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Does Stress Actually Cause Gray Hair? Here’s the Answer (Plus, How to Blend Those Stray Grays)

You’ve probably heard it said millions of times: stress causes gray hair. And while it sounds like it could be true, if you have doubts about the accuracy of that saying, we’re right there with you. That’s exactly why we’re investigating whether stress actually causes gray hair, or if it’s simply an old wives’ tale. 

Whether or not stress is the culprit behind your grays, if you’re seeking ways to blend them, we’ve got you covered. At Kinder Beauty, we are confident you look stunning as you are, but if hiding your grays away will help give you a boost of self-confidence, we say go for it. We support whatever makes you feel the most beautiful.

Why does hair change color?

Time to get scientific: let’s discuss why hair color changes. Have you heard of melanin? It’s the pigment responsible for determining your hair color. (Side note: it also determines your skin tone.) 

There are two types of melanin pigment that determine what color hair you’ll have. These are called eumelanin and pheomelanin, and they both have different responsibilities. Eumelanin determines how dark your hair will be and pheomelanin controls its redness. We acquire these characteristics from our parents, since genetics control the amount of these two pigments in your hair. 

However, just because your melanin levels are genetic doesn’t mean they’re consistent. Your melanin levels don’t remain consistent throughout your lifetime, so you may notice your hair changes color with time. Eumelanin, for example, increases in abundance as you get older, which makes your hair appear darker. This explains why you might have had blond hair as a child, only for it to darken to brown during your teenage years. 

As you age, your hair might eventually turn gray due to a lack of eumelanin and pheomelanin production. Once you reach a certain age, these pigments stop being produced. The result is hair that’s devoid of pigment, which is often white or gray.

So, does stress actually cause gray hair?

This brings us to our next question about hair pigment. We know that stress can impact your body in a variety of ways, but is the development of gray hair one of them? Yes. Stress can cause your hair to lose its pigment. A 2020 study completed by the National Institutes of Health found that stress can cause premature gray hairs because it affects the stem cells that regenerate hair pigment. 

Your hair color is determined by melanocytes, which are the cells that produce the pigment melanin. New melanocytes are created from melanocyte stem cells that live within your hair follicle at the base of your hair strand. When we age, the stem cells disappear. The new hair emerges from a hair follicle that has lost melanocyte stem cells. As a result, it has less pigment and looks gray. 

The study itself yielded obvious results. Stress can be responsible for the loss of melanocyte stems cells which ultimately causes hair graying. The most interesting part? These changes are permanent. Once a melanocyte stem cell is gone, the human body is unable to regenerate hair pigment again.

How to blend stray grays

If gray hair’s got you down, there are several ways you can tackle blending stray grays. Just remember that if you feel confident and chic, there’s no need! If you miss your old hair color, however, there’s no shame in heading to the hair salon to get some color put in your hair.

The first way that you can blend stray grays is by getting strategically placed highlights. If the majority of your hair has grayed, you might want to go for a full dye. The tactic you use ultimately depends on two things: how much gray you’re looking to blend and your natural hair color. 

If you’re blond, you can blend your gray hairs using highlights and lowlights. Because light hair camouflages the gray, you won’t need to take as aggressive steps as people with darker hair. These techniques will also give you a more natural look, as your stylist can specifically highlight strands that are graying. 

If you have dark hair, we have a potential solution for you. Because there’s a contrast between the gray hairs and your natural color, a single-process color will be more effective if you’re looking to cover the gray. 

Finally, red-headed people can use a demi-permanent single process hair dye. The dye will eventually grow out and blend the gray into your natural hair shade. Demi-permanent also only stains the outer cuticle of the hair shaft, so it can even add more dimension to your overall hair color. That’s a total score, in our opinion. 

There’s also one way that you can blend grays without taking a trip to the salon. Being intentional about how you’re parting, arranging, and brushing your hair makes a bigger difference than you might think. If you know a certain part of your head has more grays, try out a few different hairstyles until you find one that doesn’t accentuate it. Let your hair show you how it wants to be arranged, not the other way around. 

Finally, most importantly: prioritize your hair’s health. If dying your grays is causing your hair damage, give it a rest for a minute. 

The importance of de-stressing

The team at Kinder Beauty is well aware of the importance of self-care and de-stressing. We also recognize that, unfortunately, de-stressing is inaccessible to plenty of people and that having the ability to do so can be a privilege. Still, there are some ways to de-stress that are free, easy, and available for all. 

One of these is meditation. This practice relaxes both the body and mind, and even just ten minutes of meditation a day can make a serious difference. With its focus on deep breathing and stillness, meditation supports heart health. 

Exercise is another potential way to de-stress, and you don’t have to run a marathon to get the benefits. When you exercise, your body releases feel-good chemicals called endorphins. Exercise is also supportive of heart health—just like meditation. 

Finally, keeping a positive attitude can significantly impact your stress levels, and having a few laughs is shown to lower stress hormones. If you find you’re unable to pull yourself out of a stressed, dark place, you should seek professional help. 

Being kind to your mind is important! After all, you have to show up for yourself before you can show up for anyone else.

Gray hair? Don’t stress

Keeping your stress in check can help ensure that your hair won’t gray prematurely, but remember: you’re beautiful no matter what your hair looks like. After all, aging gracefully is a beautiful thing. There is no shame in your grays! 

 

Sources:

Ask a Scientist: Why does your natural hair color change? | Columbia Tribune

How stress causes gray hair | National Institutes of Health

How to Conceal Gray Hair With Highlights Colorist-approved | Byrdie  

Five ways to de-stress and help your heart | Harvard Health