray hair but in this post, we will answer a common question, does stress cause gray hair?
Gray hair, like wrinkles, is an indication of age, therefore, dreaded. Men find them surfacing when they are around 30, while women may notice their gray hair around 35.
However, there are some who are genetically predisposed to faster graying of hair. Such folks may actually start having gray hair when they are in high school. Therefore, genetics is the undisputed basic determinant of premature graying.
However, many people believe that stress also contributes to premature graying of hair, and have several stories to narrate about it like that of French Queen Mary Antoinette.
It is believed that her hair turned gray overnight because of fear of impending death.
So, Does Stress Really Cause Gray Hair?
To logically arrive at an answer, it is necessary to understand when exactly the hair acquires its color. This means it becomes necessary to understand basics of how hair grows and gets its color. Human scalp is filled with follicles.
Each follicle is tear shaped “cavity”. The hair emerges from these. Many hairs can emerge from the same follicle over its lifetime. The hair is produced from progenitor stem cells that lie below the hair follicle.
These are differentiated into two types of epidermal cells, i.e., keratinocytes and melanocytes. I did write an earlier article about gray hair here so do check if you missed it.
The cellular tissue forming hair is comprised of keratinocytes. These stack themselves in shape of the hair and then die, effectively leaving only keratin behind. This keratin is colorless protein.
While keratinocytes are stacking, they receive hair pigment, i.e., hair melanin, from melanocytes in small packages referred to as melanosomes. The hair melanin is basically red or yellow (pheomelanin) or black or dark brown (eumelanin).
However, a combination of these colors in varying proportions leads to the variety of hair color.
When the hair loses most of the melanin, whichever combination it may be, the hair turns gray. When all melanin is lost, the hair becomes white.
The active phase of a follicle can be anywhere between 2 and 7 years. At any point in time, over 80 percent of these hair follicles are in their active phase. Thereafter, they shrivel. The melanocytes and keratinocytes die.
At the time of the revival of follicles, the progenitor stem cells again differentiate but the lifespan of stem cells differentiating is melanocytes is lower than that of stem cells differentiating as keratinocytes. Therefore, there is a shortage of melanin, leading to graying of hair.
Theories And Studies On Stress And Graying Of Hair
In short, shortage of hair melanin-producing melanocytes over a period is what causes graying of hair. As of now, there is no study that has conclusively correlated stress to destruction or damage to melanocytes. Therefore, theoretically, stress cannot result in graying of hair.
However, stress hormones are known to cause inflammation, which results in an increase in free radicals production. Free radicals are known to damage cells.
The probability of stress leading to graying of hair, especially the way it is suggested in the case of Queen Mary Antoinette is remote since the inflammation site has to be in the hair follicle.
It is likely that she already had graying hair, which was not noticeable because she possibly spent a lot of time grooming. After all, she was almost 38 years old at the time.
The other possibility is that the description was an exaggeration, as was often the case in the past. But thinking of it,gray hair just show you`re nolonger a teen, would you agree?
So, Stress Is Exonerated From The Sin!
Not really because stress does cause hair loss. Moreover, people who already have a genetic predisposition towards gray hair, thanks to a lower number of melanocytes are not immune to the effect of stress as even smallest percentage of increase in free radicals can increase gray hair in their case.
Therefore, stress though not guilty of graying hair dramatically is best avoided.
Hope this post answered your questions on getting gray while still young(I know I said I was too young to turn gray).
If you have any questions, please do leave me a message, hope you found value reading this post and will share it with friends on social media.