I’m sitting at my desk Thursday morning, the day before my 39th birthday, and the mail lady comes into my office to pick up the mail. I have my hair back in a (very cute!) pony tail, and she says to me “Why do you have gray hair?” It’s my temples, you see, pure white these days.
“Because I’m 39,” I tell her.
“I’m 50 and I don’t have gray hair.” She says this and I’m looking at the very dark roots of her bleached blond hair. It’s pretty hard to tell if there’s any gray in there or not.
I say: “I got my first gray hairs when I was 26.”
“Huh,” she says, “you must have a lot of stress.”
You know, I’m not the most socially adept person on the block but I’m pretty sure it’s not me this time. At this point I really don’t know where to go from here, so I just shrug and stare at her roots some more. Finally, she leaves, shrugging as well.
I don’t think I have more stress than most, and at 26 I sure as hell didn’t.
What does science have to say about it?
The average age for women to notice some gray is 35, and for men it’s 30.(1) So, ok, I was about 9 years early.
The gray is thought to be caused by a breakdown in the DNA in the cells that produce pigment. That breakdown is tied into your genetics. There isn’t any scientific evidence that stress causes it. (2) (My bad genes at it again!)
Apparently, as the cell ages, hydrogen peroxide builds up inside it, which eventually blocks all the pigment from getting to the hair. (3) Remember when you put peroxide on your hair to get those orange highlights you thought were so cool? Same idea.
Once this happens and a folicle starts producing a new strand of hair, it will lack pigment and look gray or white. (2,4) Mine are white, FYI, white as freshly fallen snow. Doesn’t it sound nice that way?
(1) I’m 24 and I have gray hair! What’s going on? at ScienceLine.org: a well researched article about the causes and process of graying.
(2) The Effects of Stress on Your Hair at webmd.com: an article about the various effects stress does have on your hair, graying not being one of them.
(3) Unlocking the Secrets of Gray Hair at nytimes.com: this report explains some more recent research on gray hair.
(4) Myth Buster: Can Stress Cause Gray Hair? at aarp.com: You gotta think the AARP is a great authority on gray hair.
And a bonus reference:
Why are people so rude? at psychologytoday.com: an entire collection of essays and opinion pieces about rude people.
Photo: Elsa Lanchester as Bride of the Monster in The Bride of Frankenstein, 1935, Universal Pictures.