The truth about the link between gray hair and stress

You were enjoying an otherwise normal day when you spotted it it the bathroom mirror: a gray hair. It stands out like a weed in a sea of carefully-groomed grass.

Silently, you admonish yourself: It's the stress! I shouldn't have let it get to me!

You've probably heard that you can stave off the appearance of grays in your mane by keeping stress levels low. In that case, I've got some good and bad news: It's bogus. Stress has little to do with your silver locks. In reality, genetic factors appear to play the strongest role in determining when your hair begins to lose its color.

"For the vast majority of people, graying hair is not down to something you have done, but to genetic factors beyond your control," Nina Goad of the British Association of Dermatologists told the BBC.

Celebrities with gray hair
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Celebrities with gray hair
BERLIN, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 11: George Clooney attends the 'Hail, Caesar!' press conference during the 66th Berlinale International Film Festival Berlin at Grand Hyatt Hotel on February 11, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Matthias Nareyek/WireImage)
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JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE - Emmy Award-nominated 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' airs every weeknight (11:35 p.m. - 12:41 a.m., ET), packed with hilarious comedy bits and features a diverse lineup of guests including celebrities, athletes, musicians, comedians and humorous human interest subjects. The guests for MONDAY, AUGUST 31 included comedian Roseanne Barr ('Last Comic Standing'), panelist and musical guest Demi Lovato. (Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 03: Singer-songwriter Emmylou Harris speaks onstage during the Blood:Water 4th Annual Red Tie Gala to help fight the HIV/AIDS crisis at The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on December 3, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Blood:Water)
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - MARCH 11: Guest Curator Steve Martin speaks at a press conference to discuss the exhibit of works by Canadian artist painter Lawren Harris and the show 'The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris' which runs from March 12 - June 12, 2016 at Museum of Fine Arts Boston on March 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 14: David Letterman speaks onstage during the Michael J. Fox Foundation ÂA Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Cure ParkinsonÂs Gala at The Waldorf=Astoria on November 14, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/MJF2015/Getty Images)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 17: Actor Matt LeBlanc attends Hollywood Foreign Press Association and InStyle Celebration of The 2016 Golden Globe Award Season at Ysabel on November 17, 2015 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - MAY 31: Writer Alice Walker attends Seattle International Film Festival world premiere of 'Alice Walker:Beauty In Truth' at Egyptian Theater, Seattle on May 31, 2013 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Dana Nalbandian/WireImage)
RIDGEWOOD, NJ - APRIL 24: Anderson Cooper signs Copies Of His New Book 'The Rainbow Comes And Goes' at Bookends Bookstore on April 24, 2016 in Ridgewood, New Jersey. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images)
BOCA RATON, FL - JANUARY 30: Paula Deen signs copies of her book during Cuts the Fat Book Tour on January 30, 2016 in Boca Raton, Florida. (Photo by Aaron Davidson/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 15: Actress Glenn Close attends the 'Vinyl' New York premiere at Ziegfeld Theatre on January 15, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
Actress Dame Maggie Smith arrives at the Royal Film Performance and World Premiere of the film, "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel", at Leicester Square, London February 17, 2015. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls (BRITAIN - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)
British actress Judi Dench poses for photographers as she arrives at the Olivier Awards at the Royal Opera House in London, Britain April 3, 2016. REUTERS/Neil Hall
WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 26: Actor and Ocean Advocate Ted Danson speaks during the Oceana's Coastal Voices Summit at George Washington University on January 26, 2016. (Kris Connor/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 20: Actress Betty White attends The Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association's (GLAZA) 45th Annual Beastly Ball at the Los Angeles Zoo on June 20, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Amanda Edwards/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 25: Actor Morgan Freeman attends the 43rd Chaplin Award Gala on April 25, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 10: 73rd ANNUAL GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS -- Pictured: Actor Harrison Ford arrives to the 73rd Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 10, 2016. (Photo by Alberto Rodriguez/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 13: TV personality Jon Stewart attends the Verizon Slam Dunk Contest during NBA All-Star Weekend 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 13, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 17: Actor Tim Gunn attends a screening of Sony Pictures Classics' 'The Bronze' hosted by Cinema Society & SELF at Metrograph on March 17, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images,)

Wondering how this persistent myth came to be? You can blame mice.

Several studies in rodents have suggested a link between stress and the appearance of gray hairs. One study in 2011 even suggested that long-term exposure to stress, which has been shown to affect our DNA, could tweak the genes that give our hair its hue. And a 2009 study suggested that the reason hair loses its color is because as we get older, we produce less and less of a special protective protein that buffers the hair against a natural process of bleaching from within.

Luckily, mice aren't people (and most of them are gray already anyway). There's little research to support the idea that the findings from those studies happen in humans.

"There is no evidence to link the onset of graying to stress , diet or lifestyle," Rodney Sinclair, a University of Melbourne professor of dermatology wrote in a post for The Conversation.

So, if you're worried your grays are the result of your stressful life, this is one less thing to worry about.

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