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February 1959

On Sudden or Rapid Whitening of the Hair

Author Affiliations


From the Department of Dermatology and Syphilology of the New York University Post-Graduate Medical School (Dr. Marion B. Sulzberger, Chairman).

AMA Arch Derm. 1959;79(2):228-236. doi:10.1001/archderm.1959.01560140090013

"One of the oldest problems of pathology and physiology which has escaped scientific research and is still clouded in mythical darkness is the sudden whitening of the hair. I call it a mythical darkness, because the reports, dating mostly from older times, sound more like fairy tales than scientific observations."

These words, written 100 years ago by Landois23 in Virchow's archives, hold just as true today. History and legend are full of stories of people who grayed suddenly after severe emotional stress. Among these storied people are Queen Marie Antoinette, said to have turned white after hearing her death sentence; Ludwig the Bavarian, after having condemned his wife to death; Ludovico Sforza, after his capture by Ludwig XII; Guarini de Verona, after noticing the loss of an irreplacable old Greek manuscript, and the Spaniards Dideo and Diego Osorio, under torture. Isabella di Guerazzi reported the case of

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