The pandemic has everyone stressed.

By Kayla Greaves
May 20, 2021 @ 3:07 pm
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If You Suddenly Have a Ton of Gray Hair, You're Not Alone
Credit: Alexandra Tran/Unsplash

In not so surprising news: everything has become more stressful since March 2020. You know, when the coronavirus shut the world down and quarantine took over our lives.

Within the span of a day, what we considered simple, every day tasks, like going to the grocery store or grabbing coffee with a friend, became a lot more complicated. And dare I say... somewhat frightening?

Between trying to maintain a "regular" work schedule, managing childcare (for those who have kids), and the never-ending cycle of horrific news, our bodies, minds, and souls have grown anxious and weary — and it may be showing up on our hair.

On Twitter, several people have said they've seen an increase in grays over the last year. And while there's nothing wrong or inherently "bad" about going gray (in fact, it's normal and natural), stress in general can potentially lead to pre-mature hair pigment loss.

To find out more about this growing phenomenon, we spoke with a few top dermatologists and a celebrity colorist to learn more about pandemic graying, along with haircare solutions for your new multidimensional color.

What Makes Hair Go Gray In the First Place?

As we get older, getting gray hair is pretty much inevitable for most people. However, there are a number of other factors that can cause pre-mature loss of hair color.

"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. Genetics also definitely play a role with patients who gray earlier being more genetically predisposed."

Genes aside, Dr. Blair Murphy-Rose, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at Laser & Skin Surgery Center of NY  adds that both physical and emotional stress along with a variety of ailments, such as metabolic disorders and autoimmune conditions, can cause pre-mature graying.

Has the Pandemic Caused More People To Go Gray Pre-Maturely?

While there are no official studies that can lead us to a definitive answer, chances are it has. Either that, or people have just had more time to closely examine their hair.

"Since the pandemic, many have been undergoing a lot of stress which may contribute to the appearance of more gray hairs," Dr. Marisa Garshick, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City shares. "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."

However, Dr. Garshick does point to a 2020 study published for the National Library of Medicine where researchers found that a stress response in mice led to graying hairs. Aside from that, the dermatologist adds that it could be less about an increase of gray hairs popping up, and more about people just having more time to notice them with being forced to look at themselves on Zoom or in the mirror, and not going to the salon as frequently.

That said, 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 We Come Out Of the Pandemic, Will We See a Decrease In Pre-Mature Graying?

According to Dr. Garshick, it's difficult to say yes or no, considering that pandemic stress isn't the only potential contributing factor here.

"Given much of what contributes to graying is age and genetics, it is possible this will remain the same even as the world opens up," 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, particularly as the world starts to open up, will prevent gray hairs."

And unless you plan on dyeing your hair, there's no other current way to repigment hair, Dr. Finney confirms. But that could potentially change in the future.

"One study has shown patients with cancer who were being treated with immunotherapy had darkening of the gray hair while on the treatment," says Dr. Garshick. "[This] suggests a possible mechanism to turn hair brown after being gray, so more research is needed."   

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

I Want To Embrace My New Grays. What Should I Know About Haircare?

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.

I'm Not Feeling My Gray Hairs Just Yet. What Can I Do About Them?

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."

Another important thing to note: do not pluck out your grays.

"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. "If you don't want to embrace your grays, color them, don't pluck them!"

Is There a Way To Avoid Going Gray In the First Place?

The long and short answer is no, at least as of right now. But eating plenty of vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables and avoiding stress could potentially help.

"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. Rose. "The best things to do are to try to reduce stress as much as possible, get adequate sleep and to eat a well-balanced diet."