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Can Your Hair Turn White from Fear? 8 Reasons Hair Goes White

Mature African American female with mostly grey hair with a few dark hairs in the middle wearing a yellow sweater.

The idea of someone’s hair turning white overnight due to extreme fear has long been depicted in folklore, the arts, and the media.

History is littered with stories of people going gray seemingly overnight when faced with terrifying or stress-inducing situations.

In this article, you’ll find out whether sudden hair whitening is realistic. Can your hair actually turn white from fear?

Can Your Hair Turn White from Fear?

No, it’s impossible for your hair to turn white from fear. Luckily, you don’t have to worry about your hair going white from fear. Despite the stories you may have heard, it’s impossible.

Even if all of your hair suddenly turned white, it would only affect your new growth and not the rest of your pigmented hair. While your hair won’t suddenly turn white from fear, you could notice an increasing number of white or gray strands from long-term fear. 

8 Reasons Why Hair Turns White

There are many different reasons why someone’s hair might turn white or gray. Sometimes it’s caused by natural processes, while other times it may be the result of diet or environment.

Here are some common reasons why your hair might be going gray:

Long Term Stress Causes Gray or White Hair

While it won’t cause your hair to turn white overnight, high levels of stress can lead to premature and increased graying. Long-term stress increases the level of stress hormones released by your body.

These stress hormones target your pigment-producing stem cells and deplete them of their color. The hair that grows from these depleted follicles lacks pigment and will appear white or gray.

Marie Antoinette Syndrome

Marie Antionette Syndrome, also known as canities subita, is named after the famous last queen of France. Legend has it that on the night before her scheduled execution, Marie Antoinette’s hair suddenly turned white from fear.

The condition can affect people of any age and is classified by a rapid onset of graying or white hair. Research doesn’t support these claims, although there are theories to explain the phenomena.

One theory suggests cases of Marie Antoinette Syndrome are actually caused by autoimmune disorders. These conditions occur when your body doesn’t recognize its own cells and launches an attack against them (e.g., attacks hair follicles).

If your body targets your pigment-producing cells, the hair that grows in will be white. 

Genetics

Your genes play a huge role in when or if you go gray. If your mother or father had premature graying, it’s likely that you will as well.

Race and ethnicity can also impact when your hair turns gray.

White and Asian individuals may start showing signs of premature graying in their early to mid-twenties, while Black people don’t typically start going gray until they reach their thirties. 

Diet

Diets that are high in salt, processed foods, and excess fat or sugar can have detrimental effects on your hair. These diets starve your body of key nutrients and increase the amounts of free radicals circulating in your body.

Free radicals are oxygen-bearing molecules that are unstable and can react with the cells in your body. The reaction leads to significant damage that can cause illness, excessive aging, and graying hair. 

Vitamin Deficiencies

Deficiencies in certain vitamins can cause premature graying by affecting the cells that impact pigment production and retention.

You can get blood tests done to check your vitamin levels and identify any deficiencies that are present. Nutrient deficiencies often associated with graying hair include:

  • Vitamin D-3
  • Vitamin B-12
  • Protein
  • Iron
  • Copper

Aging

Going gray is part of the natural aging process. As you age, your hair follicles lose the ability to produce and hold onto melanin, the pigment responsible for hair color.

Over time, the health of your follicles declines due to the normal wear and tear of hair growth. The changes caused by aging can also cause your hair to become drier, stiffer, and coarser. 

Medical Conditions

While graying hair is most closely associated with stress and aging, certain illnesses and conditions can actually cause you to go gray prematurely. Some examples of medical conditions that can lead to graying hair are:

  • Vitiligo 
  • Thyroid disease
  • Neurofibromatosis 
  • Alopecia areata

Smoking 

Smoking impacts nearly every part of your body for the worse. It constricts your blood vessels, which reduces the blood flow needed to keep your hair follicles healthy.

Starving your follicles of blood can lead to hair loss and premature graying.

In addition to restricting blood flow, smoking increases the generation of free radicals, prevents the absorption of key nutrients, and can expose your scalp to damaging pollutants. 

An older black lady with salt and pepper hair has dark hair streaks instead of just the gray hair you'd expect.

How to Keep Your Hair from Turning White

When your hair turns white due to aging or genetic reasons, the process is irreversible. If you’re going gray due to diet, stress, or environmental reasons, you’re in luck!

In these cases, graying or white hair can be reversed by making dietary and lifestyle changes.

De-stress

If stress is behind your increased graying, reducing that stress can help bring your color back. While there’s no one way to completely eliminate stress, reducing it is worth a try.

Stress can impact nearly every aspect of your health and body.

Some scientifically backed methods to reduce your stress levels are:

  • Meditation, yoga, or relaxation techniques
  • Improving your diet and exercise routine
  • Optimizing your work-life balance
  • Taking time for self-care practices

Dye 

While it won’t bring your natural color back, dyeing your hair can be an effective way to cover white or gray hair. You can try natural dyeing treatments, like henna or black tea, or use a traditional hair dye to restore color to silver locks.

Some theories also suggest that sudden white hair could be caused by the use of hair dye – meaning that hair dye is actually causing pigmented hair to change colors overnight (not stress or the sympathetic nervous system).

Similarly, sudden white hair could be caused by temporary hair dye simply washing away in the shower revealing white non-pigmented hairs.

Change Your Diet

Addressing vitamin deficiencies can not only help slow down graying hair, but it may even help you reverse it!

If you want to know if a vitamin deficiency is behind your graying hair, you can keep a log of the food you’re eating.

Use the log to examine the nutritional content of your diet and highlight any areas that need to be improved.

You can also consult your doctor and ask about adding supplements to your routine. Foods that are rich in vitamins include: 

  • Dark leafy greens
  • Berries
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Herbs and spices

Eat More Antioxidants

Antioxidants help prevent grays by targeting the melanin-damaging free radicals circulating throughout your body.

Antioxidants “deactivate” free radicals and reduce the harm they do to your hair follicles, thus reducing grays. To take advantage of this, load up on antioxidant-rich foods like:

  • Dark chocolate 
  • Green tea
  • Fresh fruits and veggies
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Red wine

Contact a Medical Professional

If you think you’re going gray due to an illness or a severe vitamin deficiency, you should reach out to a medical professional.

Your doctor can recommend a supplement routine, prescribe relevant medication, and identify whether your graying hair is due to a potentially serious medical condition. 

Mature African American female concerned about how stress affects stem cells (e.g. melanocyte stem cells).

Quit Smoking

Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health. Quitting will help increase your blood flow, which is crucial to keeping your hair follicles well-nourished.

Cutting back on smoking will also reduce the number of pollutants you’re exposed to and help your body absorb more key nutrients.

Related Articles

You can be assured that your hair won’t turn white from fear, and you don’t have to worry about going gray overnight (or in just a few days).

Even so, you may find yourself with an increasing number of white strands.

If premature graying doesn’t appeal to you, we hope this article has provided you with the tools to try and reverse the process.