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Stressing the Gray

Myth Buster: Can Stress Cause Gray Hair?

The true relationship between stress and gray hair is explained.

Myth:  Worry and stress can turn your hair gray.

Fact:  No science supports a direct link between stress and gray hair, says Jerry Shapiro, M.D., professor of dermatology at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. “When hair turns gray—and which hairs turn gray—is genetically programmed,” he says.

Existing hair does not turn gray. When melanocyte cells that produce hair color pigment are depleted­—a process controlled by genes—a gray hair will grow in when a regular hair falls out. That gray strand grows from the same hair follicle, where the cells are now simply producing less color.

As for stories of people who turned gray almost overnight, Shapiro says, such cases can be attributed to rare diseases. “One disease causes all your regular hair to fall out quickly, leaving only the gray,” he says. “So while it looks like the patient turned gray overnight, that isn’t what happened.”

Barbara Basler is a senior editor at AARP Bulletin Today.

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