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Did Obama dye his gray hair away?

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Photos of President Obama released this week are prompting a feverish round of "does he or doesn't he" speculation about whether our commander in chief dyed his hair.

The visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao has provided the nation's pundits and politicians with plenty of serious talking points. From the potential threat posed by China's increasingly sophisticated military to the impact that Beijing's monetary policies have on the U.S. economy, there is no shortage of weighty issues. So it may be no surprise that, after Wednesday's White House dinner for Hu, the question spiking interest on the Web is about … Obama's hair.

Recent before-and-after photos published by outlets including England's Daily Mail online, Gawker and a number of print tabloids apparently illustrate a recent pronounced darkening of the president's coif.

It's no secret that the stress of Oval Office duty can quickly take a physical toll on the president.

[Photos: The first lady dazzles in red dress at state dinner]

Many have cataloged the before-and-after appearances of presidents past, and Obama and his staff have readily admitted he's no different. "Change is hard," Obama told the Urban League last summer. "I don't know if you've noticed. That's why I've got all this gray hair."

After that comment from Obama, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was even asked to weigh in on the state of the presidential hair during a White House press briefing. "I can't imagine that the weight of the job doesn't take a toll physically and mentally on anybody that does it," Gibbs said, adding, "I know he greatly enjoys it, and it will just require him to get more frequent haircuts."

More frequent haircuts as an anti-graying measure? That does appear to be the strategy now in play for the Obama White House.

When the graying speculation first whipped the press into a frenzy back in 2009, media outlets including the venerable Gray Lady herself spoke to Obama's barber, the single-named Zariff. After just 45 days in office, Obama appeared to be rapidly graying, which set off the first round of color touch-up speculation about the presidential noggin. But Zariff insisted that the amount of gray in Obama's hair simply depended on how close it was cut. "I can tell you that his hair is 100 percent natural," Zariff said back then. "He wouldn't get it colored."

Though gossip sites and tabloid editors will no doubt continue to scrutinize Obama photos for signs of dye work, it's also worth noting that pictures aren't always as they seem. Media organizations such as The Economist have been called out for altering photos of the president.

(Top photos of Obama: left, AP/Carolyn Kaster; right, AP/Chris Carlson)

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