You may have heard stories about people whose hair turned white over night because they were under a great deal of stress or experienced something frightful. There is a story dating back to the late 1700s concerning the hair of Queen Marie Antoinette of France.
You may have heard stories about people whose hair turned white over night because they were under a great deal of stress or experienced something frightful.
There is a story dating back to the late 1700s concerning the hair of Queen Marie Antoinette of France. As the story goes, her hair turned white due to stress while waiting to be guillotined. Subsequently, it has been called the “The Marie Antoinette syndrome.” No question, a person waiting to be guillotined is under a great deal of stress.
But can stress or fear really cause hair to turn white overnight? Most medical experts on the subject do not believe that stress can cause this to happen. However, in rare occasions, it can appear that a person’s hair turned white overnight, but it has nothing to do with stress.
There is a condition called alopecia areata that affects an estimated 4.5 million people in the United States. In this condition, there is hair loss mainly of the scalp and beard. The hair loss may be patchy, involve the entire scalp or the total body.
It is believed that alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the hair follicles, resulting in loss of hair. Usually, only hair with pigment is affected and lost.
If a person has gray hair but it is not bountiful, it may not be very obvious. Then, when alopecia occurs, the pigmented hairs are eliminated and the gray hairs remain, giving the false impression that the hair suddenly turned white.
There are other medical causes of premature graying of hair, such as vitiligo. In this condition, there is a loss of pigment in the skin, and, at times, it can also involve the hair, and the hair appears white. Vitiligo does not occur overnight, but it can appear fairly quickly. This also appears to be an autoimmune disease.
Vitamin B-12 deficiency and hormonal disorders can also cause premature graying of the hair. But the major cause of premature graying of hair is genetics.
So, although stress is associated with many medical problems, there is no evidence that it can cause a person’s hair to turn white overnight.