Combating stress could give color back to your gray hair

For most of us, gray hair is something we have to accept. As we get older, grays start popping up more and more… eventually, we’ve got a head full of them and a standing hair color appointment at the salon every month.

Unfortunately, once your hair goes gray, there’s no hope that your hair will ever return to its original color. Gray hair is irreversible. At least that’s what we always thought…

But it turns out that it isn’t always true. Depending on what caused your gray hair, there’s a chance of getting your hair color back again… as long as you’re able to keep stress at bay.

Gray hairs caused by stress can be reversed

Scientists have known for quite a while that there’s a connection between stress and gray hair. In fact, past research from Harvard University found that stress triggers the release of the stress hormone cortisol that impacts the stem cells responsible for coloring our hair.

Scientists always thought that the gray hair caused by stress was irreversible, but according to a new study from researchers at Columbia University and the University of Miami, that may not be true…

The study included 14 volunteers who cumulatively had 400 hair samples plucked from their heads. Researchers closely examined these hair samples, looking at the pigment levels in different parts of the hair. Guess what they noticed?

Some of the hairs were gray on the tips rather than the roots. Since hair grows from the roots, that means these hairs turned gray at some point and then got their color back afterward.

Next, researchers brought the volunteers in for some questioning. Based on how fast hair grows, they were able to estimate the precise timeframe the hairs had turned gray. They asked these volunteers what was happening in their lives during this time.

They found that several of the volunteers had experienced stressful events around the time the hairs turned gray and that a reprieve from that stress triggered the color to come back again. In one case, a volunteer’s hair returned back to its original color when he went on vacation.

Do you know what that means? You could be one vacation away from getting some of your hair color back. But there’s a catch…

In order for gray hair to return to its original color, it needs to be gray hair that was caused by stress to begin with. And the reversal needs to happen relatively soon after the hair goes gray. If you’ve had gray hair for decades, the chances of it reverting back to your natural color after a vacation or some serious stress-relief efforts are slim.

Relax those grays away

If you’ve had a large batch of gray hairs pop up recently and you’ve been under a lot of stress, you may still be able to salvage some of your hair color by getting a handle on the stress in your life. I know that’s easier said than done, but here are a few suggestions for relieving stress, so you can (hopefully) restore some of your hair to its original color…

First, you want to take an honest assessment of what’s causing serious stress in your life. If there’s an action you can take to get rid of any of your stress triggers, then take immediate action. That may mean making big life changes like looking for a new job or ending toxic relationships.

Of course, many of the sources of stress in our lives are things we can’t get rid of. When that’s the case, you should make a daily practice of tapping into something called the relaxation response…

The relaxation response is a set of physical changes that happen in your body when you become relaxed, including a decreased breathing rate and heart rate. Dr. Herbert Benson, Director Emeritus of the Benson Henry Institute, identified the relaxation response more than four decades ago. And since then, studies have found that triggering the relaxation response can make positive changes to your body on the genetic level.

There are lots of ways to trigger the relaxation response, including:

  • Yoga
  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Breath awareness meditation
  • Tai chi
  • Qi gong
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Repetitive prayers or mantras
  • Energy healing
  • Acupuncture or acupressure
  • Massage

Pick one or two practices from this list to try in the next couple of days to see what makes you feel most relaxed. If you’re ready to harness the power of the relaxation response right away, I also recommend watching this simple instructional video on triggering the relaxation response from its creator Dr. Herbert Benson. It’s under 10 minutes long. By the end of it, you’ll be one step closer to less stress… and maybe even less gray hair.

Sources:

  1. Researchers find some hair greying is due to stress and thus can be reversed — MedicalXpress.
  2. Human Hair Graying is Naturally Reversible and Linked to Stress — bioRxiv.

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Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.