Summer is on its way and we want outside more than ever before.
Hold up though, before you venture out into the sun. You’ll want to add sun care for your gray hair and scalp to your list of sunny essentials.
Many of you reach out to me via email asking about sun damaging your grays and looking for suggestions on preventing yellowing and fixing it.
For this post, I spent a great deal of time finding the answers to the most popular questions about sun damage and I evaluated ingredients in each product to help you get the best solution for your needs. So this post is now one in my Ultimate Hair Guide series, read it now, but you may want to bookmark it for future reference.
Table of Contents:
- Can Gray Hair Be Damaged By The Sun?
- What Does Sun Damaged Gray Hair Look Like?
- Why Does Sun Damage Happen To Gray Hair?
- So Why Does Gray Hair Turn Yellow from Sun Damage?
- Does The Sun Lighten Gray Hair Or Make Gray Hair Grayer?
- Is Gray Hair Sun Damage Permanent?
- Prevention is Worth its Weight in Silver
- How Do You Prevent Sun Damage To Gray Hair?
- Sun Protection for Your Scalp and Gray Hair
- What can you put in your hair to protect it from the sun?
- UV and SPF Product Suggestions
- Do Oils Protect from UV Damage on Gray Hair?
- How long can you be in the sun before damage begins?
- What can you put over your hair to protect it from the sun?
- What Do You Do If You Have Permanently Sun Damaged Your Gray Hair?
- Swimming and Chlorine
- The Short List of Sun Protecting Advice
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Can Gray Hair Be Damaged By The Sun?
YES! Just like a very pale person sunburns quickly, your gray hair is the same way. In addition, the whiter your hair the worse the damage and the faster it can occur.
What Does Sun 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 the sun looks like.
“Almost 2 years of growing out my hair and the top layer is yellow. Sun damage, I guess, because it starts three inches down. The top isn’t as white as the white underneath is…I’m so sad. I use no curling irons and only blow dry on low for five minutes.”
Thank you, Lyn, for sharing your photo.
Tammy reached out to me for a one-on-one consultation after trying hundreds of dollars worth of products to combat yellowing. It began about six inches from her scalp on her very long hair.
With some discussion on what her hair looked like before, when she noticed the change, and her new silver growth serving as a timeline for me to ask, “what were you doing six months ago that was different?” We were able to figure out she had sun damaged it in the summer, mowing her lawn last year. After the final mow, her hair grew without damage.
Thank you, Tammy, for sharing your photos.
Carol reached out to me after trying the QuickSilverHair Clay Mask multiple times with no 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 have 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.
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.
Why Does Sun Damage Happen To Gray Hair?
Melanin protects your hair. Because there is little to no melanin in white or gray hair, there is no pigment to protect it from the sun.
When we color our hair, we don’t notice the effects of the sun in the same way because the pigment from dye is what fades. No matter what color your hair though, it can be discolored just from being in the sun.
So Why Does Gray Hair Turn Yellow from Sun Damage?
The yellow discoloration called photoyellowing from sun damage is caused by oxidization of the proteins in your hair.
It is also believed white hair still contains some pigment, that pigment can be bleached by the sun and the natural molecules which contained more blue are removed leaving the molecules with more yellow to become prominent.
I think of it like bleaching blue jeans, unless you bleach it to thread rot there will always be a yellow hue to the white bleached areas.
Does The Sun Lighten Gray Hair Or Make Gray Hair Grayer?
The simple answer is no. Your gray hair will not respond the same way your born-with-it color did in the sun.
The sun destroys melanin in your hair, which will cause the following:
- The sun can make white hair yellow (as discussed above).
- Dark gray hair won’t become grayer or lighter, but it can become dull and drab from the sun zapping it of moisture.
For salt and pepper or not fully white heads:
- Darker colors like black and brown will lighten a little in the sun and can pick up a reddish tone.
- Blonde hair may see some lightening and can become more golden.
Is Gray Hair Sun Damage Permanent?
Sadly, yes! Sun damage is permanent and irreversible; very much like a sunburn permanently damages your skin, only with gray hair the discoloration never fades. The only ways to get rid of it completely is to grow it out or cut it off.
(Temporary fixes are discussed later in this post.)
Prevention Is Worth Its Weight In Silver!
How Do You Prevent Sun Damage To Gray Hair?
There are three main ways to prevent sun damaged silver hair; very much the way you protect your skin:
PUT IN a protective hair product like UV protective shampoos, conditioners, leave-ins, or sprays.
COVER your hair and scalp with hats, buffs, scarves, umbrellas, or shade.
or BOTH: In some cases (longer hair or being in and out of water), you may want both something in your hair and covering it.
