Stress CAN cause gray hair. . .cellular stress that is.
More info: Current research, published in the Journal Cell, has concluded that cellular stress is the cause of gray hair. Sources such as chemicals and ultraviolet light cause stress to the stem cells in the hair follicle that ultimately damage DNA and inhibit the production of melanoncytes, the cells that produce hair pigment. [Inomata et al. “Genotoxic Stress Abrogates Renewal of Melanocyte Stem Cells by Triggering Their Differentiation”]
Truth from Fiction
History is full of stories of people who have turned ashen under extreme stress in mere hours, such as the tresses of Marie Antoinette the evening before her beheading. Of course, such claims are understandably hard to swallow. It’s actually impossible for the hair shaft to lose its pigment unless bleached, because it’s already dead and is not going through in any additional cellular changes. However, it is true that stress causes the hair follicles to stop producing the melanin that gives hair its hue, but it’s on a more psychical level than a psychological one. [“Fact or Fiction?: Stress Causes Gray Hair” Scientific American]
The stress hormone serotonin can directly affect hair loss, but there is no clear link that stress hormones cause gray hair. However, stress from environmental agents like radiation, heat, chemicals and ultra violet light can damage the DNA inside the hair follicles, stunting their ability to produce melanin.
Prevent, Treat and Deal
In order to circumvent the effects of stress on hair, you should limit chemical treatments and processing. Hair follicles can actually lose their ability to create pigment at a very young age. However, finding a stray silver hair or two isn’t necessarily a warning sign that your entire head will go white. It’s very common to have a few “bad eggs” out of a head of healthy, vibrant hair. If you’re ever worried about the hue of your tresses, dyeing is a quick fix. There are plenty of organic, holistic alternatives to harsh chemicals as well if you’re concerned about further damaging your hair. [“Why Stress is Bad for Hair Health.” The Bellgravia Centre]
Inomata et al. Genotoxic Stress Abrogates Renewal of Melanocyte Stem Cells by Triggering Their Differentiation. Cell, June 12, 2009; 137
“Fact or Fiction?: Stress Causes Gray Hair: Scientific American.” Science News, Articles and Information | Scientific American. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Jan. 2013. <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=fact-or-fiction-stress-causes-gray-hair&page=2>
“Why Stress is Bad for Hair Health.” The Belgravia Centre. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Jan. 2013. http://www.belgraviacentre.com/blog/why-stress-is-bad-for-hair-health/