You may not be surprised to hear that stress causes gray hair. What's pretty darn intriguing, however, is that gray hair may be reversible. Yep, you heard us right.
According to a new study by Columbia University, removing stress from one's life can reverse the graying process, changing the root color of gray strands back to their original hue.
We know it's been a stressful year what with the pandemic and all, but seriously, it's time to chill out. For the sake of your strands!
In a recent study published in eLife, researchers at Columbia University plucked 397 human hair samples from the heads of 14 people ranging from age nine to 39. These participants were asked to keep a stress diary to identify periods of stress they experienced over the year. Researchers then analyzed the individual hairs of the participants over time, and compared them to the entries that subjects kept in their stress diaries. They found a direct link between gray patches of hair and stress.
"When hairs are still under the skin as follicles, they are subject to the influence of stress hormones and other things happening in our mind and body,” says the study's senior author Martin Picard, an associate professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. "Once hairs grow out of the scalp, they harden and permanently crystallize these exposures into a stable form."
The most significant finding from this new research is that some participants’ grey hairs naturally reverted to their natural hair color when life stress dissipated. For example, one subject went on a two-week vacation, and five gray hairs returned to their original color during the holiday.
A protein known as melanin is responsible for the color of your hair. The stem cells in the hair follicles that produce melanin are called melanocytes. Over time, these stem cells diminish and stop producing melanocytes, which leads to hair graying.
When researchers took a closer look at the hair pigmentation patterns in comparison with reports of stressful events in participants' lives, they noted "showed striking associations."
"When one donor reported an increase in stress, a hair lost its pigment. When the donor reported a reduction in stress, the same hair regained its pigment," writes Dr. Picard.
Going gray is a natural part of the aging process. However, this study finds that increased stress levels can trigger increased gray and white hairs.
According to pros, it's all to do with oxidative stress -- the imbalance of antioxidants and free radicals in the body which causes tissue and cellular damage.
"In oxidative stress, free radicals damage our cells and tissues when our body doesn’t have enough antioxidants to combat them, and in our hair, this oxidative stress can damage the cells that produce melanin," explains consultant trichologist Kate Holden.
Alongside this, another study conducted by Harvard researchers investigated the impact of stress on pigment-producing cells. They discovered that the hyper-activation of the nerves triggered the decrease of melanocyte stem cells.
The Gray Threshold
According to the study, there is a threshold for temporary hair graying.
Dr. Picard explains, "If hairs are about to go gray anyway, a stressful event might trigger that change earlier. And when the stressful event ends, if a hair is just above the threshold, then it could revert back to dark."
In other words, it might be worth taking that vacation as soon as you can to potentially slash your chance of going gray early.
In addition to reducing your life and psychological stress, and focusing on your overall wellness and mental health, you can promote overall hair health through healthy daily habits.
For starters, nourish your tresses in antioxidant-enriched hair formulas. Here are a few products to get you started.
Truly Super Fruit Repair + Restore Shampoo and Conditioner
Repair and restore your locks with Truly's Super Fruit Shampoo + Conditioner. Formulated with coconut, argan oil, tea tree, jojoba oil, and antioxidants, this dreamy duo promotes long-lasting hydration, increases hair's elasticity, and brings sheen to dullness. While neither of these products will directly trigger re-pigmentation, they will keep your mane healthy and nourished.
Truly's Unicorn Hair Repair Mask
Since antioxidants help delay the onset of gray hair, it's worth slathering your hair in formulas loaded with antioxidants like Truly's Unicorn Hair Repair Mask. Its chief antioxidant is vitamin E, known for supporting scalp health and stimulating hair growth by reducing oxidative stress and preserving the protective lipid layer. The formula also relies on keratin amino acids to feed the scalp and avocado to naturally moisturize strands, diminishing dryness both from the hair and scalp.
Truly's Super Flower Bundle - Shampoo & Conditioner
Promote thicker, longer, glossier locks with this powerful shampoo + conditioner pack--each product formulated with hemp, organic lavender, and provitamin B5.
Provitamin B5, also known as panthenol, is a potent antioxidant that binds the hair follicles and coats and seals in moisture for healthy, hydrated hair and scalp. By building a thin layer of moisture along the surface of the hair, this vitamin adds instant shine, softness and strength to strands without greasy residue.
Use this shampoo and conditioner in your daily hair care routine to promote healthy, happy hair.
Whether you're middle age, older, or still in your 20s, everyone can experience hair graying at some point in their lives. Instead of relying on hair dye to cover your grays, why not try bringing some zen into your life?
Between last year and this year, we've all experienced a surge in stress levels. It's time to put our mental health at the forefront. Besides benefiting our daily mood and energy levels, it will also prevent -- and potentially even reverse -- gray hair.