Healthy Hair Hack: Regular maintenance with a deep conditioner in the summer will also help prevent damage because moisturized hair is stronger and more resilient than dry or already damaged hair.
Sun Protection for Your Scalp and Gray Hair:
Your scalp (especially if you have white hair) can be lacking of pigment, this is also, why some people notice their scalp is very pink after they ditch the dye.
Protecting your scalp is even more important than protecting the hair.
If you take one thing away from this article, I hope it is this: According to skincancer.org, scalp melanomas account for some of the deadliest forms of skin cancer. Mainly because we don’t protect our scalps from UV rays and they go undetected hidden under your hair.
UV hair products alone DO NOT protect your scalp.
You need a product with an SPF rating AND UV protection to protect your scalp and hair. If you aren’t wearing sunscreen on your scalp, wear a hat or UV Buff.
Soothing Sunburn Recipe:
If your scalp does get sunburned, do an Apple Cider Vinegar soak. Apple Cider Vinegar contains acetic acid, which reduces the inflammation of the burn and soothes the skin.
- Use 2 tablespoons to a ¼ cup of vinegar to ½ a gallon of water
- Mix in a bowl and dunk your head in the bowl for 10-15 minutes
- Rinse hair
- Follow with my QSH oil as a scalp oil it will soothe the sunburn.
- Or follow with aloe vera gel on your scalp.
What can you put in your hair to protect it from the sun?
UV protection ingredient to look for:
The real winner ingredient for UVA and UVB protection for hair was found in one study to be cinnamidopropyltrimonium chloride (CATC).
According to Science-yHairBlog: cinnamidopropyltrimonium chloride works great, even in small amounts in a product because it bonds to the hair even in shampoo and conditioner and won’t come off if you go in the water.
The only warning is CATC has a moderate allergy rating for causing skin allergy. Test the product first, on a small patch of skin overnight.
I’d like to make a note here: you can still use a non-curly girl product on occasion, just follow with clarifying and deep conditioning. The protection from sun damage is worth the extra work. Which would you rather have, a bad curl day or permanent yellow and damaged curls.
UV and SPF PRODUCT SUGGESTIONS
Shop this post by clicking any product image.
UV & SPF for Hair & Scalp:
COOLA Organic Scalp Spray & Hair Sunscreen Mist SPF 30
- 70%+ Certified Organic Ingredients
- SPF 30 Broad Spectrum UVA/UVB Protection
- Monoi Oil – A Natural UV Hair Protector
- Water Resistance for 80 Minutes
- Convenient Mist Targets the Scalp for a Weightless Application
- Contains: Cinnamidopropyltrimonium Chloride and Sunscreens
- Curly Hair Safe
SPF for Scalp:
Supergoop! Poof 100% Mineral Part Powder SPF 35
- 100% Mineral Protection
- SPF 35 Protection
- Tannish color powder
- NO harmful ingredients
- Convenient Powder Targets the Scalp
- Feels like dry shampoo
UV & HEAT Protection:
Hello SEEN Blow-Out Creme My personal favorite for heat and UV protection.
- Dermatologist Designed
- Fragrance and Fragrance-free Options
- Moringa Oleifera (horseradish tree), Pollution and UV Protection for Hair (but not skin).
- Easy to Apply Creams
- Curly Hair Safe
Get 10% off with this QUICKSILVER10 coupon code.
UV & HEAT Protection:
Ouidad Advanced Climate Control® Heat and Humidity Gel
Great product for curly silver hair in heat and humidity.
- Heat Protection
- UV Protection
- Blocks Humidity
- Advanced Frizz Control
- Enhances Shine
- Easy to Apply Gel
- Curly Hair Safe
UV Only Products:
Stream2Sea 3-in-1 Camping Conditioning Shampoo & Body Wash
and/or Stream2Sea Leave-In Hair Conditioner:
- Absorbs & Blocks Harmful Effects of the Sun
- Heat Protection
- Chlorine Blocking
- Contains: Cinnamidopropyltrimonium Chloride
- Easy to apply Shampoo or Leave-in
- All Natural & Organic
- Reef Safe
UV Only Products:
Paul Mitchell Color Protect Locking Spray
- Sunflower extract provides sun protection.
- Designed fro color treated hair but was suggested by a silver sister.
- I do not know the color of this product if you do, let me know.
- Contains: Cinnamidopropyltrimonium Chloride
- Easy to apply Spray Leave-in
- Contains: water-soluble silicones
ALL PRODUCT INSTRUCTIONS:
- 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.
