- Hair can go white or gray when a person is under stress.
- Scientists found that some hair that turned gray when a person was under stress returned to its original color when the person became relaxed.
- When hair regains its color, stem cells called melanocytes are probably at work.
Scientists knew that being under stress can turn hair gray. But until now, there was no evidence that you can get your normal-colored hair strands back when you’re more relaxed.
This was the finding of a new study from a large international team.
What Scientists Found
While hairs are growing, cells receive chemical and electrical signals from inside the body, including stress hormones. These signals seem to change proteins under the roots, and those proteins harden once the hair grows out of the scalp.
The team’s first step was to identify proteins that show if a strand was gray, white, or colored—at any point in its history. There turned out to be 323 proteins in all.
Next, fourteen volunteers gave the scientists hair samples and answered questions about how stressful their lives had been last year.
Looking at the proteins in the hair strands at different points allowed the team to see that some hairs that were now brown or another color had been gray or white earlier in the year. They also could match the changes in the proteins in the strands to the volunteers’ reports. “Just like tree rings hold information about past decades, and rocks hold information about past centuries, hairs hold information about past months and years,” they wrote.
The changes may happen quickly and on hair anywhere on the body. One woman went on a trip for two weeks and regained five hair strands with color. How could the scientists match the colors and timing so closely? They knew that hair grows about a centimeter a month.
Not everyone showed evidence of regaining color, and it didn’t happen in any volunteers over the age of 40 in this study. More research will tell us if de-stressing can reverse hair loss later in life.
How hair can regain its color. Stem cells are cells that can turn into other cells that are needed. When your hair regains its color, stem cells called melanocytes are probably at work. We don’t know whether people have only a set number of melanocytes or can be replenished by stem cells from another part of the body.
How can I use this? If you’re not convinced that stress changes your appearance, look at these photos of Presidents over their time in office. Former President Donald Trump went white in his last year. You can see a similar dramatic change in former President Clinton. All recent Presidents have visibly aged while in the Oval Office more than you’d expect from the passage of time.
If you look like you’re working in the Oval Office, sprouting gray and white hairs at a rapid pace, consider this a signal you need to lower your stress. It’s very common for people under stress to hunker down and wait it out rather than take on another challenge. Let vanity motivate you!
What Else Can I Do to Improve My Hair Quality?
Normally, our hormones change with age, leading our hair to shed more and grow back more slowly. This causes it to appear thinner. Other hormonal changes make hairdryer.
Low iron (anemia), auto-immune issues, or medication can also make your hair thin out. You might ask your doctor to evaluate your medication and check your levels of iron and Vitamin D (especially if you live in an area with little sunlight or don’t go outside much) and other nutrients.
Diet can make a difference.
Early evidence suggests that fish oil supplements can promote hair growth.
Zinc pyrithione, an ingredient in many dandruff shampoos, can help a drying scalp even if you don’t have dandruff and may promote hair growth.
Avoid heating your hair by blow-drying or using hot curling irons.
Massaging your scalp can promote hair growth, too.
Is gray hair a health problem? Not at all, though if the gray hairs come in a short period, they may be a sign that you’re under too much stress. If that’s not the case, you could embrace your gray hair and enjoy celebrating your age.