Most people don’t realize that heat can damage all hair, no matter what color it is. On gray though, you can actually see the damage caused by heat. It can turn the hair anywhere from a pale yellow to a dark burnt orange-brown.

I have many clients that come to me for help with heat-damaged hair so this post includes:

  • All your questions answered about heat damage,
  • My recommendations on the best heat protectants,
  • How to fix certain types of heat damage or not.

This post is included in my Ultimate Hair Guide series, read it now, but you may want to bookmark it for future reference.

Disclosure: There are affiliate links* in this post.  Read my Terms and Conditions Page to learn more.

Can gray hair be damaged by heat?

Heat Damage on Gray Hair: The Ultimate Guide

YES!

Heat damage is a common problem for people with gray hair. White hair, in particular, does not have the strength and structure of hair with pigment or dye. The damage is also just MORE OBVIOUS on white hair.

Why does gray hair turn yellow from heat?

Heat causes yellowing on your gray hair by degrading the proteins in your hair, this oxidization turns the white hair yellow.

Repeated use of heat damages the protective lipid and cuticle layers of the hair; this raises the cuticles and allows moisture to escape the hair.

A Hair Structure Diagram for Heat Damage on Gray Hair

When you have gray hair, the cortex has lost most or all of the pigment, the cortex provides about 80% of the overall strength of your hair strand. Pigment contributes to strength, it is speculated that even the synthetic pigment of hair dye has protective properties to gray and white hair.

 

The consequences of repeated heat exposure are:

  • It raises the porosity,
  • Weakens the elasticity making the hair break easier,
  • The hair tends to frizz more because of the increased moisture loss,
  • And yellowing.

Are there different types of heat damage?

Yes.

There are four main types of heat damage:

  1. Gradual drying out with repeated heat use by zapping the lipids, proteins, and moisture out of the hair.
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  2. Physically burning the hair with the heat being excessively high.
    §
  3. Weak or fine hair, which is not healthy or strong enough to handle the heat.
    §
  4. Product build-up burnt onto the hair, which can tinge the gray with yellow as the products change color with the heat and time.

 

What does heat damaged gray hair look like?

This can happen to anyone at any time, and I have a few customers that have allowed me to share these photos with you so you get a visual of what yellowing from heat damage looks like.

Carol’s Heat and UV Damage

Image of carol's uv and heat damaged gray hair

Carol reached out to me after trying the QuickSilverHair Clay Mask multiple times with no real results. We went through all her products, hair tools, and lifestyle. She is trying to grow her hair out into a little longer style, she started using a curling iron so she can achieve beach waves, and she also walks in the sun for 4 or 5 miles per day with no hat. Sadly, this happened as a combination of too hot of a heat tool and then sun damage. This damage is permanent and has to grow out.

Heat and UV damage can be concurrent and compounding, as the hair becomes damaged the more susceptible it becomes to more damage.

Thank you, Carol, for sharing your photo.

Liz’s Singed Heat Damage

Liz was getting ready for a party with friends and family, a friend was flat ironing all their hair, but for some reason the flat iron burned Liz’s hair almost immediately. I believe the iron had been on too long, without a temp control that regulates the iron if it gets too hot.

Liz messaged me the next morning and we tried everything including QuickSilverHair Clay to remove it. It did get better with removing the products that had burned with the hair; unfortunately, Liz’s hair was actually singed and burnt. This damage is permanent and has to be grown out.

Thank you, Liz, for sharing your photo.

Image of burnt gray hair from heat damage
Image of yellowing caused by product yellowing from heat damage

Paula’s Product Build-up Heat Damage

Paula noticed this yellowing while getting a haircut. She went home used the QuickSilverHair Clay mask and was able to remove it. Fortunately, it was product build-up that had yellowed with heat tool use.

Thank you, Paula, for sharing your photos.

Image of Paula's hair after using QuickSilverHair Clay for heat damage

Is heat damage permanent?

It depends!

Sometimes heat damage can be repaired. As we can see in Paula’s example above, if it is burnt on product this can sometimes be removed. QuickSilverHair Clay mask has helped many who thought they had burned their hair with flat irons when it was the product baked onto the hair.

Burnt, singed, hair discoloration cannot be removed. In addition, if the hair has yellowed over time with continual damage, this will also be permanent and can only be grown off or toned.

(I have some fixes later in this post.)

Does heat damage happen to everyone with gray hair?

Yes, all hair can be heat damaged, but some hair is more susceptible than others.

I think it largely depends on the density (how thick or thin your hair is) and the texture (how fine or coarse your hair is). If you have thick coarse hair, your hair might handle the heat better and not be damaged. However, if you have fine thin hair, your hair probably can’t handle the heat as well.

Moreover, if you have more pepper than salt, you may not notice heat damage because the pigment in your darker grays is protecting your hair.

Heat damage can also be caused by reactions to the minerals in your water, or ingredients in your hair products.

What temperature is too hot for gray hair?

≈ 230°F Dyson claims that this is the fry point of hair is.

However, the answer varies depending on the source. It would also seem these studies were done on hair with pigment.

