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Disease Bleach
"They used to call me 'Red', but three years of malnutrition will do a number on your hair color."
Ian Starshine, The Order of the Stick

It's a widespread beliefnote  that stress causes hair to turn gray — just ask your grandmother. Stress, however, comes in many forms, and some are more effective than others at turning hair white.

One of the most effective ways to turn a character's hair completely white would be the stress of prolonged illness. There may be some Truth in Television to this, but typically it's taken to extremes. In some cases, this trope is used to justify the white-hair part of White Hair, Black Heart if he happens to also be an ill guy.

Note that this trope also applies to people whose hair has turned white due to prolonged stresses similar to diseases, such as being a prisoner of war. If a character's hair suddenly changes color forever due to supernatural causes, it's Locked into Strangeness. If this is a direct (often temporary) effect of supernatural influence, it's Power Dyes Your Hair. Also has no relation (usually) to Brain Bleach.

Also note that in Real Life hair already grown can't turn white (unless you bleach it artificially). Grown hair consists of dead cells, which can't change their color. But don't expect fiction to care.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Bleach: Captain Jushirou Ukitake was diagnosed with a very serious lung condition (heavily implied to be tuberculosis) as a child and over the span of three days, the shock and stress of this diagnosis turned his hair white.
  • In Death Note, Soichiro Yagami's hair starts greying at an alarmingly fast rate from the moment he begins to work on the Kira case. Especially notorious in the first arc, where about a third of his hair turns grey in a couple of episodes, way too fast for it to be caused by simple aging. Until about episode 10, his hair is pitch black. Though he didn't start greying until after he had a stress-induced (rather than a Kira-induced) heart attack.
    • It could be that it had already started to gray, but he dyed it. The stress of the case kept him from maintaining it. Probably combined with the usual form of the trope.
  • Fist of the North Star
    • Toki used to be black-haired before being irradiated, after which his hair turned white.
    • Rei's hair turning white for his final moment, however, falls in Locked into Strangeness.
  • Half of Dr. Black Jack's hair started coming in white after a land mine blasted his head apart when he was a child.
  • Mushishi's Ginko got white hair from exposure to a magical darkness which also took one of his eyes and made his mentor disappear, just as will happen to him once his other eye is consumed.
  • Victorique from Gosick suffers this in the ending of the story. It was likely a combination of an already crappy childhood, added to the stress of being a criminal refugee and having to flee to the other end of the world alone in the middle of World War II.
  • In Rurouni Kenshin, Yukishiro Enishi's hair went white after witnessing his sister Tomoe's untimely death. When Kenshin sees him for the fist time after her death and sees him with white hair and a Slasher Smile it becomes very obvious that the experience knocked several screws loose.
  • In One Piece, Hody Jones and his crew had their hair turn white after overdosing on energy steroids, giving them a large power boost, but shortening their lifespans.
  • Happens to Marie Antoinette towards the end of Rose of Versailles.
    Narrator: The terror of the journey turned Antoinette from a beautiful blonde into the white hair of an old woman!
  • Katanagatari: Togame's hair turned white instantly when her father was beheaded. That trait is commented upon in the first half of the series.
  • In Canaan, people exposed to the Ua virus sometimes have their hair turn white. This is clearly seen in Canaan, Liang Qi, and an unnamed girl who died when experimented on to create a second Canaan.
  • In Saint Seiya Omega, Orion Eden's hair turns white during the Sanctuary Arc. The exact reason is never given, but it's implied it was caused by the stress of watching Aria being killed by his own father.

    Comic Books 
  • The title character of XIII has a grey streak on his left temple where a bullet scratched him pre-amnesia.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • This happens to Johnathan Harker in Bram Stoker's Dracula as his hair turns grey when he returns to London and then white as he aids in fighting the count.
  • The villain of the Saw franchise for the first three films has white hair at a relatively young age (canonically in his mid-forties during Saw III) due to being terminally ill with cancer.
  • Will Graham in Manhunter has gray tinges in his hair due to his experience with Hannibal Lecktor.
  • The vampiric disease in The Omega Man turns people's hair white instantly (as we see when Lisa gets infected). And curing it turns their hair back to a normal color instantly. Somewhere a Virologist Is Crying.
  • Cole in The Sixth Sense is shown to have patches of white/grey hair that are meant to be the result of living in a constant state of fear and stress.

