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Can Stress Cause Gray Hair

Contrary to popular belief, stress has not been proven to significantly contribute to the sudden appearance of gray hair. Although some studies have shown that it can cause loss, the pigmentation, or the lack thereof that causes graying, is not directly related to stress. Other studies have shown, however, that severe stress that lasts for a long period of time, such as the kind that accompanies a long-lasting, severe illness, can speed up the graying process. The primary factor in determining when a person will begin to get a significant amount of gray is genetics; a person will typically begin to get gray hair at about the same age that their parents did.


Hair pigmentation occurs in follicles. In each follicle, cells responsible for growth are formed. Keratinocytes are cells that build hair, and when they die, keratin remains. Keratin is a protein, and it gives each strand strength and texture. Melanocytes coexist in the follicles with keratinocytes, and these cells produce melanin, which provides pigmentation. Melanin comes in two shades: eumelanin and pheomelanin. Eumelanin produces color that is brown or black, and pheomelanin produces color that is red or blonde. The melanin combines in various ways to produce a full range of colors. The melanocytes provide melanin to each follicle’s keratinocytes to produce pigmentation. Loss of pigmentation can be helped by using vitamins for gray hair.

Gray And White

If hairs are still being produced in the follicles, but they are receiving only small amounts of melanin, than the hair produced will be gray rather than colored. If the follicle gets no melanin when it is being produced, then it will grow in colorless, which appears as white hair. While many people are fortunate enough to still have new hairs being produced as they age because the keratinocytes are still functional, the life of the melanocyte cells are much shorter lived. This means that although hairs may still be produced in the follicles, they typically begin receiving less pigmentation due to a lack of melanin. This produces gray initially, and in some people, melanin may cease to be produced in the follicles at all, causing white hair.
The age at which graying begins to occur varies widely, but most men begin to see some graying by age 30 and women by age 35. Heredity plays a large role in determining when the majority of hairs on the head will become gray. If one or both of your parents became totally gray at an earlier age than normal, such as in their forties, then it is highly likely that you will also become fully gray at a younger age; however, understanding the effects of stress can help you understand the causes of gray hair.


In most cases, stress does not cause a depletion of melanin in the follicles that leads to graying. However, if the body has been under severe stress for years, as in the case of a severe illness, many of the body’s cells can be affected. A long term stressor could cause the cells of the follicles to degenerate at a faster rate, reducing the amount of melanin that is produced. The type of stress that most people face, even in the case of an event that causes severe stress, is typically not enough to affect the amount of melanin produced in the follicles.

Learn more about gray hair.

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