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Prematurely Grey-Haired

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"In a year or so, when she's prematurely grey
And the blossom in her cheek has turned to chalk
She'll come home and lo, he'll have upped and run away
With a social-climbing heiress from New York."
Professor Henry Higgins, My Fair Lady

Grey or white hair in humans is usually a sign of advanced age (or of artificial bleaching)—but in fiction, even characters too young to have normal grey hair can sport it as a shorthand for past trauma. Often, a character's hair turns grey or white overnight (or even instantly in cartoonish media), as a result of a particularly traumatic event that changes their lives forever. The fact that already grown hair cannot turn grey without bleaching in Real Life usually gets ignored by the writers.

Disease Bleach is a specific subtrope where the life-changing event is a life-threatening illness, injury, or another kind of bodily harm. Locked into Strangeness can also be a subtrope if the strange lock is grey. Compare Young Face, Old Eyes and contrast Prematurely Bald.

To qualify for this trope, the character has to have some particular trauma in their life. Just being explicitly gray-haired without being old (such as Yu Narukami or Kaworu Nagisa) doesn't count.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • 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 obvious 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 also 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.
  • 7 Seeds has the upper half of Ango's hair turn white after the shock and guilt he feels over Shigeru dying in the Final Test hits him.
  • Victorique from Gosick suffers this in the ending of the story. It was likely a combination of an already crappy childhood and 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, a no older than 10 Yukishiro Enishi's hair went from black to white after he witnessed his sister Tomoe's untimely death. When Kenshin sees him for the first time after her death and sees him with white hair and a grim look it becomes very obvious that the experience knocked several screws loose.
  • Happens to Marie Antoinette towards the end of The Rose of Versailles.
    Narrator: The terror of the journey turned Antoinette from a beautiful blonde into the white hair of an old woman!
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders, D'Arby Senior's hair goes white from shock during his Absurdly High-Stakes Game of poker with Jotaro.
  • In Kakegurui, Absurdly Powerful Student Council Treasurer Manyuda is challenged to an Absurdly High-Stakes Game of poker by Yumeko, and ends up losing the equivalent of $150 million dollars to her in front of the entire school, then immediately being fired by the President. He's so traumatized that his hair goes completely white and he has to be carted out on a stretcher.
  • Tomorrow's Joe: during his bout with Joe, Jose Mendoza's hair goes stark white from the stress of dealing with an opponent he just couldn't knock out.
  • Katanagatari: Togame's hair turned white instantly when her father was beheaded. That trait is commented upon in the first half of the series.
  • My Hero Academia has this happen to Tenko Shimura — better known today as "Tomura Shigaraki" during their childhood as a result of stress from the combination of abuse at the hands of their father and the activation of their Quirk which causes everything he touches to decay, including his entire family. This causes his hair to go from black to greyish blue. Later, the fight against Re-Destro causes his Quirk to become even stronger, and his hair turns stark white. By this point in the story, he's only in his early twenties.
  • 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.
  • In Tokyo Ghoul, Ken Kaneki's hair turns white after ten days of extensive physical and psychological torture. It serves to also mark his shift to a more ruthless mentality. Likewise, in the sequel Seidou Takizawa's hair has turned white. Arima's hair is also white in the sequel even though he's only in his early thirties. This is because he's suffering the internal Rapid Aging that all Ghoul-Human hybrids who aren't One-Eyed Ghouls suffer.
  • Re-Kan! has Hibiki's father Amami Asahi, who owes his white hair to Fear Bleach. Asahi is terrified of ghosts, and unfortunately for him, the woman he fell in love with and married, Yuuhi, was a medium completely surrounded by them. His hair went white within the week. At the end of Asahi's introductory episode, it looks like the same thing has happened to Narumi, who shares Asahi's fear of the supernatural, after a hectic chase involving some obliviously spooky ghosts. Subverted: it's flour, from when she plowed headlong into a food stand.
  • Dr. Frost: The main character, Frost, has completely white hair, despite only being in his thirties. It's all but stated he got it through some sort of trauma and/or accident. Unlike most examples, it’s considered unusual and pointed out on numerous occasions.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist (2003): Unlike in the manga, Ishvalans don't have white hair from childhood; they predominantly have white hair due to aging, like other ethnicities. Scar is an exception. He had dark hair as a child but it lightened to a white by adulthood.
  • In the original Trinity Blood novels, the vampire Astharoshe Aslan was born with red hair, but went completely grey except for a single red forelock after the death of her Best Friend.note 
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (2016), having spent a few years in the Twilight Realm, Darpa’s hair has turned gray despite his young age.

