Is It Possible To Reverse Gray Hair?

You may have heard the old saying that excessive stress leads to gray hair. Previous studies have found that gray hair typically occurs as a result of the natural aging process or genetic factors (via Healthline). But we're now finding out that there may actually be some truth to stress having an effect on the development of gray hair.

A recent study published on June 22, 2021 in the scientific publication eLife found that the process of graying hair is accelerated due to stress but that your original hair color can be restored if stress is eliminated.

Researchers used a new method of hair imaging to get detailed images of both the whole hair and the hair follicles, which enabled them to see the graying of each hair magnified. Fourteen study participants had their hair analyzed and cross-referenced with a stress diary where researchers found links between stress levels and graying hair. In one case, five strands of a participant's hair reverted back to a darker shade while on vacation (via Columbia University). The study also used a mathematical model to determine stress levels in the mitochondria.

Why gray hair won't revert back for all people

"Understanding the mechanisms that allow 'old' gray hairs to return to their 'young' pigmented states could yield new clues about the malleability of human aging in general and how it is influenced by stress," said associate professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and study author Martin Picard (via Columbia University).

But don't toss that hair dye out just yet. Researchers did find that hair reverting back from gray isn't possible for all people and that eliminating stress won't necessarily guarantee your hair will return completely back to its original color.

"Based on our mathematical modeling, we think hair needs to reach a threshold before it turns gray. In middle age, when the hair is near that threshold because of biological age and other factors, stress will push it over the threshold and it transitions to gray," Picard said, adding that reducing stress in a 70-year-old individual who has had gray hair for a long period of time won't render the same results as it may for someone younger.

According to researchers, the findings in this study show that aging isn't a fixed process and can be influenced by factors within our control.