You have surely heard about soldiers during the war whose hair became white in one night due to the tremendous stress.

I was wondering how is this possible biologically ?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Are there any documented medical cases of this? Without them, these stories are just hearsay. Stress does contribute to gray/white hair - just look at before and after pictures of the last 4 or 5 US presidents. However, this does not, and from a physiological perspective cannot happen overnight. $\endgroup$
    – MattDMo
    Sep 24, 2016 at 20:40
  • $\begingroup$ I've never heard of this phenomenon. $\endgroup$
    – user25568
    Sep 25, 2016 at 13:27
  • $\begingroup$ Seems Not at all a biological process; bcoz if it was due to solely biological effect (toxification, gene mutation etc) then only new portions of hairs would bleach. Bt since entire-hair bleached in 1 night; (as well hair is a dead structure); a biological-process-change has nothing to do on that older portion off hair. Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) has a bleaching effect. SO2 is produced from burning of gunpowders. maybe excessive smoke of gunpowder caused it; however bleach of SO2 is not persistent, so maybe some more complicated chemical reactions from warfare chemical-pollutants took place there. $\endgroup$
    – user25568
    Sep 25, 2016 at 18:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Chris Yes it is a completely a speculation and I'm transferring it as a comment. However I could not find any reference claiming change of hair color on warfare; however one of my school chemistry textbook says SO2 used in bleaching of gentle materials like wool, feather, silk etc. $\endgroup$
    – user25568
    Sep 25, 2016 at 18:12

1 Answer 1


The physiological condition you are looking for is commonly called Marie Antoinette Syndrome.

Under extreme psychological stress, the hair of the person does turn white but not in a single night (takes place slowly over successive days; in a matter of weeks) and cases of this has been reported worldwide generally in warzones.

Contrary to what you suggest, this phenomenon is extremely rare and I doubt many soldiers experience it.

Source- http://archderm.jamanetwork.com/mobile/article.aspx?articleid=712060

Another interesting tidbit the author mentions is whether Marie Antoinette herself suffered from it or not. The author goes in depth on the topic; regardless the syndrome is definitely real with documented cases. It is also known as canities subita.

Most in the scientific field now refer to it as an acute episode of diffuse alopecia areata. Alopecia areata is patchy hair-loss. This syndrome is referred to as such because the white hair eventually fall off.

  • $\begingroup$ Could you add a source to that? $\endgroup$
    – Ebbinghaus
    Sep 25, 2016 at 6:43

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