    Fan Works 
  • In The Refiner's Fire, Harry has some limited Metamorphomagus ability, allowing him to grow and ungrow his hair and beard at will. After his first real battle, where he has to kill a number of Death Eaters and then go through their pockets for ID's (making him realize a lot of them had families), his beard always grows out with two white stripes.
  • Every time Chara has a near-death experience in you can only use your own, more of their hair turns white. It's entirely white by the time they're 40 after Asriel talks them out of suicide for the second time.
  • Warriors Redux: ShadowClan seers are known to age very quickly because their life is so stressful. Many die prematurely as well.
  • In My Sister Leni, it's shown that Lincoln was born with brown hair. His hair began turning white at around 1-month. There's no health reason for it; his hair just changed colours.
  • According to Boruto in Jack O'Lantern, his dad Naruto already had greys from his stressful job as hokage. Sarada doesn't believe him.
  • In one Kill la Kill AU fanfic, Satsuki was mentioned to have been developing streaks of gray hair and so dyes them back to black, to which Nui makes fun of her.
  • Tsukune in He Who Fights Monsters sports visibly greying hair along with wrinkles forming after only a few months at Yokai Academy due to stress.
  • In Twilight Gets A Puppy, this allegedly happens to Scootaloo's passengers:
    "Caught a ride with Scootaloo, huh?"
    "You would think I'd learn after that rocket jump last time." Spike shuddered.
    "It wasn't that bad....." Scootaloo huffed.
    "Then why is he white?" Applebloom offered worriedly.
    "By Celestia, Applebloom you can't just ask some pony why they're white...." Scootaloo rolled her eyes.
    "He's a dragon." Applebloom protested.
    "Eh whatever." Scootaloo shrugged.
    "Oh that's normal anyway, riding with Scoots scares the color right out of you. I used to be pink like my mother."
    Sweetie Belle claimed.
    "It does not!" Scootaloo protested.
  • Us and Them: Ifalna has grey streaks in her hair by her late thirties from all the stress Shinra has caused her.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Pictured above: The child protagonist of Come and See grows completely grey-haired upon witnessing numerous Nazi atrocities over the course of the movie.
  • In A Fool There Was, The Vamp claws a loving husband and father away from his family, bleeds him dry, and leaves him an alcoholic mess. His formerly dark hair goes white over a couple of months.
  • In A Nightmare on Elm Street, a lock of Nancy's hair turns grey due to the fear and stress of being assaulted and nearly killed by Freddy Krueger in her sleep.
  • A streak of Ashe's hair turns gray as we watch in Evil Dead 2 from the terror of seeing the Kandarian demon in the flesh.
  • Will Graham in Manhunter has gray tinges in his hair due to his experience with Hannibal Lecktor.
  • Diane goes grey in Poltergeist (1982) after her traumatic journey to the other side to save Carol Anne, and is in the process of dying it brown again when the real horror climax of the film begins.
  • 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.
  • The Ten Commandments (1956) has it with Moses, who returns from speaking with God at the burning bush with gray and white hair.

