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Marie Antoinette Syndrome, White Hair and Hair Loss

Turn on the TV this month and it seems to be the summer of all things French, with the Euro 2016 football tournament in Paris, Bordeaux and beyond gripping many an England fan, while the lavish new series Versailles does the same for fans of bodice-ripping historical dramas.

But did you know that one of the most famous figures to call Versailles home is said to have suffered from an extremely rare hair disorder? Not a hair loss condition as such, but Marie Antoinette (pictured), who was Queen of France from 1774 until her husband was dethroned during the Revolution, is reported to have seen her hair turn white overnight at the height of her family’s troubles.

Today, experts believe that the condition – known, fittingly as Marie Antionette Syndrome – is related to the autoimmune disorder Alopecia Areata, which causes sudden patchy hair loss.

Marie AntoinetteCaptured storytellers’ imagination

The idea of hair turning white as a response to something grave peppers the history books, with the JAMA Dermatology website pointing out that it has “captured storytellers’ imagination like few other afflictions.” They say that the hair of Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) allegedly turned white overnight in the Tower of London as he awaited execution, while “more modern accounts refer to the turning white of hair in survivors of bomb attacks during World War II.”

They also cite the more recent case of a 54-year-old woman who had been treated for a single patch of Alopecia Areata. A few weeks later, her whole scalp had turned white. According to reports, there were no “frightful” incidents that preceded the change.

Once again, this all points to the complex and sometimes baffling nature of Alopecia Areata and its related disorders, the most extreme of which is Alopecia Universalis, which leads to total hair loss all over the scalp and body. The medical community is not even 100 per cent united in the belief that Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune disorder, but there is a general agreement that it falls under this category, especially given a number of current clinical trials have had particularly positive regrowth results from exploring treating severe alopecia conditions with drugs for other autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis. It is also widely accepted that there are several suspected triggers that bring about its onset, sudden and extreme stress being one of them.

Oscar Pistorious 2016Real life examples

Olympic and Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius was famously convincted of shooting dead his partner Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day 2013 in what the ‘blade runner’ has always maintained was an accident. He insists he mistook his girlfriend, who was hiding in their bathroom, for an intruder and shot her through the door.

The 29 year old is currently under house arrest at his South Africa home awaiting sentencing after having his 2014 manslaughter conviction, for which he has served one year in prison, upgraded to culpable homicide.

During the initial trial Pistorius looked to have developed two small round patches of white hair. When he appeared before the judge recently, prior to his July 2016 sentencing, the patches were still clearly visible as can be seen here. These tumultuous years have placed the former sportsman under immense pressure and stress, which it is believed is likely to have led to Alopecia Areata, with the white regrowth following a bout of sudden hair loss.

Socialite and writer Jemima Khan has also talked openly about experiencing patches of hair loss following a traumatic incident whilst flying which, once the hair regrew, came back white.

In cases such as these, whilst the original hair colour often comes back of its own accord within a couple of full hair growth cycles, in some cases the lack of pigmentation is permanent.

Belgravia CentreThe Belgravia Centre

The Belgravia Centre is the leader in hair loss treatment in the UK, with two clinics based in Central London. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the UK or the rest of the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which are the largest collection of such success stories in the world and demonstrate the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time for our hair loss helpline or to arrange a free consultation.

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