Reversing Gray Hair

June 28, 2021
Reversing Gray Hair

Going Gray

Does our hair hold the key to aging?
A cutting-edge study looks at why we go gray. What researchers found – and why they say our gray may not always be here to stay.
"Just as the rings in a tree trunk hold information about past decades in the life of a tree, our hair contains information about our biological history."

Dr. Martin Picard, a mitochondrial psychobiologist at Columbia University, was curious why certain cells show signs of aging earlier than others. Hair appears to reflect this concept as changes seem staggered – some strands hold their color, while others turn gray: “Hair grows out of the body, and then it crystallizes into this hard, stable [structure] that holds the memory of your past.”

The Study:

  • 14 volunteers, ages 9 – 39 years old.
  • Using a first-of-its-kind high-resolution scanner, researchers observed hair color changes not visible to the naked eye, sometimes observing gray in the middle of strands.
  • Researchers compared changes in hair to life events recorded by participants.
  • Takeaway: An association surfaced between times of stress and gray hair.
  • Reversal: Researchers observed that gray hair can regain its color as stress subsides.
"…there is a window of opportunity during which graying is probably much more reversible than had been thought for a long time."

Professor Ralf Paus, Ph.D., University of Miami, co-author of the study that led to more questions about WHY our hair goes gray. One possible explanation: a cell's mitochondria (powerhouse) can respond like "antennas" to stress by altering proteins. Once a certain number of proteins are altered, we tip over a threshold which causes our hair to turn gray more easily. When younger people come "down" from that threshold, color may reverse.

Researchers don't believe stress reduction in a fully gray-haired 75-year-old will return that person to his or her original hair color. HOWEVER, 5 strands from one participant (35) reversed to color from gray during the 1-month period after his 2-week vacation. So maybe there's more to hair than split ends: "Our data add to a growing body of evidence demonstrating that human aging is not a linear, fixed biological process but may, at least in part, be halted or even temporarily reversed."

It’s True: Stress Does Turn Hair Gray (And It’s Reversible)

Gray Hair Can Return to Its Original Color—and Stress Is Involved, of Course

by Jenna Lee,