    Literature 
  • The Dresden Files
    • We see that Lea has white streaks in her hair after prolonged imprisonment by the Winter Queen in order to "cure" her insanity/ambition.
    • Justine's hair turned white after an intense feeding session with Thomas nearly killed her. She recovered much of her physical health in the years after, but her hair has remained white.
  • In Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, Danglars ends up a broken man with completely white hair following a prolonged period of psychological torture by the Count.
  • Percy Jackson and the Titan's Curse gives Annabeth and Percy cute little matching gray streaks from the stress of holding up the sky. Though oddly enough, they're never brought up again afterwards. They're brought up in Mark of Athena (The Heroes of Olympus) and it's said they disappeared after some time.
  • In Dean Koontz's Dragon Tears, Harry Lyon's former partner Ricky Esteban had to retire from the police force on medical grounds after being gut-shot, subsequently losing a big chunk of his digestive system. His hair went white and he seems prematurely aged in other ways, not surprisingly.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire
    • Lancel Lannister's near-mortal wound and long recovery are said to have changed his fine blond hair to a brittle white mess.
    • In A Dance with Dragons, Theon's hair turns white as a result of the malnutrition and torture he suffers from Ramsay.
  • Older Than Radio: Roderick Usher in Edgar Allan Poe's story The Fall of the House of Usher.
  • Something like this happens to Erast Fandorin in the first book of his series, following the death of his new bride in a bombing, as he ends up with grayed temples.
  • In Bram Stoker's Dracula, Jonathan's hair begins to go grey (or possibly turns entirely white) after his imprisonment at the Count's castle. It's believed by some to be another way in which he grows to mirror Dracula himself, similar to his personality change and growing fixation on his weapons.
  • Felix Phoenix of Tanith Lee's Piratica used to have dark hair, until years in a workhouse as a child turned his hair white.
  • Les MisÚrables
    • Jean Valjean's hair turns completely white the night after he makes the difficult decision to turn himself in so that an innocent man doesn't get sent to the galleys in his place; it stays white for the rest of the book.
    • Fantine's hair turns prematurely white after she sells most of it to provide money for her daughter and then contracts tuberculosis.
  • This happens to the Judge himself in the Judge Dee novel The Chinese Nail Murders. At the end of the novel, which has been filled with tragic events and a crisis which threatens his career, he is congratulated by an Imperial official who refers to him as an old man. Dee is about to take offense, being only in his 40s, but then sees his reflection and realizes he has gone completely gray.
  • Jem in the Infernal Devices series. Turns out it's because of a demonic halluginogenic drug originally used to torture him as a child. Same goes for his eyes.
  • The Witcher: The strain of the often lethal Trial of Grass left young Geralt with white hair and unnaturally pale skin.
  • After the near-death experience that he has in Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card, Christopher Columbus's hair starts rapidly turning white.
  • Kit Smith's hair is noted as prematurely grey (he's only around thirty when he is introduced in Aunt Dimity's Christmas); he spent years living as a vagrant and nearly died of a combination of hypothermia and pneumonia.
  • In the Sherlock Holmes story "The Speckled Band", Helen Stoner and her sister Julia both had prematurely graying hair due to the terror of their predicament.
  • The mercenary hero of the 1980's Gold Eagle Heroes R Us series Soldiers of Barrabas had his hair turn white after a head injury in the Vietnam War. This gives him a startling appearance that's often lampshaded.
  • In Harry Potter there's Remus Lupin, who is described as having greying hair in his early thirties due to the stress and strain of living with lycanthropy from an early age. Every time Harry encounters him after a significant period of time, he is described as noticeably greyer than before.