  • Rene Arroy from the Arcia Chronicles went completely grey-haired after being shipwrecked beyond the Forbidden Line and spending weeks floating in the ocean.
  • The Catcher in the Rye protagonist Holden Caulfield is not even in his 20's yet and already sports a number of grey hairs. As part of his need to fit in with adults (despite condemning adults as "phonies"), he tries to take advantage of his greying hair to do things he otherwise wouldn't be able to do because of his age, like ordering alcoholic drinks. It doesn't work.
  • 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.
  • Felix Phoenix of Tanith Lee's Piratica used to have dark hair, until years in a workhouse as a child turned his hair white.
  • A couple of these in the Deryni works:
    • The architect Rimmell in Deryni Checkmate had white hair since a childhood encounter with an old woman popularly supposed to be a Deryni witch. Some unknown magic of hers was blamed for the overnight change in hair colour.
    • Judhael in The Bishop's Heir and The King's Justice is in his late thirties, yet his hair is grey-white. Unlike Rimmell, his hair colour is not blamed on magic from a Deryni.
  • In Discworld's The Wee Free Men, one of the legends surrounding the heroine's grandmother, Granny Aching, is that she once gave a man a disapproving look so forceful it turned all of his hair white.
  • Downplayed in the Erast Fandorin novels, where the eponymous protagonist's temples turn grey as a result of witnessing his beloved first wife blown to pieces by a terrorist bomb just hours after their wedding.
  • Les Misérables: Jean Valjean's hair turns completely white (that is, including his already-grown hair) 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 that 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.
  • 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.
  • In The Orphan's Tales, the orphan girl Snow goes from black-haired and dark-skinned to being pale and white-haired after the death of her parents and the stress of extreme poverty.
  • In the Percy Jackson and the Olympians book "The Titan's Curse", the eponymous hero and his friend Annabeth each sport a white stripe in their hair after they are temporarily forced to hold the world up for the titan Atlas.
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany: Happens to Johnny after having a beyond the grave encounter with Owen.
  • In The Ribbajack, Wilton and Soames are so stressed out from having to live with their roommate, the psychotic Enfant Terrible Archibald Smifft, that Wilton finds grey hair in his scalp on his eleventh birthday.
  • The Shadowhunter Chronicles: When Jia Penhallow becomes the consul during The Mortal Instruments, her hair is fully black. Five years later, during The Dark Artifices, her hair has become grey. Considering those five years included a war, the Cold Peace, the unfair exile of her daughter-in-law, her Number Two attempting a coup and throwing her in prison, and a brief civil war, it really isn't surprising.
  • 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 – and likely their stepfather's abuse.
  • Warrior Cats:
    • Crowfeather notices that Spiderleg has gray hairs around his muzzle, despite his young age. To emphasise this, Spiderleg wasn't even 7 when he died.
    • Bluestar was greying at the time of her death and Word of God is that she had dementia. She was only 6 1/2 at the time of her death. She had a very stressful life, made worse by her Sanity Slippage near the end of her leadership.
  • The notorious mercenary captain "Black Rayla" from The Witcher novels turns completely grey-haired overnight after being captured and tortured to near-death by elven guerrillas. She becomes known as "White Rayla" in later books as a result.
  • TimeRiders: Liam and Maddy both end up with premature grey hair due to the effects of time travel. Namely, the jump to the Cretaceous Period on Liam's part and the visit to chaos space on Maddy's part.
  • Dracula: By the time the heroes are preparing to strike back against Dracula, Jonathan Harker's hair has turned completely white.

    Live-Action TV 

  • 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.
  • In Voltaire's "The Beast of Pirate Bay" the Beast scared Blackbeard so badly his beard turned white. "And now we all agree, he looks like Santa Claus."

    Religion and Mythology 

  • 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 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.
  • In Hamilton, the company notes that Hamilton's hair has gone grey during "It's Quiet Uptown", as a result of his son Philip's death in a duel (although by that point Hamilton was in his forties).
  • In My Fair Lady, while jealously fantasising about how Eliza's relationship with Freddy could go wrong, Henry Higgins references this trope:
    In a year or so, when she's prematurely grey
    And the blossom in her cheek has turned to chalk
    She'll come home and lo, he'll have upped and run away
    With a social-climbing heiress from New York
  • In the Russian Lay of Leithian rock opera, an adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's tale of Beren and Lúthien, Beren has a streak of white or grey in his hair, presumably as a result of the trauma of the death of his father and companions, and his journey through Taur-nu-Fuin after it.

