How to Stop Gray Hair from Turning Yellow or Brassy

Color and light perception are fascinating subjects. If you have totally gray or silver hair, you can light up any room.  Nothing is more striking than a silver fox with a dynamite outfit, proper makeup, and a good haircut.

In the last ten years, more women have been dumping the permanent hair dye, and saying goodbye to 6-week touch-ups, colorist appointments, and the messy, toxic chemicals in hair dye. They have let their natural gray hair define them, led by the likes of Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Emmylou Harris. No longer does gray or silver hair define “old.” I want you to know that gray is a color!

There are some ways to keep your silver hair looking shiny, luxurious and conditioned. But first you have to understand how light reflects off hair, and what makes gray hair turn ugly, yellow and dingy. As you get more and more gray each decade, you can prevent your silver tresses from looking dull and washed out.

If you group individuals with completely gray heads of hair together, you will see that no two really has exactly the same shade of silver or white. It’s the same phenomenon that happens with your natural hair color – it really is unique. Think of your gray hair as special, because it is. And it deserves to look its best.

Helen Mirren At the Oscars


The Number One Cause of Yellowing Hair

The sun is the culprit. It’s no different than having your hair stripped with peroxide. The sun’s UV rays remove the blue molecules from your hair.

Remember the color wheel? Yellow is the complement of violet, and orange is the complement of blue. If you over-expose your head to solar rays, the radiation will wipe out the purple (violet) or blue molecules in your hair shaft.

Now, this could leave some strands of your hair a dingy yellow or brassy shade, but it is unattractive. Consider how much time you spend outdoors. As you get more gray hair, it would be a good idea to wear a hat when you plan to spend significant time outside. That’s good advice to prevent skin cancer as well.

My Silver-Haired Sister-in-Law and Me on My Wedding Day

Where Do You Hang Out?

Do you live in the mountains, high above the rest of us – say 5000 to 8000 feet above sea level?  If so, your hair is going to be exposed to more and intense UVB rays from the sun.  If you go hatless, expect it to affect your gray or bleached blonde hair.

Do you live to walk on the beach every day?  Are you a dedicated surfer or beachcomber?  Be aware that on a sunny day, the sand reflects 25% more UV radiation than a comparable surface.  Especially on the sunny white sand beaches of Florida, as compared to the chilly, mostly cloudy beaches on the Irish Sea.   Don’t let the sun’s rays spoil your hair color.

What Other Things?

If you swim a lot in chlorinated pools, you are going to need a clarifying shampoo to strip out the chlorine.  Otherwise, you’re going to have dull, discolored gray hair.

If you still perm you hair, I cannot predict how the chemicals will affect the color of your hair.  I have not permed my hair in 7 years, due to the unpredictable results with my head of 50% gray hair.

According to Diana Jewell, the author of Going Gray, Looking Great, the use of some conditioning silicone hair treatments has the potential to give gray hair a yellowish tinge.  It probably depends on the texture of your hair and its porosity, but you won’t know till you try one of the products.  But when they do well for you, they add unmatched shine and luster to gray hair, which has lost some of its ability to reflect light.

Emmylou Harris


Are You Sure You’re Seeing the Full Color Spectrum?

This is going to seem silly to some, but it’s worth mentioning.  If you have a well-developed cataract in either eye, you won’t really see the blue spectrum.  This is because your cataract is a dark clouding of your eye’s natural lense, which is no longer clear, but is now yellow or amber.  Dirty windows!

Yep, it’s true.  Looking through a cataract, colors will look washed out.  Your gray hair won’t look very good to you, nor will anyone else’s gray hair.  When you get that cataract extracted, prepare for a pleasant surprise, especially in the way silver, true white, and blues look!  It is amazing.

In the meantime, ask a younger person what they think of your gray hair.

Here I Am Today with Salt and Pepper Hair

Some Good Shampoos for Silver Hair

You can make your gray hair look better fairly quickly.  There are numerous conditioners, especially those which control frizziness, dryness, and that maddening wiry quality.

But the most important of them all is blue or purple shampoo.  It will remove the yellowed tinge in your silver hair.