One study has shown hair color changes and cuticle damage begins at 203°F after just ten treatments.

This same study found that just holding the heat 6 inches or more away from your hair reduced the chances of damage. Moving the heat source also reduced the damages from heat drying.

According to GHD 365°F is the sweet spot for perfect results and they make a flat iron that hits that temp and stays at it.

At 374°F, your hair begins discoloring.

At 420°F, the keratin in your hair breaks down, essentially melting.

Sadly, many hair dryers and flat irons hover around 450°F or more on high.

Personally, I believe Dyson, especially for white and gray hair, where you can visibly see the damage.

Should you air-dry gray hair then?

Air-drying and drying on cool does remain the best option.

I always recommend, NEVER air-drying from sopping wet. Sopping wet hair is stretched out and pulling the elasticity of the hair to its ultimate stretch point which can lead to snapping and breaking. Use a microfiber towel to absorb the excess water before you start the air drying process.

Fair Warning: Letting your hair dry in a plop or loose on your pillow while you sleep can create an environment for bacteria, mold, and other pathogens to set up camp on your scalp and pillow. If you have dried while you sleep forever with no issues then carry on, but if you have hair loss, itching, scalp irritation, psoriasis, dandruff, or any other noticeable scalp issues, please let your hair dry completely before you go to bed.

How do you prevent heat damage to gray hair?

Using a combination of these will ensure your brightest silvers continue to shine:
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  • Always PUT IN a heat protective shampoo, conditioner, leave-in, gel, cream or spray.
    §
  • REMOVE as much moisture as possible before drying and styling, either, using a microfiber towel, or air drying before beginning styling.
    §
  • Use the LOWEST HEAT possible to achieve your style, never use your tools on their highest setting, and find heat tools with multiple heat controls and cool settings. You want a tool with cool, low, medium, high, or a range of temps starting low and working the way up gradually, e.g. settings from 1-15 or 120°F to 400°F.
    §
  • Or NO HEAT, if you can (say if you have naturally curly hair) you can give up heat tools all together. I rarely ever use heat on my hair; 99% of the time, I air-dry.
    §
  • When using a hair dryer, keep the dryer moving and keep it at least six inches from your hair.
    §
  • When using irons, use the lowest setting possible and make as few passes over the hair as possible.
    §
  • Less is More the less you expose your hair to heat, the better. When you can, avoid it! When you cannot, try for styles that can last several days.

Prevention Is Worth Its Weight In Silver!

Heat Protectants for Gray Hair:

Heat protectants are products that contain protective ingredients against heat. Many do double duty also protecting against UV damage.

Some natural oils, including coconut and squalane, are considered heat protective. I would still recommend buying products claiming heat protection for the proper ratios of ingredients to get the job done. Oils have a smoke point, so used alone you could burn the oil, which would create yellowing gray hair all on its own.

Pay attention to the label and just verify if it claims heat protection, some also will state up to what temperature it is protective.

Heat protection products CANNOT prevent heat damage 100%, you still want to use the lowest heat setting possible to achieve your desired hairstyle.

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List of Some Heat Protective Ingredients to Look For:

  • Sweet Almond Oil (smoke point 430°F / 221°C)
  • Argan Oil (smoke point 420°F / 216°C)
  • Cocodimonium Hydroxypropyl Hydrolyzed Keratin
  • Coconut oil (smoke point 350°F / 177°C)
  • Grapeseed oil (smoke point 420°F / 216°C)
  • Hydrolyzed silk
  • Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein PG-Propyl Silanetriol
  • Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein
  • Polyquaternium-55
  • PVP/Dmapa Acrylates Copolymer
  • Quaternary 70
  • Silicones (provide heat protection but can turn yellow)
  • Sodium Polystyrene Sulfonate
  • Squalane Oil (smoke point 350°F / 177°C)
  • Stearamidopropyl Dimethylamine
  • Sunflower Oil (smoke point 440°F / 227°C)

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Fair Warning: silicones are the number one favorite for hair product manufacturers because they do protect the cuticle from heat; however, silicones can buildup (unless they are water-soluble) and over time they may yellow. I avoid silicones for many reasons, but if you choose to use silicone based hair serums, I recommend getting high quality and clarifying regularly.

How do you apply heat protectant to your gray hair?

Unless it is in your shampoo and conditioner, you usually, apply it to damp CLEAN hair or dry CLEAN hair before using any heat tools, (blow dryers, air-wraps, air-brushes, curling irons, and straightening irons).
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  • Make sure to read all product instructions,
  • Apply products in sections,
  • Comb products carefully and slowly through to make sure all your hair is coated with the heat protectant evenly.

The best practice is to always, apply to clean hair; spraying heat protection over dirty hair will not coat the hair strand evenly because any other products, oils, or other substances will block the heat spray.

HEAT PROTECTION PRODUCT SUGGESTIONS

Shop this post by clicking any product image.

 

HEAT & UV Protection:

Hello SEEN Blow-Out Creme My personal favorite for heat and UV protection.

