There are quite a few reasons your gray hair can turn yellow or get dull and dingy.
It is helpful to get a basic understanding of gray hair to understand why it yellows. Melanin is a pigment in the skin, iris of the eyes, and hair. The more dark melanin we produce the darker our skin, eyes, and hair. The more light melanin you produce the lighter your hair, skin and irises will be.
White hair is the last drops of melanin available to color the hair shaft. It is not always the complete absence of melanin, which means you can have a tiny bit of color to that white. This is why if you laid your whitest hair on a pure white piece of paper the hair would still appear slightly off-white.
As early as 10 years old, we can start seeing hair that appears white, it has lost most of its pigment, the clearer the hair becomes the more it reflects light off the surrounding hair. Some of us appear to have a platinum blond white, others with a lot of light hair grouped together will have white streaks, while someone with more sparse white hairs will look more pepper than salt. This process of aging is called achromotrichia; there are many reasons we lose pigment, aging, vitamin deficiencies, genetics, stress, etc.
There are just as many shades of gray. I like using this demonstration because it gives a good visual of the different tones of gray. These are all my color pencils that are labeled gray, the yellowish ones in the middle are called French Greys. Notice even the white is not totally white.
This is all to say that your hair color may not be pure white to start with; it will largely depend on what your hair color was before you started graying. Trying to achieve snow-white hair may be as futile as covering the gray was. There is help, though, for yellowing caused by external factors.
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This post is updated regularly with the latest information and solutions I learn: Last update 10.15.2022
The Top Ten Causes of Yellowing Gray Hair
External causes of yellowing gray hair:
- Sun: Because white hair still contains pigment, that pigment can be bleached by the sun and the natural molecules that contain more blue are removed leaving the molecules with more yellow to become more prominent. Sun damage unfortunately, cannot be removed or undone.
Solution: Wear a hat when in the sun and protect your hair and your scalp from sun damage. Use an SPF Spray for your scalp when you cannot wear a hat. Violet and purple shampoos can help with the permanent damage, because they deposit that opposite color from yellow helping to neutralize it. Once you wash again, though, that purple pigment is gone.
Health Care Notice: Scalp melanomas account for some of the deadliest forms of skin cancer, and an SPF hat also protects against this.
For more in depth information check out my full post: Sun Damage on Gray Hair: The Ultimate Guide to Preventing It & Fixing It
- Water: Minerals in your well, some city water, and chemicals in swimming pools can deposit and attach to the hair shaft.
Solution: Some minerals can be removed from the hair with specialty mineral or well water clarifying shampoos (just make sure they are safe for your white or gray hair). Others need to be filtered out with a shower attachment filter. And specialty swimmer’s shampoos will help with swimmer’s yellowing. Wash your hair less, many of us shampoo every day, in most cases this is not necessary.
- Hot Irons and Hair Dryers: Not everyone with gray hair will have trouble with irons and dryers causing gray hair to turn yellow. Heat damage can be caused by actual singeing, reactions to the minerals in your water, or ingredients in your hair products reacting to the heat.
Solution: Lower the temperature on your iron or dryer to the lowest needed to obtain your styles. Towel drying your hair with The Perfect Haircare microfiber towel it prevents frizz, removes water rapidly, and lowers your drying time. Switch your products out and see if one of them might have been the cause. Or ditch the dryer and hot irons all together, if you can. If you cannot stop using heat use a heat protectant.For more in depth information check out my full post: Heat Damage on Gray Hair: The Ultimate Guide to Preventing It & Fixing It
- Air pollution: Where you work (places that allow smoking, bars, restaurants, factories, etc.) and your air quality where you live may influence the deposits of yellowing on your gray hair.
Solution: To deyellow use a clarifying shampoo once a week at least. Keeping your hair moisturized will also help prevent yellowing in these situations; dry hair is more prone to the elements.
- Smoking: Smoke has tar in it, among other things, and it will discolor your hair, skin, nails, and clothing.
Solution: Obviously, if you smoke, stopping smoking is the ideal solution. I do have a couple of customers that found the QuickSilverHair Clay to remove much of the dinginess created by smoking.
- Hair Products: Check your products, if they have sulfates and heavy silicones, staining oils, even fragrances, or added dyes, those can cause some of the discolorations. Some silicones bind to the hair and with repeated use will build up over time. That build up will alter the reflective colors in your hair and may become dingy, dull, or yellowy.
Solution: Use more natural-based products if you can, as with your food the less ingredients the healthier it probably is. Make sure your product is not a really dark or yellow color. If you prefer salon based products just check the ingredients try for sulfate and low to no silicone brands.
- Hair Accessories: Believe it or not, your hair ties, leather bun wraps, and headbands could be dyed with chemical dyes that when you sweat or put your hair up wet will then transfer that color to your hair.
Solution: Hand wash your hair accessories with warm water and gentle shampoo regularly. If you notice a particular accessory is bleeding dye into your wash water…ditch it.
Internal causes of gray hair turning yellow (medications, supplements, etc)
Internal Influences that cause you to go gray can also cause your hair to go darker again, while there are no solutions that will deyellow your gray hair if this is the case, I felt they were worth mentioning before you chase around looking for ways to enhance your gray hair.
- Medications: Malaria and chemotherapy drugs can change your hair color. Some report their thyroid and hormone medications have also changed their hair color.
Solutions: Limited, it may be that you have to wait out your treatment before you know what is going to happen with your hair color.
- Medicated Shampoos: While used externally, it is usually treating an internal issue from the outside in. A medicated shampoo like Minoxidil or Rogaine can discolor your hair.
Solutions: Unfortunately, this is a pick your battle problem The only way to stop the discoloration is stop the medicated shampoo. If you can spot treat your scalp issues this could help to mitigate staining all of your hair.
- Supplements: Some supplements are reported to change gray hair or decrease it; among them are biotin, pantothenic acid, iron, and PABA.
Solutions: Find alternatives to these supplements if possible, or embrace what the nutrition is doing for your melanin levels.
Aging, hormonal levels, illness, vitamin imbalances, genetics, stress, trauma, childbirth, menopause, and our environment all have an effect on hair thickness, density, texture, pattern, and color. Our hair changes as much as our lives do. Our hair even experiences oxidative stress the longer it gets. When we have been stressed or unwell and our hair turns white, once the stressors and the illness resolve our hair follicle can return to producing melanin (this could also look like yellowing).
I created the QuickSilverHair products to help you get the best out of your hair. The clay will help you if you have some of the above-mentioned external factors going on. I created the products to have as much organic ingredients available, all natural, no bleach, and the clay is white, there is nothing in it that could further discolor your hair, which does happen for some with the popular deyellowing solutions.
The clay is meant to be extra cleansing…a step beyond clarifying. The oil is meant to lock in a bit of nourishing moisture for those of you with course dry gray or for the curly silver hair that craves moisture to retain healthy curls. The clay will add volume and your hair will feel very clean. Both products soften and brighten your silver hair.
If you enjoyed reading this post and found it helpful, I also have eBooks to help you keep your silvers their healthiest.
I also go over causes and a few extra detail in this new series on yellowing:
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As always it is about so much more than the hair.
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