The suspicion that stress causes white hair to appear is justified. There is a particular situation, known as Marie Antoinette syndrome, which is an example of this. We talk about it in the following lines.
We’ve all heard that stress makes hair white. It is certainly not a phenomenon that occurs overnight, as the popular imagination suggests, but there is a scientific explanation for the graying in the face of stressful situations.
Science has found that stress could lead to depletion of the stem cells that produce the hair pigment. When exhausted, these stop coloring the hair follicle, thus allowing the appearance of white hair.
Similarly, a relationship was found between the genes responsible for hair coloring and those that mediate the body’s immune response. This link would explain why, in the presence of severe infectious processes, some people have their hair turning white.
The genetic make-up is also associated with the skin disease known as vitiligo, which causes pigment-free spots to appear all over the body.
What is white hair?
Some scientists believe white hair is a natural condition. It is, in fact, hair without pigment, an aspect that becomes more and more evident as you get older. From this point of view, believing that the appearance of white hair is due to stress constitutes a semantic error: in reality, they represent a recovery of our natural state.
Hair color originates in cells known as melanocytes. These cells produce the melanin pigment that colors the skin and hair. The more or less dark shade depends on a variety of this substance: eumelanin.
With the aging process, melanocytes lose their ability to produce melanin. The lower the amount of melanin, the lighter the hair color becomes, which we perceive as graying. Of course, this is more evident in individuals with dark hair.
So, beyond the fact that stress can be responsible for the appearance of white hair, we cannot underestimate the effect exerted by aging. There are no measures to counter this natural process, beyond the use of a dye.
Stress causes white hair, but also infections
A scientific study indicates a relationship between the genes responsible for the immune response and those responsible for regulating skin and hair coloring. This means that a severe infection can speed up the graying process.
Of course, severe infections cause considerable stress. The body must put in place adaptation mechanisms that allow it to survive without succumbing to this situation. If he fits correctly, he will be able to overcome the stress.
The cited study proposes the existence of a bond that acts through the MITF protein. This protein is damaged by the human immune system when the human immune system is busy fighting a serious infection. Due to this damage, the protein stops regulating the melanin formation process in melanocytes and the cells stop performing their function.
In the absence of melanin, there is no coloring; as a result, white hair becomes more numerous. This is not an immediate answer, but in darker hair, it is easier to notice the graying.
Sudden graying or Marie Antoinette syndrome
Among the stories that justify the claim that stress makes hair white, that of Queen Marie Antoinette is undoubtedly the most famous. According to legend, the French queen suddenly turned white the evening before being guillotined.
To this, we owe the name of “Marie Antoinette syndrome” to indicate the clinical cases for which white hair suddenly appears. The scientific name for this disorder is sudden graying.
In reality, sudden graying is a sudden hair loss due to stress. The underlying issue is the stressful situation, but the cause is different.
If we dig deeper, we discover that there is an underlying autoimmune disease behind it. Stress merely speeds up the autoimmunity process causing extensive hair loss. Following this abundant fall, the graying becomes more evident, giving the impression that the latter has occurred suddenly.
However, it is not a frequent problem. Only 0.2% of the general population is affected by Marie Antoinette syndrome and in most cases, the hair returns to thicken after the stressful situation has disappeared, without the need for treatment. In 20% of cases, there is a generalized fall with complete alopecia.
Does Stress Make Your Hair White?
The answer to this question is yes. It is possible that in the presence of stressful situations some internal mechanisms are triggered by which melanocytes lose their ability to produce melanin.
Instead, we can deny the existence of sudden graying or, in other words, the transformation of hair from colored to white overnight. This phenomenon, also known as Marie Antoinette syndrome, is actually stress alopecia, not a form of gray.
However, if you think that your white hair is atypical or that it appeared too quickly, you can consult a dermatologist, who will be able to give you an answer regarding the severity or not of the symptom.