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Can Your Hair Turn White Overnight?

Updated on April 9, 2021
Nell Rose profile image

Nell is fascinated by science and some of the strange phenomenon that can occur which is beyond our knowledge of science.

Hair turn white overnight
Hair turn white overnight

But Is It True?

There is an old wives tale that if you have a shock or tragedy your hair will turn white over night. This story has been around for generations, but is there any truth in it?

We all know that as we age our hair will start to lose color, sometimes turning grey and even pure white the older we get.

But is it possible to receive such a shock to your system that somehow your hair will lose its color completely and be totally white the next day?

Scientists have been trying to work out this conundrum for many years now. And its not easy to study.

The trouble with stories such as these is the fact that many people will exaggerate and say, yes her hair was dark, but literally within a few hours the hair changed color completely.

Here we will look at a few examples and see if there really is any truth to the stories.

Rose Stone My Grandmother

Rose Stone my grandmother in her early 60s her hair turned white at the age of 54
Rose Stone my grandmother in her early 60s her hair turned white at the age of 54

A true story.......

'She knew he had died because she saw and heard him scream her name when she was at the kitchen sink. The starlight shone through the window with a flash of brilliance as though his soul had reached out to touch her, then retreated back into the darkness of eternity.*

She fell to the floor, her voice a scream of anguish, RON!!!! then gently she closed her eyes and closed her mind to the horror.

The next morning with a knock on the front door, she already knew what was about to happen. Her beloved son had been killed in the war.

She went into decline, not eating, drinking or sleeping becoming a whisper of self. Six months later her husband died too.

She fell into silence, seemed to shrink in her space as though trying to escape from the world, and when her daughter went to wake her, she found that her mothers beautiful tawny hair had turned white overnight'.

* Fact.

She had a premonition while washing crockery in the kitchen sink, she heard him scream 'mum' and saw a white light shoot across the sky and into the window'

The facts behind my family's story.

In the second world war her son, Ron, my uncle, was 22 years old. He was a Sergeant in the Royal Air Force. He was a pilot/navigator in a Lancaster bomber. On the 16th November 1942 his airplane crashed after a bombing raid over Germany.

My gran was devastated, as you can imagine. Only a few months later she lost her husband too. My Grandfather.

Over night her hair turned completely white. This fact is true as much as family history can be told without actually seeing it. My mother was also a Sergeant in the WAAFs, the women's Air Force, and all my family were highly intelligent, and not prone to exaggeration.

Listening to the stories since then I couldn't quite get to the bottom of the real story. Did her hair turn white literally overnight? Or was this the way to explain the fact that it happened over a few days or weeks?

We may not lie, but sometimes over the years a few days may turn into 'overnight' as part of the story.

She also developed epilepsy, very badly I have to add, and my aunt spent the rest of my grans life looking after her.

Let's Look At The Science.

What is hair made of?

Hair is made up from a protein called keratin that gets its pigmentation from melanin. If you are healthy and your hair is receiving the right amount of hormones then the hair will stay the color that its been all of your life.

On the other hand if you suffer stress, illness such as some sort of immune deficiency where your body turns on itself, then the hormones will deplete and the hair will turn slowly grey.

If stress occurs there is another explanation to why people believe that their hair has turned grey or white within a few hours. The condition is called diffuse alopecia areata.

The result is that the colored hair will fall out overnight or within a few nights, and the grey that is already there in your hair will stay behind.

When the person looks in the mirror they will only see the resulting grey or white hair left behind. To them, they have turned white overnight.

Of course certain medications can affect hormones and pigmentation in the body too.

Captain Eric Moody

Captain Eric Moody
Captain Eric Moody

Even months after the event stress can take its toll.....

It may seem that we have got to the bottom of the stories. Hair cannot change color over night. But is that true?

Back in 1982, an airline Captain by the name of Eric Moody, was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Perth. The flight was perfectly normal, no storms, and the crew were upbeat and looking forward to landing.

Suddenly out of the blue one of the engines failed as they were flying over Java. Within minutes, all four engines had stopped working.

Moody tried not to panic, and calmly told the crew and passengers that 'we have a small problem, the engines have stopped working, but we are trying to get them back and I hope this won't distress you too much' His calm saved the day.

Eric Moody managed to land at Jakarta Airport. Crew and passengers were saved. It turned out that a plume of ash from a Volcano was to blame for the engine failure.

Even though Eric didn't seem too disturbed, within a few months his hair started to turn white at the front, and by the end of the year his whole head was full of white hair!

Marie Antoinette hair went white
Marie Antoinette hair went white

The execution....

And its even happened to famous historic figures. Evidently the French Queen, Marie Antoinette was about to be sent to her execution. At the age of 37 its said that her hair turned white the night before her death. Fear had turned her hair completely white!

So is that what happened? Or had her hair been going white throughout her capture only to be noticed on the day of her execution?

Sir Thomas Moore, Councillor to Henry VIII was executed in the Tower of London, and its said that his hair also turned white overnight. He was 57, so its possible he suddenly developed the alopecia mentioned above. Some of his hair was already white? Possibly.

Alexander James Littlejohn on the Titanic

First class steward Alexander James Littlejohn’s hair completely white overnight after surviving the sinking of the Titanic.
First class steward Alexander James Littlejohn’s hair completely white overnight after surviving the sinking of the Titanic.

Alexander James Littlejohn

Alexander James Littlejohn was a first class steward on the tragic ship Titanic. As the ship was sinking, he helped to save hundreds of women and children by quickly placing them into 13 life boats.

After he had finished he was ordered by the Officer in charge of the boat to get in and row away from the disaster which was taking place right in front of his eyes.

In 1912 he gave a statement to the Daily Telegraph stating: 'I got 35 children and women into boat 13, we were shouting for more to come but there were no more that we could see, the officer told two of us to get into the boat and row as quickly as possible. I was one of the fortunate ones'

He went on to say later in his statement: 'As the boat went down there were terrible cries for help, they were both terrifying and heartbreaking'.

Alexander was 40 years old in the above first photograph, and the second was taken six months later.

This account is by his grandson Philip Littlejohn who is patron of the Titanic Heritage Trust in Coventry England.

He goes on to say:

'My grandfather’s hair and eyebrows went white with the effects of the shock'.

Last But Not Least......

Nicola Howe's hair turned white within seven days of giving birth to her daughter Jade. She was in hospital after the traumatic birth and was dark haired before.
Nicola Howe's hair turned white within seven days of giving birth to her daughter Jade. She was in hospital after the traumatic birth and was dark haired before.

Nicola Howe gave birth to her daughter Jade and seven days later her hair had turned completely white! The birth was so traumatic, Nicola had to stay in hospital. The change in her hair color was witnessed by nurses!

So it may not have been literally overnight, but it was pretty close!


Some say yes, some say no but.....

Even though science has more or less proved that hair cannot turn white over night, the fact that stress and terrible trauma can work on the hair follicles and wipe out all color over the space of weeks or months is just as dramatic I believe.

To think that something so traumatic can happen to make your body literally go chemically mad so to speak is amazing and sad at the same time.

For all we know, hair may turn white overnight but its never been proven completely. What we do know is that in the above cases, the trauma these people and my gran especially had to go through doesn't bear thinking about.

Sometimes science knows all the answers, at other times its still wavering on the edge of truth.

Do You Know Of Anyone Who's Hair Has Turned White Overnight?

Please leave your comments below, I would love to hear your stories!

Do You Know Of Anyone Who's Hair Has Turned 'White Overnight?'

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2015 Nell Rose


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