There are many reasons why people gained a few extra gray hairs or went full silver fox in the last year or so. COVID-19 walloped our mental, emotional, and socio-economic well-being. And while it’s always been assumed stress contributes to grays, a first-of-its-kind study just quantitatively proved its causal relationship. You might be thinking there are no surprises there—obviously, psychological strain creates more grey hairs. But what the study also found was that when stress goes away, the gray hairs can go with it. That’s right, having gray hair may be reversible.
For the study, researchers at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons were able to capture detailed images of hair slices. Each slice represents an hour of hair growth and is 1/20th of a millimeter wide. Along with donating their hair, volunteers also kept stress journals. Using scans that could detect the smallest changes, researchers could directly connect stress with the loss of melanin in hair. Melanin is the pigment you find in skin, eye, and hair.
“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,” Martin Picard, associate professor of behavioral medicine at the college, said in a press release.
In particular, one volunteer went on vacation and came back with measurably darker hair. But there’s more to it than just getting some color back; this study could help uncover the mysteries of aging.
“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,” Picard told columbia.edu.
Of course, even with this study, getting gray hair is still part of getting older. There’s a point when even a year at the beach isn’t going to make all the gray go away. But if the last year added a couple gray hairs, finding ways to destress—adopt meditation or go on vacation.