If You Suddenly Have a Ton of Gray Hair, You're Not Alone

Person with long black and gray hair
Photo: Alexandra Tran/Unsplash

In not-so-surprising news: stress stinks. Whether you're stressed out from work — or lack thereof — your relationships, the state of the world, or life (need we go on?), the effects of stress are real. And when our bodies, minds, and souls grow anxious and weary — it may show up on our hair.

Stress can potentially lead to premature graying of hair (PGH) i.e. going gray before age 20 or 30, depending on your race. And while there's nothing wrong with premature graying (in fact, it's normal and natural), if you're not yet ready to embrace your grays, that's totally okay. We spoke with a few top dermatologists and a celebrity colorist to learn more about what spurs the onset of sudden gray hair, and what you can do about it — whether that's investing in a new multidimensional color or taking up a healthy gray hair routine.

Causes of Gray Hair

As we get older, getting gray hair is pretty much inevitable for most people. "We have melanocytes, or pigment-producing cells in our hair follicles that give hair its color," Dr. Robert Finney, board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at Entière Dermatology tells InStyle. "Hair naturally cycles through growth and resting phases. As we get older, usually around the age of 35, each time it enters a growing cycle, the pigment-producing cells generate less pigment and over time can stop altogether, resulting in gray hairs."

However, there are a number of other factors that can cause premature loss of hair color. Dr. Blair Murphy-Rose, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at Laser & Skin Surgery Center of NY says that both physical and emotional stress along with a variety of ailments, like metabolic disorders and autoimmune conditions, can cause premature graying. "While more research is needed, stress may contribute to graying hair as it leads to oxidative damage, which can lead to damage to the pigment-producing cells, leading to less melanin being produced," adds Dr. Marisa Garshick, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City.

According to Dr. Garshick, stress isn't the only potential contributing factor here. "Given much of what contributes to graying is age and genetics," she says. "While it is always important to be mindful about reducing stress levels for all health conditions, there is not enough evidence to suggest that reducing stress ... will prevent gray hairs." Dr. Finney agrees: "Genetics also definitely play a role with patients who gray earlier being more genetically predisposed."

VIDEO: Tracee Ellis Ross Showed Off Her Gray Hair in a Topless Selfie

How to Care for Gray Hair

Clairol Color partner and celebrity colorist Jeremy Tardo says he has noticed an uptick in clients with graying hair, but not everyone wants them hidden. "Some really want them covered, others want to have them blended with their hair color, and a couple even want to rock full-on gray," he says.

As hair loses pigment, the texture can change and strands tend to become more prone to dryness, so you'll want to keep moisturizing products in your arsenal. For cleansing the hair, Tardo is a fan of the Silver Shampoo from Sachajuan. "This should be used once a week to keep your hair tone bright and icy," he shares. As far as conditioning treatments go, he swears by Olaplex.

"Olaplex Number 3 is great to prevent split ends and keep your hair strong whether you choose to continue coloring your greys or even if you leave them natural," the colorist says. However, if you prefer a more personalized regimen, feel free to go to your trusted stylist for a consultation before you switch up your at-home routine.

How to Conceal Gray Hair

While there's no way to reverse graying hair, there are plenty of quality dyes you can use to conceal them. And you don't necessarily have to go to the salon to get the job done.

"My DIY color suggestion for gray coverage is Clairol Nice 'N Easy," says Tardo. "It's a full spectrum color range that is user-friendly and gentle on my clients' hair. It's super important to me that my clients return to me with healthy hair. When in the salon, ask for Bob & Shag Hair Vitamin Pack to be added into your color mixture for extra nourishment to your hair and longer-lasting color."

How to Prevent Gray Hairs

If you notice a few grays coming in, pulling them out may seem like a temporary fix, but this can actually be doing more harm than good. "If you don't want to embrace your grays, color them, don't pluck them!" stresses Dr. Finney. "This can create inflammation of the follicle, increase risk of infected follicles and ingrown hairs and ultimately over-plucking leads to scarring and permanent loss of the follicle," Dr. Finney says. While there is no clear, scientifically-backed solution to preventing gray hairs, lifestyle changes may help; for instance, eating plenty of vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables and minimizing stress.

"You can read that certain vitamins or supplements can delay premature graying, but there is no good science to back these up to date," says Dr. Murphy-Rose. "The best things to do are to try to reduce stress as much as possible, get adequate sleep, and eat a well-balanced diet."

InStyle uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Saad M, Babar NF, Majeed R, et al. Impact of premature greying of hair on socio-cultural adjustment and self-esteem among medical undergraduates in foundation university, islamabadCureus. 11(7):e5083.

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