Marie Antoinette Syndrom

Marie Antoinette Syndrome refers to a condition that causes hair to become completely white overnight. It derives its name from the tale of the French queen, Marie Antoinette, whose hair suddenly turned white, prior to her execution in 1973.

Reviews published by source, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, tells us that a seventeen-year-old Jewish scholar, Talmud, worked so hard for his studies that his hair turned white.

Although graying of hair is a natural process due to loss of pigment melanin is a sudden process, related to another condition called Alopecia areata, causing sudden hair loss.

This has not been proved yet, whether hair can turn white in such a short duration of time, as told by sources regarding some historical events.

What does the Research Say?

Even though this theory of hair suddenly turning white is not held true, some other anecdotes have also occurred in the past which support this.

Other than the events reported above, there was also a man named Thomas, whose hair turned white suddenly before his execution time.

Archives of dermatology, publish a review where the survivors of the world war II bombing, experienced a sudden change of hair color. Such cases noted in literature have not been witnessed by any medical professional. Psychological conditions can be considered to form its base.

There are studies and researches against this theory. Medical writers and professionals convey that there exists no such process that can make hair turn white within a brief period of time.

These can be related to other conditions occurring but this particular condition has not been proved by any scientific study yet.

Causes of Similar Phenomena

Such situations are thought to be arrived at by autoimmune disorders which causes the change in the way cells respond. The body starts attacking its own cells. It starts affecting the pigmented hair, leaving white hair behind.

Studies conducted showed that, even when the immune system and a stress hormone called cortisol were not in effect, stress eventually caused the hair to lose its pigmentation. The takeaway from the research was that “over-activation of the sympathetic nervous system led to the suppression of stem cell activity of production of pigment in the hair.”

Following are other conditions related to it that can form the base and it can be thought of as this syndrome.

1. Alopecia areata

It causes symptoms that lead to loss of hair in patches. Inflammation is considered to cause hair to fall out, causing pattern baldness.

Sometimes,  hair fall is more than hair growth, it leaves behind white hair, which is already existent but becomes more prominent. This gives an impression that hair has suddenly started to turn white.

There are treatments available to cover up visible white hair but the eventual whitening of hair with age cannot be stopped.

2. Genes

Gene, known as, IRF4, forms the constitutional make-up of color of hair. Premature graying of hair can be related to genetic makeup. This can make it further difficult to treat the graying hair.

3. Hormonal Changes

Imbalance of the hormonal levels due to certain issues like thyroid problem decreased levels of testosterone or menopause in women can lead to graying of hair. Uneven hormonal levels can lead to premature loss of hair color.

4. Naturally Darker Hair

Lightening of hair that is naturally darker can make it visible more prominently. Both light and dark hair gradually whiten but its prominence depends upon what color is one’s hair naturally. Natural discoloration of hair is inevitable but it can be masked by other aesthetic treatments.

5. Nutritional Deficiencies

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies, particularly, that of vitamin B-12 can result in graying of hair. In such cases, nutrition expert should be consulted to avoid changes in hair color. Tests can be done from time to time to be aware of such nutritional cases.

6. Vitiligo

We all have heard of vitiligo, which results in loss of pigmentation in the skin causing white patches. Sometimes, it can affect hair as well, making hair turn white or gray. It is not commonly treated.  Such depigmentation can be reduced to some extent by therapies including corticosteroids or light therapy.

Can Stress Bring This on?

There has got to be a certain underlying process and scientific reason which causes graying of hair which is certainly more complicated than historic events portray.

Marie Antoinette syndrome shows that this sudden change of hair color is caused by extreme stress as in cases of queen Marie Antoinette and Thomas when they were to be sentenced to death.

Hair Loss and Hair decoloration are both caused by chronic stress, although,  there must be some underlying event leading to it.

When to see a doctor

Loss of hair color isn’t something to worry about. When it is accompanied by baldness and rashes, medical professionals must be consulted to find out the cause. Blood tests must also be done to discover and treat any nutritional deficiencies as soon as possible.


Stories and tales about historic events are rampant and people tend to believe them even though it has not been shown by any study. Investigations are still being done to find out deeper causes and issues related to it.

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