Can stress cause gray hair? Photo: Getty Images

What causes our silvery strands is becoming less of a gray area to scientists.

Reported in the science journal Cell, researchers noted that gray hair is indeed a result of stress -- but not necessarily the emotional stress from a demanding job or an unruly teenager. Instead, gray hair can be caused by cell stress.

Stress to the cells surrounding the hair follicles can be caused by damaging agents such as chemicals, ultraviolet light and ionizing radiation. According to the study's lead author, Emi Nishimura, a single cell may encounter up to 100,000 events a day that damage the DNA of these follicles which are responsible for the hair's color. It's this type of "genotoxic stress" that depletes the melanocyte stem cells within hair follicles that are responsible for making pigment-producing cells.

"In this study, we discovered that hair graying, the most obvious aging phenotype, can be caused by the genomic damage response through stem cell differentiation, which suggests that physiological hair graying can be triggered by the accumulation of unavoidable DNA damage and DNA-damage response associated with aging through MSC differentiation," researchers reported in Cell.

And while they state that the majority of this damage is unavoidable, therefore making stress less of a factor in the color of your hair, it can have a significant role in the amount of hair we have. As we previously reported on Stylist, stress can cause hair to fall out, so all the more reason to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

Stress aside, many experts agree that genetics still play the largest role in determining when you can expect the grays to start creeping in. "When hair turns gray -- and which hairs turn gray -- is genetically programmed," Jerry Shapiro, M.D., professor of dermatology at New York University's Langone Medical Center told AARP's Bulletin Today.

Other factors that can influence gray hair include: vitamin B12 deficiency, smoking, heart disease, low bone mass, certain tumors or thyroid disease. Vitiligo, a condition where the cells at the base of hair follicles that produce color are damaged or destroyed by an immune system disorder, can also result in premature grays. And, alopecia areata, a disorder where patches of non-gray hair are lost suddenly, can make it appear that someone turned gray overnight.

Others say a pill could be the cure-all for gray hair -- take a look at this and see what you think!