- Reapply as needed especially with sun and water fun.
- If you use a UV product heavily follow your day of fun in the sun with a good shampoo and conditioner.
Do Oils Protect from UV Damage on Gray Hair?
They can protect your hair to a degree. Many only block a certain percentage of the UV rays. In addition most of those oils may be staining on white hair especially when being heated by the sun. In my opinion, it is better to find a product specifically made for UV protection. And a word of warning: Coconut oil alone will not block UV rays from affecting your hair and scalp.
How long can you be in the sun before damage begins?
Using the UV Index is a good way to understand your exposure potential.
- The higher the number the faster UV damage will occur,
- The higher the sun in the sky the faster the damage can occur; 11-3 p.m. in most elevations and latitudes is the highest levels of UVB radiation.
- The paler your skin and hair the less time you can be in the sun before damage begins (5-10 minutes is all it takes).
- The darker you hair and your skin the longer you can be exposed.
What can you put over your hair to protect it from the sun?
Simply put, anything that creates a protective barrier or shade from the sun, is better than nothing. That said, according to skincancer.org UV rated fabrics and materials are the most beneficial.
UV Rated Hats and Buffs:
I prefer a BUFF. These are awesome!
- This is what I walk with.
- It protects my scalp and my hair.
- It keeps my hair out of my face and eyes.
- I can also pull it over my ears for the wind.
- Easy to have one with me all of the time.
- UPF 50 Sun protection
- Men’s and Women’s choices.
- Multiple color options.
- 95% REPREVEPolyester made from recycled plastic bottles, 5% Elastane
Wide Brim Hats:
What Do You Do If You Have Permanently Sun 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. It is temporary though, that purple pigment is gone after a few washes.
My top three recommendations: Loma works the best for me. All three are sulfate-free.
Make your own purple deep conditioning mask:
Temporary toners can help make it through the growing out.
Make your own purple 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 minutes up 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.
ALWAYS DO A TEST SECTION: Please note, there are no real and clear CONTROL STANDARDS in the hair color industry, so one company may label something one way when it is actually another.
If you are at all concerned about coloring your silvers and them being permanently stained do a test section underneath. If you love your silvers, err on the side of caution. Even stylists are just now learning what happens with grays and certain types of hair color; because having gray hair clients who want to remain gray and don’t want to damage their silvers is relatively new.
Swimming and Chlorine:
Wet your gray hair BEFORE entering the pool. Then apply your water resistant UV protection or a swim cap. Rinse or wash and condition your hair as soon as possible after swimming. Reapply SPF to your scalp after getting out of the water if you are remaining in the sun.
The Short List of Sun Protecting Advice:
- Always protect your gray hair when in the sun.
- Always protect your scalp when in the sun
- Cover or shade your hair and scalp with a hat, buff or a form of shade
(especially if you cannot use UV protective hair products).
- UV protection needs reapplication throughout the day.
- SPF needs reapplication throughout the day.
- Wet your hair before going into the water.
- Wear a swim cap or water-resistant product.
- Rinse or cleanse your hair ASAP after swimming.
- Deep condition more often in the summer, moisture loss can cause more issues.
Ready? Set! GO! Enjoy your fun in the sun!
PLEASE SHARE THIS POST WITH ALL YOUR GRAY HAIR AND BLONDE HAIR FRIENDS. THIS INFORMATION IS NOT WIDELY KNOWN, HELP ME CHANGE THAT.
I 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.
- Sebetić, Klaudija & Sjerobabski Masnec, Ines & Cavka, Vlatka & Biljan, Darko & Krolo, Ivan. (2008). UV damage of the Hair. Collegium antropologicum. 32 Suppl 2. 163-5.
- Allan C. Halpern, MD Ashfaq A. Marghoob, MD Ofer Reiter, MD. “Melanoma.” The Skin Cancer Foundation, 5 Oct. 2021, https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/melanoma/.
- Gao T, Bedell A. Ultraviolet damage on natural gray hair and its photoprotection. J Cosmet Sci. 2001 Mar-Apr;52(2):103-18. PMID: 11382847.
- S, Wendy. “UV Protectant Hair Ingredients and Products.” UV Protectant Hair Ingredients and Products, 10 Jul. 2017, http://science-yhairblog.blogspot.com/2017/07/uv-protectant-hair-ingredients-and.html.
- InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. How much sun is too much? 2011 Jul 22 [Updated 2018 Nov 29]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK321117/
- Elisabeth G. Richard, MD. “Sun Protective Clothing.” The Skin Cancer Foundation, June 2019, https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-prevention/sun-protection/sun-protective-clothing/.
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