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Hair Turning White / Grey From Fright (Or Injury Or Stress)


Beloved of Ra
Dec 5, 2003
Or stress

Any well documented cases

and why?

Why does hair change colour anyway?

My aunt died in her 80s and her hair was brown edged with grey!

My hair started out blonde, and is now dark brown.
Oddly enough, I'm reading a crime book at present in which a US cop was once attacked with a knife to his head. His hair was partially shaved off so surgeons could repair the wound, but when it grew back he had a white streak in his dark hair.

Admittedly this is fiction, but maybe it was based on a real incident...
Well, I could well imagine the knifing and the surgery could damage the hair follicles, more so than his fright could.
a friend of my father's had a car accident in his late thirties and his hair turned white. i can't document it though...
Hair turning white

I remember watching the film version of Stephen King's `It` at my mates house and this happens to one of the characters. my mates mum was watching with us and claimed that this process is known as` dicdolleroo`, I am not sure of the spelling what a great name for any physical affliction!
My great uncle drowned in the canal, aged 9 years, and was taken home in a wheelbarrow. Apparently, my great-grandmother went white overnight with grief.

Obviously, I can't prove it, but that's what she (she died when I was 22), my grandmother, and my mother have always maintained.

A cousin of mine suffered a severe car accident, well in her twenties. She suffered massive head injuries, as well as damage to other organs. There was little hope. The surgeon had to sew her liver back together, as was explained to the family. She used to have very blonde hair. Long blonde hair. Of course, with head injuries, her head was shaved. It grew back ginger - dark ginger.

I had black hair until a perm went drastically wrong. I basically ended up with an half inch buzz cut, after having hair half way down my back. Only the second time I've ever had my hair permed as well. When it grew back, it grew back a lighter shade. Sort of dark reddish brown more than black.
Apparently there is a condition called "alopecia areata" which causes your pigmented hairs to fall out, leaving the white ones (so far as you have them):

The hair can't actually turn white overnight, because all the hair is "dead", and the only way you can make its colour change is with dyes.

Hair gets its colour from a chemical called melanin, which is pumped in by cells at the base of the hair follicle. As your hair goes grey, these cells at the base stop making melanin. So some hairs will be their normal colour, but some (the ones without melanin) will be completely white. So here's a great truth - there's no such colour as grey hair. Grey hair is dark hairs, with the newer white hairs mixed in.

So how can somebody's hair turn white overnight? Easy, they first have grey hair (which is actually the mix of dark hair and white hair) - and then all the dark hair falls out over a few days.

This could be caused by a disease called alopecia areata , where your hair, for no apparent reason, simply falls out. Unlike common balding, alopecia areata is just as likely to happen in women as in men.

So if you've got grey hair, and those few remaining dark ones bail out, bingo - instant white hair! It can't happen overnight, but it can happen...

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/science/k2/homework/s95605.htm
According to Gould and Pyle, there are a number of well-documented cases of hair "turning white with fright" -- or, at the very least, turning grey in states of heightened anxiety:

The well-accepted fact of the sudden changing of the color of the hair from violent emotions or other causes has always excited great interest, and many ingenious explanations have been devised to account for it. There is a record in the time of Charles V. of a young man who was committed in prison in 1546 for seducing his girl companion, and while there was in great fear and grief, expecting a death-sentence from the Emperor the next day. When brought before the judge, his face was wan and pale and his hair and beard grey, the change having taken place in the night. His beard was filthy with drivel, and the Emperor, moved by his pitiful condition, pardoned him. There was a clergyman of Nottingham whose daughter at the age of thirteen experienced a change from jet-blackness of the hair to white in a single night, but this was confined to a spot on the back of the head 1 1/2 inches in length. Her hair soon became striped, and in seven years was totally white.


Voigtel mentions the occurrence of canities almost suddenly. Biehat had a personal acquaintance whose hair became almost entirely gray in consequence of some distressing news that reached him. Cassan records a similar case. According to Rayer, a woman by the name of Perat, summoned before the Chamber of Peers, to give evidence in the trial of the assassin Louvel, was so much affected that her hair became entirely white in a single night.

And so on. See George M. Gould and Walter L. Pyle: Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine (Bell Publishing Company, New York, 1973?), pp235-9.
A friend of mine's fiance died in his sleep (the adult form of "cot death") back in 2000. The stress made her lose a lot more hair than normal, though not to the extent of bald spots. When it grew back in, her hair became wavy for several years, whereas before it had been straight. no abnrmally rapid changes of colour though.
Kondoru said:
Or stress

Any well documented cases

and why?

Why does hair change colour anyway?

My aunt died in her 80s and her hair was brown edged with grey!

My hair started out blonde, and is now dark brown.

Are you talking little strands white , or Ash - evil dead / leland - twin peaks white ?
Kondoru said:
My aunt died in her 80s and her hair was brown edged with grey!