If you decide to use a purple shampoo, it’s best to limit it to once per week, so it won’t build up.  You can let it sit on your hair for 3-5 minutes, then wash it out.  In between times, use a good emollient shampoo.

I have used Redken’s So Silver, which my hairdresser recommends.  She says it is a “true blue” shampoo, as opposed to a purple one.

I have also used Clairol’s Shimmer Lights shampoo quite often.  If you use it, be careful and don’t let globs of it hit your bathroom tile.  It may stain the tile or the shower curtain.  Wash it off thoroughly.

To the right is a fabulous book by Ms. Diana Lewis Jewell. She's a well-known advocate for women who want to take the plunge and go gray -- at any age. Her book contains a lot of helpful information, and she has a very useful website. I have corresponded with Ms. Jewell, and I can't imagine a bigger cheerleader and friend for us gray gals.

My Salt and Pepper Schnauzer

As you can see to the right, even my dog is gray these days! I must be like Picasso, except I have my "gray" period. I think little Meadow's coat just might benefit from a little purple shampoo. What do you think?

I hope you enjoyed my musings about going silver or gray. Please feel free to "rate up" this hub, or share it with friends!

Comments 12 comments

gracenotes profile image

gracenotes 22 months ago from North Texas Author

SuzieQ, that is valuable to know about hair straighteners. Thanks for coming by.

Suzieque 23 months ago

Beware I have silver grey hair but recently it has some yellow streaks. After a lot of elimination I found that using hair straighteners tends to cause the yellow streaks!!!

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gracenotes 3 years ago from North Texas Author


I hope someone will answer your question as to why your dyed gray hair turns brassy, because I cannot. Years ago, I highlighted my hair, and always had a section where I had a brassy streak. This led to me not wanting to go through the process again.

Jenni 3 years ago

Why does my dyed gray hair turn out brassy?

gracenotes profile image

gracenotes 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Southernmapart, welcome to HubPages and thanks for your comments!

Southernmapart 3 years ago

Enjoyed the article. My hair is a silver grey and I love the color. About every ten days I rinse with baking soda rubbed in my hair to keep the yellow from the ends. Seems to work fine for me, although the idea may not help much with ads.

gracenotes profile image

gracenotes 4 years ago from North Texas Author

MM, technically you are correct. Thank you. I will try to change the summary to reflect that distinction.

To be fair, in the title, I said, "yellow or brassy." So this really covers a sort of dingy yellowness as well as that brassy, orange-y shade that we see all too often on women who are actively coloring their hair, or have decided to let the gray grow in for good after years of over-processing.

Perhaps individuals need to try both a purple shampoo and a blue one, and see which works the best. My hairdresser originally recommended So Silver to me because it is a "true blue" one.

Also, the degree of discoloration varies with each individual, and is only relative to the rest of their head of hair. Gray hair is really white hair, with no pigmentation. The shade of gray looks the way it does because of light reflection and the contrast between it and the more normal strands you've got. When you have absolutely no normal strands left, you've got white hair.

MM 4 years ago

Good article, but it is blue and orange (not blue and yellow) that are complimentary colours. The complimentary for yellow is purple. So if grey hair is yellowed, perhaps the purple shampoo would be better than the blue??? Just wondering now!

gracenotes profile image

gracenotes 4 years ago from North Texas Author

Babs, I am glad to hear that your silver platinum hair receives notice so much. I am still using blue or purple shampoo once per week, myself. My sister is a faded blonde, and often tells me how lucky I am to be able to gray well.

Babs 4 years ago

I was born platinum blonde, which turned to muddy bonde over the years. In my early 50s my hair reverted back to the platinum color & I LOVE MY HAIR! Your "yellow" tips were helpful, as occasionally I have that problem, sun would be the factor in SW FL. Will buy the products you recommend. I receive compliments on my hair daily:)

gracenotes profile image

gracenotes 5 years ago from North Texas Author

You are welcome. Thanks for dropping by.

Yvonne 5 years ago

Thanks for some great tips & info

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