Stress Management Effects on Health Does Stress Cause Grey or White Hair? By Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP Updated on September 14, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Daniel B. Block, MD Medically reviewed by Daniel B. Block, MD LinkedIn Twitter Daniel B. Block, MD, is an award-winning, board-certified psychiatrist who operates a private practice in Pennsylvania. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Anna Frank / Getty Images Table of Contents View All Table of Contents What Makes Your Hair Grey or White? How Does Stress Affect Your Hair Color? Are Grey and White Hairs Permanent? How to Prevent Grey Hair Is your age to blame for those pesky frosted strands? Or is something else going on? Simply put, stress can potentially cause grey or white hair. This article discusses the causes of grey and white hair, how stress plays a role in this, whether it is permanent and some tips to help prevent those premature greys. What Makes Your Hair Grey or White? The color of your hair is determined by the amount of melanin in it. Pigment cells in your hair follicles called ‘melanocytes’ produce melanin. These cells start to die off as you age. With fewer pigment cells, there is less melanin in the hair follicles. Eventually, your hair grows without melanin and it becomes grey and then white. Genetics Play a Role Genetics plays an important role in determining when your hair starts turning grey. Looking at how early it happened to your parents and/or grandparents is a good indicator of when it will happen to you. Smoking Smoking has been shown to be a cause of premature grey hair. A 2013 study showed that smokers were two and half times more likely to develop premature hair greying than non-smokers. The study explained that smoking is associated with increased oxidative stress which can lead to pigment cell damage and an earlier reduction of melanin in hair follicles. Illnesses There are several illnesses that can also cause grey hair at a young age. These include: Autoimmune diseases: Alopecia and vitiligo are diseases where the immune system attacks its own cells including melanocytes. This can cause grey or white hair. Vitamin B12 Deficiency: Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that helps form red blood cells and is required for healthy brain and nerve function. It plays an important role in hair growth. A diet deficient in this vitamin can reduce melanin production by weakening pigment cells. Thyroid Disease: The thyroid is a gland that produces hormones with a significant role in controlling your metabolism. Thyroid dysfunction can cause a reduction in hair pigmentation. Vitamins and Supplements to Boost Your Mood and Brain Health How Does Stress Affect Your Hair Color? A study published in Nature in 2020 provides a potential explanation of how stress affects the color of people's hair. *(Please note that this study is an animal study rather than a human study.)* The researchers used mice to determine if stress could cause hair to turn grey. They had three groups, each exposed to a different level of stress. All the mice showed hair loss and increased hair greying. The study determined that noradrenaline (norepinephrine) was the reason for this occurrence. Your Body Releases Neurotransmitters When You Are Under Stress When you are stressed, your body responds by releasing the neurotransmitter, noradrenaline as part of your “fight-or-flight" reaction. Under normal circumstances, pigment-producing stem cells remain inactive until new hair growth occurs. However, noradrenaline activates these stem cells too early and causes them to move away from the hair follicle’s color reserves. With fewer stem cells to turn into pigment cells or melanocytes, less melanin can be produced. Any hair that grows afterward will lack color. The study was conducted with mice; therefore, the relationship between stress and premature hair greying still needs to be further investigated. Are Grey and White Hairs Permanent? Yes—for the most part. When there are no more pigment cells in a hair follicle, melanin cannot be produced and the effect is permanent. Tips for Preventing Premature Grey Hair Managing stress is a healthy goal regardless of its effect on how you look. Although aging is inevitable, it doesn't mean we can’t feel good about ourselves as the years go by. Taking care of our physical and mental health is something that will pay dividends in the long run. Here are some tips to prevent premature greying: Maintain a well-balanced diet: A diet high in fruits, vegetables, and fish and low in saturated fats and processed foods can ensure you have sufficient essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals for healthy hair. Eating well has been shown to help decrease the effects of aging and reduce stress. When you’re feeding your body the right fuel, it will function optimally.Stay active: Regular exercise is good for your mood and your body. Physical activity can help reduce stress, depression, and anxiety and boost self-esteem.Practice sun safety: The UV radiation from the sun can cause hair loss and decreased pigmentation. Wearing a hat, covering up, putting sunscreen on, and limiting the time in the sun can help reduce hair damage.Spend time with loved ones: Regular contact with friends and family can do wonders for your emotional and mental well-being. Social connectedness has been shown to improve mental health, protect against depression and lower the risk of mortality.Embrace aging: It’s counterproductive to worry about those grey hairs because the more you stress, the more they come. Getting older is a normal and natural process. Instead of worrying about how you look, let go of what you think it means to be old and embrace your transformation. You Can Always Dye Your Hair If You'd Like At the end of the day, if the color of your hair is negatively affecting your self-confidence and how you feel about yourself, you may want to consider dyeing it. If you notice your hair is greying significantly without any major changes in your lifestyle or routine, please consult with your doctor to rule out potential medical issues. Brooke Shields Explains Why We’re Never Too Old 11 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. NIH. How stress causes gray hair. Harvard Medical School: “Why Does Hair Turn Gray?” Zayed AA, Shahait AD, Ayoub MN, Yousef AM. Smokers’ hair: Does smoking cause premature hair graying?. Indian Dermatol Online J. 2013;4(2):90–92. doi:10.4103/2229–5178.110586 Daulatabad D, Singal A, Grover C, Chhillar N. Prospective analytical controlled study evaluating serum biotin, vitamin b12, and folic acid in patients with premature canities. Int J Trichology. 2017;9(1):19–24. van Beek N, Bodó E, Kromminga A, et al. Thyroid hormones directly alter human hair follicle functions: anagen prolongation and stimulation of both hair matrix keratinocyte proliferation and hair pigmentation. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2008;93(11):4381–4388. Zhang B, Ma S, Rachmin I, et al. Hyperactivation of sympathetic nerves drives depletion of melanocyte stem cells. Nature. 2020;577(7792):676–681. Ribarič S. Diet and aging. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2012;2012:741468 Bremner JD, Moazzami K, Wittbrodt MT, et al. Diet, stress and mental health. Nutrients. 2020;12(8):2428. Sharma A, Madaan V, Petty FD. Exercise for mental health. Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry. 2006;8(2):106. doi:10.4088/pcc.v08n0208a Sebetić K, Sjerobabski Masnec I, Cavka V, Biljan D, Krolo I. UV damage of the hair. Coll Antropol. 2008;32 Suppl 2:163–165. Saeri AK, Cruwys T, Barlow FK, Stronge S, Sibley CG. Social connectedness improves public mental health: Investigating bidirectional relationships in the New Zealand attitudes and values survey. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2018;52(4):365–374 By Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP Katharine is the author of three books (How To Deal With Asian Parents, A Brutally Honest Dating Guide and A Straight Up Guide to a Happy and Healthy Marriage) and the creator of 60 Feelings To Feel: A Journal To Identify Your Emotions. She has over 15 years of experience working in British Columbia's healthcare system. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for Stress Management Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.