    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 Persona 5, Sae Niijima has gray hair despite being a rather young adult, stemming from having to raise and support her sister alone after their father's death along with her obsession to become the most successful prosecutor that she can be.
  • In Warcraft 3, Arthas' hair goes white after his experiences in Northrend, though it's not entirely clear whether it was the result of the magical influence of Frostmourne or simply stress, obsession and trauma combined with frigid weather.
    • In World of Warcraft, Jaina Proudmore's hair turns almost entirely white after the bombing of Theramore though it's also not entirely clear if it's due to magical or mundane trauma.
  • In the Street Fighter EX series, Kairi's hair color turns from black in EX to white in EX 2 due to the amount of stress brought about from the many fights he has gotten into since becoming an amnesiac.
  • Jess, from Shardlight, claims that her hair turned white overnight after seeing the Reaper and living to tell the tale. She doesn't wear a hat like the other cultists to prove that her story is true.
  • Fate/stay night: Archer, the future version of Shirou Emiya, went gray sometime around his mid-to-late twenties due to constant use of reinforcement and projection magecraft. His skin also took on a permanent dark tan tone, and his eyes went from amber brown to grayish.
  • Ace Attorney
    • Godot from Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations was poisoned and fell into a coma for years. This accident caused his hair to become white and robbed him of his sight.
    • Jeffrey Masters from the second Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth was relentlessly interrogated by Prosecutor Manfred Von Karma for days after being arrested for the murder of Isaac Dover. The sheer stress of the ordeal cause his giant afro to turn gray.
    • The Great Ace Attorney: Enoch Drebber was a promising college student who moonlighted as a grave robber to make a living. He was so horrified by the sight of a corpse seemingly rising from the grave that caused his hair to instantly turn white.

  • String Theory (2009): Herville Schtein was white-haired by his twenties; he started greying in childhood, but being an obsessive Workaholic and a Functional Addict on all sorts of substances can't have helped. Also overlaps with Mystical White Hair, thanks to the Super Intelligence and Psychic Powers he got from his grandfather's genetic engineering.
  • Widdershins: The former Drifter Jack O'Malley has white streaks in his hair by his twenties, which a Filler Strip attributes to a combination of constant stress and cheap cigarettes. Given his personal history, malnutrition might also be to blame.
  • Dr. Frost: Frost's hair is completely white, despite only being in his thirties. It's all but stated he got it through some sort of trauma and/or accident. Unlike many examples, it's considered unusual and pointed out on numerous occasions.

    Web Videos 
  • According to official art, Percy de Rolo of Critical Role was born with dark brown hair. The stark white hair seen in his character portrait is due to the trauma he suffered when the Briarwoods murdered his entire family, as well as the torture he experienced at the hands of Dr. Ripley. He shares this trope with his younger sister, Cassandra, though she's got streaks of gray, rather than her brother's pure white.

    Western Animation 
  • The Amazing World of Gumball: "The Limit" features an absolutely furious Nicole who strikes such a threatening Death Glare to a security guard that he rapidly ages on the spot, turning into a psychologically scarred white-haired old man within several seconds.
  • The Simpsons:
    • A flashback from "A Tree Grows in Springfield" shows that Kent Brockman's hair got white from witnessing an amusement park employee take off his mouse costume when he was a kid. In the same episode, Barney's hair turns white when told that the castle at the park was really made of plywood.
    • In a non-fear example, Homer claims that Marge dyes her hair, as she's been "gray as a mule since she was 17." Blue is still her natural color, however, as seen in flashbacks to her childhood.
  • Family Guy: In "Hefty Shades of Gray", Peter believes there's a ghost in the basement and has his friends go ghost-hunting with him; they eventually get so sick of his idiocy that they leave and lock him down there with his "ghost". By the time Lois gets him out the next morning, his hair has turned white from fright, which makes him look more respectable.
  • Futurama: In "Mobius Dick", Prof. Farnsworth recounts the tragic disappearance of the first Planet Express crew and he mentions that Zoidberg grew hair just so it could turn white from the trauma.
  • The finale to My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic shows that Rarity already has a grey streak in her mane. She has a stressful career.
  • South Park: The episode "Weight Gain 4000" shows that Mr. Garrison had male pattern baldness and gray hair even as a young child. However, this would be contradicted in "Cartman's Mom is a Dirty Slut", when Garrison is shown with a full head of brown hair on the night that Cartman was conceived (though it could be a wig).
  • Bojack Horseman:
    • It's unknown exactly when Bojack began to go grey, but it's revealed in season 6 that his mane is actually a solid grey and has been for years, and the solid black is just dye to make him look like he did in his prime. Considering his hard lifestyle, habitual drug use, stress, and drinking, not to mention his vanity, it's safe to assume that this trope applies to Bojack.
    • Same goes for Sharona, his former hairstylist on Horsin' Around, who was younger than him but who's also gone completely grey by the time they meet again. In fact, she's the one who encourages him to wash the dye out of his mane and accept his grey hair.
  • Star Wars: The Bad Batch:
    • Two clones who sport gray hair, Cut Lawquane, and Captain Howzer. Even taking their accelerated aging into account, these clones should realistically be about twenty-six years old biologically by the time the show takes place; however, Cut deserted the Grand Army of the Republic in the first year of the Clone Wars and thus has the stress of having to hide out from his own brothers and putting his adopted family at risk, and Howzer's face is covered in scars, indicating a long and difficult military career. Howzer also has the distinction of being immune to the effects of Order 66, so it's possible that he's suffered some psychological trauma from seeing his men become Brainwashed and Crazy.
    • Crosshair also starts the show with gray hair, but as he also had it in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, it's likely more to do with his mutations than premature aging.
  • Speaking of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, a number of other Clone Troopers sport gray hair throughout that series run, including but not limited to Sinker, O'Niner, and Crasher. In the case of Sinker, it's probably dyed. The other two are less clear, especially since Crasher actually seems to be balding.
  • In Courage the Cowardly Dog episode "Little Muriel", Muriel is de-aged back to being three years old, but she still has the white hair of her elderly self. Whether her hair was actually white at three years old (she's shown to have had red hair when she was a younger adult) or it's just a side effect of the de-aging is unclear.
  • Eda from The Owl House had a curse placed on her as a teenager that causes her to age faster as one of its side effects (though there's no indication that it has any effect on her lifespan). Flashbacks show that she already had grey streaks by the time she was in her twenties, and she's completely grey haired by the present day (where she's around 46). The loss of color is also shown to be supernatural in nature since her older sister Lilith immediately gains a grey streak upon splitting the curse despite the fact that she dyes her hair.

