There are a lot of myths about gray hair. Some swear you can go gray overnight. (You can’t.) Others think plucking a stray gray results in three more in its place. (It doesn’t.) Once the myth train leaves the station, it’s hard to stop.
In reality, we think gray hair should be celebrated not feared. That’s some hard-earned silver, folks. So why does your hair turn gray?
Dermatologists point out that gray hair is usually caused by run-of-the-mill aging, following what is called the 50-50-50 rule. As in, 50% of the population will have about 50% gray hair at age 50. But why, then, do we notice when a person’s hair radically changes in the span of months or a couple years?
Think about U.S. presidents. There have been more than a few instances of silver strands totally taking over where chestnut brown ones formerly lived within just a single term in office, amongst young and older presidents alike.
Or just the average Joe or Jolene. Pair a stressful new job with existing at-home responsibilties, and a few gray strands might suddenly seem like they’re multiplying a tad more quickly than anticipated.
That led us to the ultimate question: Can stress make you go gray? Turns out, yes. Sort of.
Firstly, know that hair doesn’t turn gray at all. As old hairs fall out and new hairs grow in, stem cells in the follicle deposit pigment—your natural hair color—into the new strand each time. The eventual (often natural) loss of these stem cells result in gray, or non-pigmented, hair. This is where stress can play a role.
“While being under stress can’t turn your hair gray, stress can trigger a common condition called telogen effluvium, which causes hair to shed at about three times faster than normal,” said Robert Schmerling, M.D., an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, in a published post.
The accelerated cycle of shedding and regenerating takes a toll, leading to loss of stem cells and, as a result, graying.
Not feeling stressed out? Going gray can also be exacerbated by vitamin B12 deficiencies, smoking, and vitiligo.
WATCH: Gorgeous Shades of Gray Hair That’ll Make You Rethink Those Root Touch-Ups
“It would be more helpful to look to past generations rather than your current stress levels to help you predict when or if you’ll go gray,” concluded Dr. Schmerling.
The bottom line: Don’t get nervous every stressful week at work. Going gray is natural, it’s going to happen, and it’s (more often than not) due to genetics and normal aging. Check out this gorgeous gray hair inspiration in the meantime.