    Music 
  • The Crash Test Dummies' song Mmm mmm mmm mmm has the first verse describe a kid who got into a car accident and ended up with white hair from the shock and injury.

    Theater 
  • In the Broadway version of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Toby's hair turns completely white after he is locked in the evil basement by Mrs. Lovett and suffers a horrific Break the Cutie ordeal which consisted of learning what she and Sweeney got up to and then being stalked by Mrs. Lovett who intended to hand him over to Sweeney to be killed.
    • The film version gives Todd himself a streak of white from the trauma of his incarceration.

    Video Games 
  • According to the official BlazBlue Setting Material Collection, the attack that got Ragna's sister kidnapped, burned down the orphanage his family lived in, and cost Ragna one of his arms as well as Rachel taking it upon herself to bite him and essentially afflicting him with vampirism that turned his blond hair white.
  • In Warcraft 3, Arthas' hair goes white after his experiences in Northrend, though it's not entirely clear if it was the result of the magical influence of Frostmourne or simply stress, obsession and trauma combined with frigid weather.
  • Lau Chan from Virtua Fighter, after having black hair most of the series, goes white and visibly ages as his Incurable Cough of Death gets worse by the fifth game.
  • This is one of the fan theories regarding Fenris's silvery hair in Dragon Age II; he canonically underwent an agonizing experiment that wiped his memory.
  • In Resident Evil 5 Jill's hair turns platinum blonde, almost white, after being experimented on by Wesker.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Godot's hair turned white after he fell into a coma after being poisoned.
  • In Super Dangan Ronpa 2, Nagito Komaeda's hair is white, and it's implied that this is due to the illnesses he's had as a result of his constant good and bad luck.
  • In Umineko no Naku Koro ni, Tooya Hachijō (aka Battler Ushiromiya)'s hair apparently turned white after they nearly drowned and had a traffic accident. Somehow.

    Web Comics 
  • In The Order of the Stick, Ian Starshine's red hair turned white after three years of malnutrition in the Empire of Blood's jails.

    Real Life 
  • Truth in Television, to some degree. People suffering from severe and sustained malnutrition, such as some prisoners of war, can have their hair turn blond over time. This has even happened to an elderly man held prisoner by guerillas, whose hair turned blond from its previous grey. However, it turned back once he was rescued and back on a proper diet.
  • While not from illness, Senator John McCain's hair turned white at the age of 31 when he was a POW.
  • Said to happen to U.S. Presidents (and by extension, probably other world leaders as well). Apparently, presidents age roughly two years for every year they're in office — with associated white hair.
    • Bill Clinton, for instance, went into the Presidency with a head of mostly dark hair and came out of it eight years later with it mostly white.
    • Barack Obama is rapidly getting salt in his pepper, too.

      His Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was already graying by the time she was appointed, but since her appointment, it's gotten to the point where even the dyeing expected of most women her age can't keep up.
    • Abraham Lincoln
    • George W. Bush looked much younger upon being sworn in as president in 2000 than when his term ended. Given what happened during his Presidency, is it any wonder?
  • All the latest Mexican presidents look youthful on their election days, and much older when they reach the end of their 6-year term (they only serve one term, period). Very notable with Ernesto Zedillo, who looks like he aged at least two decades.
    • Tony Blair went grey pretty quick after the Iraq war began, as his public image changed from youthful breath of fresh air to leering warmonger.
  • Barbara Bush, wife of the first President Bush, infamously had white hair by the time she was 30. This is mostly credited to the death of her daughter at the age of 4 from leukemia.
  • Al Capone claimed his wife was getting gray hair in her 30's because she was so worried about the press and police "harassing" her husband.
  • Marie Antoinette may be the poster girl, since her hair turned from blond to white after the Flight to Varennes episode.
  • While not always resulting in lighter hair, patients undergoing treatments such as Chemotherapy sometimes find that their hair grows back a completely different color or texture.
  • Marshal MassÚna's hair reportedly started graying prematurely during the harrowing Siege of Genoa. His fighting against Wellington ten years later in Spain did not arrange things.


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