    Real Life 
  • Senator John McCain's hair turned white at the age of 31 when he was a POW in Vietnam.
  • Most U.S. Presidents appear to age about two years for every year they're in office — with associated accelerated greying. (The comedian John Oliver referenced this phenomenon, joking that he looks "like Harry Potter if he aged like a president".)
    • This has been especially noticeable with Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama — all relatively young Commanders-in-Chief who served two full terms and were subjected to intense media scrutiny.
    • Hillary Rodham Clinton was already graying by the time she was appointed Secretary of State, but while in the Cabinet it got to the point where even the dyeing expected of women her age couldn't hope to keep up.
    • Abraham Lincoln looked increasingly haggard as the Civil War dragged on.
    • 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 George H. W. Bush and mother of George W. 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 30s 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.
  • Marshal Massena's hair reportedly started graying prematurely during the harrowing Siege of Genoa. His fighting against Wellington ten years later in Portugal did not help matters.
  • Steve Martin has had gray hair at least since he first became famous in The '70s.
  • George Clooney started graying as early as his mid-30s and had a full head of gray hair before he even turned 50.
  • Eric Bischoff started graying in his 20s and had a full head of gray hair by his early 40s (though audiences wouldn't see it for the first time until 1999, as he'd been dying his hair black up to that point. He re-dyed it for his WWE debut in 2002 at the behest of Vince McMahon).
  • Richard Gere has had gray hair since at least the late 1980s.
  • Richard Dreyfuss has been sporting it since the mid-1980s.
  • Dmitri Hvorostovsky already had greying hair in 1989 when he became famous (he was about 27 at the time), and soon it turned fully white. It was such an iconic thing that very few productions dared to put a wig on him for any role.
  • Welsh rally co-driver Nicky Grist has had his hair turn grey by his thirties, more or less by the time he partnered with Colin McRae in 1997.
  • Matt Le Blanc's hair began turning grey in his mid-20s and was completely gray by his mid-30s, to the point that he had to completely dye it black during the final seasons of Friends.
  • American Idol Season 5 winner Taylor Hicks' hair began going grey when he was 14.
  • Voice actor, Fred Newman (probably best known as the voice of Skeeter on Doug and one of the adult hosts for the third iteration of the The Mickey Mouse Club), had a full head of white hair before he was even in his 30s.

Alternative Title(s): Prematurely Gray Haired