Stress Can Flip Your Hair Grey—However It is Reversible

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There are many reasons why people have gotten some extra gray hair or gone all silver fox in the last year or so. COVID-19 has affected our mental, emotional, and socio-economic wellbeing. And although it has always been assumed that stress contributes to horror, a first study of its kind has just quantitatively proven its causal relationship. You may think there are no surprises – obviously psychological distress creates more gray hair. But the study also found that the gray hairs can go with you when the stress goes away. That’s right, gray hair can be reversible.

For the study, researchers from Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons were able to take detailed pictures of haircuts. Each cut stands for one hour of hair growth and is 1/20 millimeter wide. In addition to the hair donation, the volunteers also kept stress diaries. With the help of scans that could detect the smallest changes, the researchers were able to link stress directly to the loss of melanin in the hair. Melanin is the pigment that you can find in the skin, eyes, and hair.

“Just as the rings in a tree trunk contain information about the past decades in a tree’s life, our hair contains information about our biological history,” said Martin Picard, associate professor of behavioral medicine at the college, in a press release.

One volunteer in particular went on vacation and came back with measurably darker hair. But there’s more to it than just getting some color back; This study could help uncover the secrets of aging.

“Understanding the mechanisms that allow ‘old’ gray hair to return to its ‘young’ pigmented state could provide new clues about the malleability of human aging in general and how it is affected by stress,” Picard told columbia .edu.

Of course, even with this study, graying hair is still a part of getting older. There’s a point where even a year on the beach doesn’t make all the gray go away. But if the last year added a few gray hairs, people looked for ways to relieve the stress – meditate or go on vacation.

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