& Hello SEEN Curl Creme

 

  • Dermatologist Designed
  • Non-comedogenic
  • Fragrance and Fragrance-free Options
  • Moringa Oleifera (horseradish tree), pollution and UV protection for hair (but not skin).
  • Squalane Helps Protect Against Heat.
  • Silicone-Free
  • Easy to Apply Cream
  • Curly Hair Safe

Get 15% off with this QUICKSILVER15 coupon code.

UV protection from SEEN

HEAT & UV Protection:

Ouidad Advanced Climate Control® Heat and Humidity Gel

I use this during monsoon season to prevent the big humid hair look.

  • Heat Protection
  • UV Protection
  • Blocks Humidity
  • Advanced Frizz Control
  • Holds Style
  • Enhances Shine
  • Silicone-Free
  • Easy to Apply Gel
  • Curly Hair Safe

 

HEAT Protection:

Aveda Brilliant Damage Control Spray

  • Protects Against Thermal Damage
  • Helps Reduce Breakage from Combing
  • Frizz Control
  • Silicone-Free
  • Easy to Apply Spray
  • Curly Hair Safe

 

HEAT Protection:

Briogeo Farewell Frizz Blow Dry Perfection & Heat Protectant Cream

  • Heat Protection up to 450°F
  • Frizz Control
  • Enhances Shine
  • Silicone-Free
  • Easy to Apply Cream
  • Curly Hair Safe

 

HEAT Protection:

Desert Essence Coconut Hair Defrizzer & Heat Protector

  • Heat Protection
  • Detangles
  • Enhances Shine
  • Frizz Control
  • Silicone-Free
  • Lightweight
  • Organic Ingredients
  • Easy to Apply Spray
  • Curly Hair Safe

 

Before You Grab Your Hair Dyer:

Start with your towel. It will help you avoid too much time with the heat tool and the right towel can help prevent frizz.

Friction is one of the number one causes of cuticle damage; it starts with your towel choice and not rubbing your hair vigorously.

My Towel is: The Perfect Haircare Microfiber Towel

  • This is like drying your hair with silk.
  • The no loop design prevents roughing up the cuticle.
  • Less Frizz
  • Less Air-dry Time
  • Less Heat-dry Time
  • Get the pink one, the black transfers dye enough to worry me for white hair
    • It would be awesome if they made a white one because of this.

What do you do if you have permanently heat damaged your gray hair?

Once damaged, growing it out is the only permanent solution. Until then though you can use Violet and purple shampoos, they deposit that opposite color from yellow helping to neutralize it. Once you wash again, though, that purple pigment is gone.

Both my preferred purple shampoos when I need them are sulfate-free and curly hair safe.

Tint the Burnt Section with a Fun Temporary Color:

Temporary toners can help make it through the growing out.

For the burnt section:

With Manic Panic Colors, you apply directly to the hair. Clarify, dry your hair, and leave the color on for as long as possible to get the best color.

Liz dyed her bangs teal to cover the burnt area until it grew all the way out.

 

image of Joli with manic panic ultraviolet in her hair

Make Your Own Toning Mask:

Make your own purple (or any color) mask with one of the Manic Panic Purples (I like Ultra Violet) and Deep Conditioner, the color you achieve in the bowl with the conditioner mixed with Manic Panic will be close to the color on your hair. I tested this myself just for fun, and made my mix a soft lavender, which is how my hair turned out.

  • Start with the amount of Deep Conditioner you need to cover all your hair.
    • (If you use the Mielle below, it will also replenish proteins lost from UV damage.)
  • Add a small amount of Manic Panic gradually until you like the color in the mix.
  • Optional, add QuickSilver Hair Clay and Oil for a double dose of hair healthy conditioning.
  • Coat your freshly clarified and wet hair with the mix.
  • Cover with a shower cap and leave on for at least 20 to 30 minutes.
  • RINSE thoroughly.
  • It should wash out in about 6 washes.

Manic Panic doesn’t affect the cortex of the hair; the color only lays on the hair shaft so it washes out without permanent staining, like normal semi-permanent colors.

The Take Away on Heat Damage & Gray Hair

  • Always PUT IN a heat protective shampoo, conditioner, leave-in, gel, cream or spray.
    §
  • REMOVE as much moisture as possible before drying and styling, either, using a microfiber towel, or air drying before beginning styling.
    §
  • Use the LOWEST HEAT possible to achieve your style, never use your tools on their highest setting. You want a tool that actually has cool, low, medium, high, or a range of temps settings from 1-15 or 120°F to 400°F.
    §
  • Or NO HEAT, if you can (say if you have naturally curly hair) you can give up heat tools several days a week or all together.
    §
  • When using a hair dryer, keep the dryer moving and keep it at least six inches from your hair.
    §
  • When using irons, make as few passes over the hair as possible.
    §
  • Deep condition regularly to help prevent excess damage due to moisture loss.

 

Joli Campbell author photo for QuickSilverHairI hope you found this post educational and helpful.

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to share.

As always it is about so much more than the hair.

signature: Shine On, Joli Campbell

 

 

 

 

Part Two of Heat Tools

The Best Hair Tools For Gray Hair title image

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