Apart from aging, does stress or fear contribute in the change of hair color to grey/white?

  • I think stress, whether mental or physical, can lead to hair loss. If you're already going grey, the older, darker hairs will fall out first, leaving the newer grey hairs. That's one theory anyway.
    – Joe L.
    Feb 17, 2016 at 2:28

1 Answer 1



  1. A 2013 study found that hormones produced in response to stress can reduce melanocyte stem cells that determine hair color.

A 2013 New York University study published in Nature Magazine claimed a link between long-term ongoing stress and hair color. In that study, the researchers found that hormones produced in response to stress can deplete the melanocyte stem cells that determine hair color. They found that stress causes the stem cells to leave our hair follicles, leaving hair gray or white.

  1. There are clinical observations for acceleration of hair graying for patients under stress.

Physicians have observed accelerated graying among patients under stress, says Tyler Cymet, head of family medicine at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, who conducted a small retrospective study on hair graying among patients at Sinai. "We've seen that people who are stressed two to three years report that they turn gray sooner," he says. Cymet suspects that going gray is "genetically outlined, but stress and lifestyle give you variation of plus or minus five to 10 years."


  1. There is no clear link established between stress and gray hair and also there is no proof for the theory that stress by itself causes gray hair.

In short, scientists are beginning to gather clues that stress can hasten the graying process, but there is no scientific evidence demonstrating a cause-and-effect relationship.

  1. Hair turning gray involves many factors including genetic DNA.

Long story short, your hair (and probably the president’s) will naturally start graying sometime in your 30s or 40s, depending on your DNA. And if you’re perpetually stressed, the resulting inflammation can speed up your hair’s chromatic transformation.

  1. Referring to dermatologist Dr. David Orentreich who is the associate director of the Orentreich Medical Group in New York and assistant clinical professor in the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, there is no research confirmation that hair suddenly turns white from fear or other stressor responses immediately or overnight. Also a proper research study of such shocking incidents is tough due to its unpredictability.

The puzzle of whether your hair can turn grey sounds like a simple one for medical science to solve, but it’s not. Ultimately, to study exactly what happens you would need to examine the hair before and after a shocking incident, carefully assessing its colour and thickness. Life-threatening situations are not only rare, but unpredictable and no ethics committee is going to let you induce a sufficiently terrifying experience in a lab volunteer.

However, there is a medical condition called alopecia ariata which causes the hair shed suddenly, resulting in bald patches.

The medical name for the sudden whitening of the hair is canities subita. The best explanation for it is not that the hair changes colour, but that the pigmented hairs fall out. A condition called alopecia ariata causes the hair shed suddenly, resulting in bald patches. It is thought to be caused by an auto-immune response, where the body’s defence system turns on itself. It can be exacerbated by stress, which could account for the association of white hair with terrifying experiences. In some cases the white hairs are unaffected by the condition.

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