Turning Grey Over Night

030408When Thomas More was beheaded by King Henry the eighth, it’s said that his hair turned white over night.  Mary Queen of Scots’ red hair was reported to have turned white just before her execution.  The hair of the builder of the Taj Mahal was said to become white within two weeks of the death of his wife in 1631.  The beautiful Taj Mahal was built in her memory.

The scientist in me asks, how is it possible for hair to actually change its colour so quickly.  Hair, after all, is dead tissue coloured dark by a pigment called melanin.  The only way to change the colour of hair is through the application of dyes.

The fact is there’s no scientific mechanism that could cause over a hundred and twenty thousand dark hairs to completely change colour in twenty-four hours.

So what are we to make of all of these historical reports?  It’s probable that as a result of natural aging a significant number of the dark hairs had already turned white.  Grey hair involves a loss of melanin in some individual hairs, but the rest of the follicles of the scalp keep making dark hairs.  Grey hair is a mixture of dark hairs with melanin, and white hairs without melanin.  A sudden traumatic event can, for some unexplained reason, sometimes cause only the dark hairs to fall out.

So next time you’re really shocked, you’d better resort to hair dye.