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.
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.
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!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: As my husband has aged, his hair has now become light orange and he hates this. Can you help?
Answer: Aging (I am in my sixties) does many strange things to hair.
Question: Can high heat cause yellowing of gray hair?
Answer: I would ask a hairdresser about this. They are used to using high-heat blow dryers in addition to flat irons every day.
Question: I spend a lot of time outdoors but I live in Washington (not much sun). I use the purple shampoo, but my hair still turns brassy. My doctor can't even figure it out. Do you have any ideas?
Answer: I would check to see where the brassiness is. If it is primarily at the crown of your head, where the ultraviolet light hits, the sun still may be strong enough to affect your hair's shade. Ultraviolet light is still there, just not as strong as it would be closer to the equator. You might have some individual body chemistry that causes this. When I used to frost my hair long ago, I would always have one brassy section on the crown of my head.
Question: I have a perm that seems to be causing my silver hair to turn brassy. New growth is three and four inches long, and there’s a definite line where the perm starts. I love having a perm, but hate the discoloration. Do you have any advice?
Answer: This is the reason why I haven't had a perm since 2004. Too many unpredictable results with the perm as I age. Silver hair is especially difficult, because it becomes more wiry, with a mind of its own. I personally feel that chemicals will only go so far.
I have l on November 24, 2019:
I have long silver hair and use a good shampoo for silver hair and it works well except l do have some slight yellowing on the bottom 3 inches or so.
Dian Payne on August 11, 2018:
Great information thanks this truly helped me to continue letting my gray hair shine...
Tigi on November 26, 2017:
I disagree that grey hair yellowed by the sun is unattractive. You can be too thin, but not too rich or too blonde.
Slbolemiss62 on July 04, 2017:
Question?? I have naturally gray and white hair. It recently began having brassy tones. So someone suggested I bleach it.. big mistake!!!! It turned even more yellow. Is there something I can go to reverse this mistake. I had rather have brassy times. I am so devastated. I hate using these purple shampoos. Please help!
S. Barker on July 04, 2017:
I have gray and naturally white hair. Recently I tried to bleach the brassy out of my hair, big mistake!! It turned yellow. I just wish I could reverse the yellow. Is there anyway to strip the bleach from my white hair? Please help!
gracenotes (author) from North Texas on December 10, 2014:
SuzieQ, that is valuable to know about hair straighteners. Thanks for coming by.
Suzieque on November 12, 2014:
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!!!
gracenotes (author) from North Texas on April 25, 2013:
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 on April 20, 2013:
Why does my dyed gray hair turn out brassy?
gracenotes (author) from North Texas on November 05, 2012:
Southernmapart, welcome to HubPages and thanks for your comments!
Southernmapart on November 03, 2012:
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 (author) from North Texas on May 06, 2012:
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 on May 05, 2012:
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 (author) from North Texas on January 14, 2012:
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 on January 13, 2012:
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 (author) from North Texas on October 22, 2011:
You are welcome. Thanks for dropping by.
Yvonne on October 21, 2011:
Thanks for some great tips & info