My grandad died at 86, and his hair was a blackish brown edged with grey too.
Mind you, he confided in me about his secret - he was colouring his hair with a special comb made of solid hair dye...
Marie-Antoinette's overnight hair colour change (from blonde to white) is well-documented by almost every witness who wrote a memoir on her failed escape to Varennes (including her hairdresser). All this happened whithin - at the most - three days, from her escape to her forced return to Paris. (see: http://blog.raucousroyals.com/2008/07/another-hairy-marie-antoinette-rumor.html)

rynner2 said:
Oddly enough, I'm reading a crime book at present in which a US cop was once attacked with a knife to his head. His hair was partially shaved off so surgeons could repair the wound, but when it grew back he had a white streak in his dark hair.

Admittedly this is fiction, but maybe it was based on a real incident...

I can verify that injury can indeed result in white hair.

Until the area became bald (and all the other hair had grayed to match it), I'd sported a single patch of solid white hair on the crown of my head from childhood.

My mother explained that I'd fallen as a toddler and cut my scalp at exactly that location. After it healed, the hair growing at the wound site (an area maybe 1 inch square) was pure white thereafter.
Apparently, the phenomenon isn't limited to humans (or even mammals). Again, from Gould and Pyle:

Crocker cites the case of a Spanish cock which was nearly killed by some pigs. The morning after the adventure the feathers of the head had become completely white, and about half of those on the back of the neck were also changed[1].

I believe that I have other similar animal "blanchings" on record somewhere (I'll see if I can dig them up) so the melanin-based theory (or theories involving human hormones or disease) seem equally invalid.


[1]George M. Gould and Walter L. Pyle: Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine (Bell Publishing Company, New York, 1973?), pp237.
Annie Oakley:

Meanwhile the show went on, and it became more of a road show than ever. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West played in more than 130 towns in both 1895 and 1896. In 1897, the Wild West played in Canada for the first time since Sitting Bull was a headliner in 1885. Annie admitted in 1899 that she had begun to at least think about retirement. The railroad travel was endless, and it had its dangers. Train accidents were not uncommon.

One notable wreck occurred at 3 a.m. on October 29, 1901, near Lindwood, N.C., while the company was headed to Danville, Va., for its last performance of the season. When the first section passed the switching station, the switcher thought that it was the whole outfit, so he threw the switch. The second section ran into an oncoming train. The wooden cars became so many piles of kindling as people and animals cried out in pain and steam hissed. Legend says that Annie Oakley, now 41, was found pinned beneath the rubble and it took several hours before she could be extracted. As Li’l Missie was carried by stretcher past some wounded horses that had to be shot, she supposedly remarked that she felt sorry for them. Just 17 hours after the wreck, according to legend, her brown hair turned totally white because of the horror of the accident.

Biographer Shirl Kasper, however, argues that Annie was not badly hurt in the wreck (the Charlotte Observer reported that nobody from the Wild West was injured) and that while Annie’s hair did turn white rather fast, it wasn’t because of the train wreck. Two newspaper articles in Annie’s scrapbooks at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center say that her hair turned white after she sat too long in a hot bath at a health resort later that year. In any case, says Kasper, it was her white hair, not any bodily injuries, that convinced Annie Oakley to immediately leave Buffalo Bill’s Wild West.

Ive come across several accounts in books and articles of this happening over the years too and often wondered about it.
When I was a kid a close family friend had a nervous breakdown. She was only about 28 and I recall being surprised that one day when I saw her as her hair had turned completely grey. It had been a healthy brown the previous time I saw her, but I dont remember what length of time had passed - obviously more than one night. I do remember wondering however how it can be that hair which youve already grown can change colour. Its possible of course that she had started to go grey early for some reason and been dying her hair. She was a hairdresser lol.
When my parents split up I was 10 years old. They divorced when I was 13 and I started going grey during the divorce months. By the time I was 18 I had about 50/50 and now aged 31, I have about 90% grey or white hair.

I think it looks quite distinguished but I certainly put it down to stress and worry. Sometimes, when I'm really stressed I can convince myself that my hair looks whiter than usual.

Both of my parents have dark hair (although my father is now about 50%50 aged 63).
How come no-one has mentioned, um, that famous actor.

The one who likes gerbils.

Which, as any "bloke in the pub" will tell you, is why his hair went grey when he was so young. So it must be true, it's on the internet and everything.
He is neither "An Officer", nor "A Gentleman", and his friend was a gopher, I believe. :lol:
There is also Steve Martin. I think he claims his hair went white after smoking some extra strong weed.
But according to the sources, Steve Martin's hair went white slowly:

Martin graduated to opening for rock performers, where his long hair, scraggly beard, and hippie wardrobe aligned him firmly with the counterculture movement of the era. However, while in his twenties his hair began to go white; gradually, Martin began adapting his on-stage persona to fit the change, re-emerging as a clean-cut, immaculately dressed conservative.

