College is a stressful time. The other day, I swore that I discovered a grey hair on my head. Although my roommate insisted it was blonde, I got to wondering anyway. It’s common knowledge that as we grow older, our hair either turns white or grey, but we also link that hair color to feelings of immense stress. So can stress actually cause a change in your hair?
Greying is a normal effect of aging. As we grow older, the melanocytes in our hair die off continually until our hair is no longer colored. In the case of extreme stress, science is just beginning to explain why our hair turns grey. One researcher, Tyler Cymet, conducted a retrospective observational study and found that his stressed patients, on average, went grey 2 or 3 full years before their less stressed counterparts. However, as with all observational studies and especially with studies involving self-report, there is the possibility of many confounding variables. The reason as to why stress could effect the cells of hair is still very much disputed. One dermatologist believes that stress hormones mediate some signals that pigment one’s hair. Another believes that stress hormones act to cause inflammation that creates damaged hair cells.
However, although the jury is still out on why, it is clear that stress does play a role in our hair. Depending on your genetics, your stress level could cause you to grey prematurely as early as 10 years. So take a deep breath and relax, or start saving up for dye.