Marie Antoinette Syndrome

What is Marie Antoinette Syndrome?

Marie Antoinette Syndrome is the acute condition in which hair color changed and convert to graying overnight without prior indication. The current medical analysis also discovered that vast scalp area has loss of hair (alopecia area) also along with white hair are the characteristic features of Marie Antoinette Syndrome.

Marie Antoinette Syndrome

Alternatively, Marie Antoinette Syndrome is also known as canities subita1,2.

Marie-Antoinette’s syndrome – false or realism?

According to the fable, in 1793, the last French queen – Marie-Antoinette has observed her hair turning to white color in the night prior her departing on the scaffold. This story is famous and for that cause, sudden change of hair color is termed as Marie Antoinette Syndrome. But the overnight whitening of beard and the hair was first reported in 1535, when Thomas More, the philosopher, and politician of UK faced the same problem. Another such example is also reported that described the future king Henri IV also had the same type of experience with his mustache. His mustache turned to white overnight. Similar outcome observed among those survived after extensive bombardments during the 2nd world war.

Medically clinical presentation of “sudden canities” in women and “syndrome of Thomas More” in men are same as Marie Antoinette Syndrome and also develop due to an intense emotional shock.According to scientific explanation, the cause of this disease may due to an autoimmune reaction. The autoimmune reaction may affect the selective negative response against pigmented hair. Precisely it indicates, the reaction does not cause hypopigmentation or whitening of the hair. But influences to falling off all pigmented (black) hair and only white hairs which already present before reaction remains on the scalp9.

Marie Antoinette Hair color

The sudden turning the hair color to white hair due to unexpected great stress or facing any frightening condition. The syndrome is termed as Marie Antoinette Syndrome because the historical tale exhibited that deposed queen of France Marie Antoinette stride to the guillotine in 1793 and before this she was overstressed. Within an overnight, her golden-brown hair turned to whitened due to extreme stress1,2.

Marie Antoinette White Hair

Historical description of overnight turning of Marie Antoinette hair color to silver may hear like historical fiction, but in 19th-century medical literature also describes the same type of events happen with common human being and the symptom got an importance in the clinical field.

Boston Medical and Surgical Journal published an medical article in 1851, in which a physician stated a highly questionable story of a gambler used all his money ($1,100) in a betting and surprisingly next morning his hair had turned to white (though the story does not disclose the person win or lose the bet)3.

Medical Details of Hair Turn White

In the 20th century, the medical research found justification about the cause of sudden hair graying after received a same type of case. In 1957, a 63-year-old man affected with a gray colored hair after received a trauma from falling down some stairs, though the color changed of his hairs took a certain period of time.

Depending on this case study, clinicians concluded that Marie Antoinette Syndrome is not the outcome of an outburst of anger, unanticipated and annoying news, normal headache, gluttony in sexual urge and worry, as it previously proposed.

Clinicians assumed that Marie Antoinette Syndrome may trigger by alopecia areata, which is an autoimmune disorder. The specific symptom of alopecia areata is rapid falling of hair. The existing theory for the development of Marie Antoinette Syndrome states that noticeable abrupt graying of hair may arise because of a loss of pigmented hairs in associated with alopecia areata diffusa4,5. But the several case studies reported that there is no hair loss associated with graying of hair.

The main symptom of Marie Antoinette Syndrome is canities (loss of pigmented hair). The different authentic and non-authentic case studies provided the information that canities associated or not associated with hair loss. Therefore, medical literature reported following possible reasons for development of canities in Marie Antoinette Syndrome6,7

  • Immune-mediated disorder
  • Air inclusions in the hair cortex

There is no definite cause yet discovered, therefore the further clinical investigation is required to establish a definite cause of Marie Antoinette Syndrome. In addition, till now no treatment is effective to alter or reverse the hair color. Dying is the only option to reduce the embarrassing feeling related to sudden hair graying8.


  1. Alexander A. Navarini, Stephan Nobbe, Marie Antoinette Syndrome; Arch Dermatol. 2009;145(6):656. doi:10.1001/archdermatol.2009.51
  2. Gerald Weissmann, Post-Traumatic Tress Disorder: Obama, Palin and Marie-Antoinette; 10.1096/fj.09-1001October 2009; Retrieve from:
  3. Susan Perry, 2009; Shocking! Woman’s hair turns white overnight (well, almost overnight); Retrieve from:
  4. Dawber RP, Van Neste D. London: Martin Dunitz Limited; 2004. Hair and scalp disorders.
  5. De Berker DA. Abnormalities of the hair shaft. In: Burns T, Breathnach S, Cox N, Griffiths C, editors. Rook’s Textbook of Dermatology. Vol. 4. Oxford: Blackwell; 2010. pp. 66.61–66.100.
  6. Michael Nahm, Alexander A Navarini, Emily Williams Kelly; Canities Subita: A Reappraisal of Evidence Based on 196 Case Reports Published in the Medical Literature; Int J Trichology. 2013 Apr-Jun; 5(2): 63–68. doi: 10.4103/0974-7753.122959
  7. Skellett AM, Millington GW, Levell NJ. Sudden whitening of the hair: An historical fiction? J R Soc Med. 2008;101:574–6.
  8. Giehl KA, Ferguson DJ, Dawber RP, Pittelkow MR, Foehles J, de Berker DA. Update on detection, morphology and fragility in pili annulati in three kindreds. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2004;18:654–8.
  9. The Marie-Antoinette’s syndrome : myth or reality ? (2013); Online available at

3 thoughts on “Marie Antoinette Syndrome

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  • 05/04/2021 at 7:21 PM

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