Source: http://www.answers.com/topic/steve-martin
Dermot Morgan, the star of Father Ted, went grey very young too.
He was only 45 when he died.
I knew a fellow who had a streak of white through one eyebrow which continued, in a curved line, up through his fringe before petering out towards his crown. i asked everyone (but him) at the time what had happened and was surprised that none of his much closer pals had
ever asked about it. It looked cool as could be
Hair turning white over night

When I was at school a friend of mine who's hair turned white after he found his mother hanging from thier living room light.

We used to walk home together from school but my house was a little further away from school than his, so I left him at his house and carried on to my own home, but after the funeral he returned to school sporting a Mallen streak (reference of a TV period drama) of pure white hair from slightly to the left of centre of his forehead to his crown and quite thick/wide say about 1-2 inches in width.

We tried to dye his hair several times with natural (dark brown) and un-natural (red, blue, green, and jet black) to no avail it refused to colour.

Since when coming across stories of this sort many doctors say that it is medically imposible for hair to turn white as quickly as his did or to a person so young (he was only 14 years old).

He said he woke the following morning with the streak and after a while accepted his Mallen Streak and even said it suited him.
For the first time researchers have apparently verified a causal linkage between stress and permanent loss of hair pigmentation.
Solving a biological puzzle: How stress causes gray hair

Scientists uncover link between the nervous system and stem cells that regenerate pigment ...

When Marie Antoinette was captured during the French Revolution, her hair reportedly turned white overnight. In more recent history, John McCain experienced severe injuries as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War -- and lost color in his hair.

For a long time, anecdotes have connected stressful experiences with the phenomenon of hair graying. Now, for the first time, Harvard University scientists have discovered exactly how the process plays out: stress activates nerves that are part of the fight-or-flight response, which in turn cause permanent damage to pigment-regenerating stem cells in hair follicles.

The study, published in Nature, advances scientists' knowledge of how stress can impact the body. ...

In the hair follicle, certain stem cells act as a reservoir of pigment-producing cells. When hair regenerates, some of the stem cells convert into pigment-producing cells that color the hair.

Researchers found that the norepinephrine from sympathetic nerves causes the stem cells to activate excessively. The stem cells all convert into pigment-producing cells, prematurely depleting the reservoir.

"When we started to study this, I expected that stress was bad for the body -- but the detrimental impact of stress that we discovered was beyond what I imagined," Hsu said. "After just a few days, all of the pigment-regenerating stem cells were lost. Once they're gone, you can't regenerate pigment anymore. The damage is permanent."

The finding underscores the negative side effects of an otherwise protective evolutionary response, the researchers said.

"Acute stress, particularly the fight-or-flight response, has been traditionally viewed to be beneficial for an animal's survival. But in this case, acute stress causes permanent depletion of stem cells," said postdoctoral fellow Bing Zhang, the lead author of the study. ...

FULL STORY: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200122135313.htm
Here are the bibliographic particulars and the abstract for the published paper ...
Hyperactivation of sympathetic nerves drives depletion of melanocyte stem cells

Bing Zhang, Sai Ma, Inbal Rachmin, Megan He, Pankaj Baral, Sekyu Choi, William A. Gonçalves, Yulia Shwartz, Eva M. Fast, Yiqun Su, Leonard I. Zon, Aviv Regev, Jason D. Buenrostro, Thiago M. Cunha, Isaac M. Chiu, David E. Fisher & Ya-Chieh Hsu
Nature (2020)

Empirical and anecdotal evidence has associated stress with accelerated hair greying (formation of unpigmented hairs)1,2, but so far there has been little scientific validation of this link. Here we report that, in mice, acute stress leads to hair greying through the fast depletion of melanocyte stem cells. Using a combination of adrenalectomy, denervation, chemogenetics3,4, cell ablation and knockout of the adrenergic receptor specifically in melanocyte stem cells, we find that the stress-induced loss of melanocyte stem cells is independent of immune attack or adrenal stress hormones. Instead, hair greying results from activation of the sympathetic nerves that innervate the melanocyte stem-cell niche. Under conditions of stress, the activation of these sympathetic nerves leads to burst release of the neurotransmitter noradrenaline (also known as norepinephrine). This causes quiescent melanocyte stem cells to proliferate rapidly, and is followed by their differentiation, migration and permanent depletion from the niche. Transient suppression of the proliferation of melanocyte stem cells prevents stress-induced hair greying. Our study demonstrates that neuronal activity that is induced by acute stress can drive a rapid and permanent loss of somatic stem cells, and illustrates an example in
which the maintenance of somatic stem cells is directly influenced by the overall physiological state of the organism.

SOURCE: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-1935-3
You know that old wives' tale about shock turning hair grey overnight? It was supposed to have happened to Marie Antoinette when it went pear-shaped for the French monarchy. I'd always read it was a fallacy, and would never happen. However...

News story from Harvard

New research suggests it may be true, and can happen. Harvard scientists tested their theory on mice and turned them grey. But has anyone heard of it happening in real life recently? Do you know of anyone it happened to? I know there was that Crash Test Dummies song...