Ah, gray hair—the fun little reminder that screams “you’re getting closer to death!” in the most inopportune of times (see: running late for work, getting ready for a night out, convincing yourself you don’t look older than last year). And though everyone will eventually go gray, it doesn’t mean we’re ready for it right now. Which made us wonder: Is there anything you can do to prevent going gray? Or, even worse, are we actually causing our gray hair?
Hey, it sounds crazy, but between the 10-hour work days, the crippling student debt, and the rampant belief that stress causes gray hair, it’s hard not to feel a little responsible for your Marie Antoinette hair. But rest assured—that myth is bullshit, and no, you aren’t causing premature grays. Basically, as we age, our bodies slowly stop injecting melanin (pigment granules) into our hair fibers, leading to gray or white strands. “It totally depends on your genetics,” says cosmetic chemist Joe Cincotta, noting that “studies have shown that short periods of stress won’t necessarily turn your hair white,” which is good for anyone about to ask for a promotion at work.
Of course, your long-term habits could be playing a role in accelerating the gray-hair process, especially if you smoke, take illegal drugs, eat horrendously (a.k.a. get zero nutrients), or are on certain types of life-long medications (Cincotta says to check with your doctor to see if gray hair is a side effect). There’s even evidence that being in a constant state of stress could speed up grays, at least according to a 2013 New York University study that found there may—may being the crucial word, here—be a link between long-term stress and loss of hair color, thanks to stress hormones depleting the stem cells that determine hair color.
Still, even if you chain-smoked five packs a day while living off of only bars of chocolate and adrenaline for one year straight, you still wouldn’t go from brown to gray or white overnight. You would, however, chop off a few years from your life expectancy, but if going gray is really your biggest fear, we guess you’d be safe (hey, just don’t do any of that, OK?). And if you’re not cool with your new color, just remember that there’s always a wonderful world of hair dyes. Or, and this is our personal favorite, just embrace the look; we’re sure Kyleie Jenner will dye her hair gray next week anyway.