Maffew is a hairdresser, marketer, and dabbler in many things who enjoys sharing knowledge about the science of hair coloring and hair care.
White hair occurs naturally as you age, but even when hair starts to turn gray, few people actually end up with pure white color. The fact that this color rarely occurs naturally, coupled with the notorious difficulty involved in dyeing your hair white has made white hair a rare sight.
Everywhere you go you see people with all different shades of light blonde, vibrant reds and burgundy shades, and even unnatural colors like blue or green, yet perfectly white hair is fairly underrepresented.
However, you can achieve hair that is pure as the driven snow, once you learn how to dye hair white properly.
How Is White Hair Achieved?
White hair is surrounded by misconceptions. It is a common belief that hair needs to be bleached until it is completely devoid of color in order to achieve it, but this is outright wrong. You'll actually end up destroying your hair before you can remove every last trace of pigment due to the way bleach works.
Bleach lightens your hair through a chemical reaction called oxidation. This reaction affects the structure of two proteins within the hair: melanin and keratin. Melanin is the pigment that gives your hair its natural color and the chemical change that occurs from bleaching is desirable because it decolorizes the molecule.
Keratin—on the other hand—is the protein that comprises the shape and physical characteristics of your hair. Oxidation from lightening causes crucial bonds between keratin molecules to be broken and this reduces the strength of your hair. Tearing, split ends, and other symptoms of damage are the result. In the most severe cases of damage, hair appears to melt after processing because the protein is extensively denatured.
Luckily, melanin is far more sensitive to the chemical reaction of bleach, allowing it to protect your hair's keratin to some extent. The small amount of damage to the keratin in your hair will usually be unnoticeable if your hair hasn't been processed too heavily.
All bets are off if you bleach your hair to the point where all the melanin has been changed, however. This leads to severe damage because the lack of melanin makes it more likely for the keratin to be attacked instead as there is nothing else left for the bleach to interact with.
To achieve a flawless-looking white result, while minimizing damage, you need to take your hair to the palest yellow stage where a trace of pigment is left, but no further than that. Once at this point, your hair will then need to be toned to neutralize the appearance of this remaining pigment and dye it white.
If you're wondering how to dye hair white, the double process of lightening and toning in two stages is the most crucial concept to become familiar with.
Who Can Dye Their Hair White?
Not everyone can dye their hair white. In order to actually consider it, you need to have virgin hair. This means that either your hair has never been dyed before, or any previous dye is no longer present. If your hair has been dyed previously, even with a semi-permanent color, you shouldn't attempt to dye your hair white until the dye has fully grown out.
This isn't to say that dyed hair can't be lightened, however. The issue is that dyed hair can't be completely discolored because the artificial pigment is more resilient than melanin. This artificial color won't be completely lifted with bleaching, nor will it wash out. You can dye your hair silver or a light shade of blonde with a lot of time and sensible treatment, but to dye it white is typically impossible in this situation.
Natural Hair Color
Having natural blonde hair, or at least light brown also makes it easier to achieve a white result because significantly less lightening is required. If you have dark brown or even black hair you can still dye it white, but it is more difficult to do so and takes more time to get it light enough without causing excessive damage in the process.
Finally, your hair must be in top condition, especially if it is a darker shade. Weaker hair won't stand up to the process and shouldn't be subjected to it. Fine hair won't handle it either.
Medium or coarse hair is the best hair type to be dyed white because the hair can take more of a beating before it begins to show damage. You need a strong foundation to ensure that your hair remains healthy after the process.
Hair is healthy
Medium or coarse hair
Naturally light is better
Bleaching Hair Pale Yellow
The most important step to learning how to dye hair white is to learn how to bleach your hair properly first. Using bleach correctly, and using the best bleach available will dramatically improve lightening, reduce the damage to your hair, and produce results that are far more even and consistent.
When dyeing hair white, you should only use premium salon bleach. Generic or supermarket products aren't preferable for the process because you need a product that can actually push past all that red and yellow pigment and reach the pale yellow stage.
Salon bleach is able to do this in less time and with less damage because added boosters allow it to be rinsed sooner. Less contact time reduces the amount of damage that can occur to the protein in your hair, allowing it to come out the other end feeling soft and healthy.
- Choosing the Best Hair Bleach
Learn which products are the best for what you need.
The most important factors to the successful application of bleach are precision and speed. Speed of application guarantees even results and sectioning your hair will dramatically improve your accuracy and application time.
To section your hair properly, divide it into four quadrants by forming a part directly down the middle of your hair from your forehead to the bottom of your neck where your hair ends. Halve this section out again from ear to ear and you're left with four manageable sections.
Each of these sections is easy to work with because all you will need to do is take layers from the top and apply lightener, then continue downwards until the entire section is covered with bleach. This is much quicker than just slapping bleach all over the hair, and you're also much less likely to miss a spot.
Once your hair has been sectioned out, it's time to mix the bleach. Do this by following the directions of the product you're using because different bleach products will need to be mixed with a different ratio of developer.
You should also be applying bleach only to unwashed hair that has been left for at least two days as the natural oil protects your hair from drying out and will also protect your scalp from irritation.
If using a salon bleach, you should use a developer no stronger than 20 vol developer, because most salon bleach products contain added ingredients that boost lightening without the use of a stronger developer.
If you are using a generic powder without boosters or other enhancing ingredients, 30 vol developer is the maximum strength that should generally be used. Adhere to the maximum on-scalp developer for your particular bleach to prevent scalp irritation and minimize damage.
You should also consider the use of an additive like Olaplex No.1 to protect and maintain the integrity of your hair during bleaching as you'll be lightening it quite extensively. Olaplex, Wellaplex, and other similar products contain an ingredient that is proven to restore disulfide bonds in chemically treated hair and help prevent them from being broken to begin with.
The bonds are what give your hair much of its strength and natural texture, so you want to preserve them as best as possible.
To apply the bleach, choose one of the quadrants that you sectioned out earlier and take a thin layer of hair by sectioning it out with the tail of the tinting brush. Use the brush to apply bleach and cover both sides of the layer thoroughly. Place the layer up out of the way and move down to the bottom of the section in this fashion until you're done.
Once you complete one quadrant, simply repeat the process for the rest. When everything is completely covered, massage your hair outward to ensure the bleach is evenly distributed. Don't massage the product directly against your scalp, however, as this will increase irritation.
After massaging the product through your hair, shape it on top of your head in a neat mass and wrap it in cling wrap. This traps warmth and equalizes the temperature difference from root to ends to prevent the root area from becoming lighter than the rest of the hair.
Alternatively, apply to the lengths first and then to the roots of your hair later into the application. This method of application may be a little difficult to do if you're applying it by yourself, to your own hair, however, so it's optional but will give better results and less damage if you can manage.
Depending on how dark your hair was when you started, you will likely need to apply bleach more than once to achieve a pale yellow shade that can be dyed white. This is usually the case with darker brown hair and is also why your hair needs to be in very good condition prior to dyeing hair white.
Leave the bleach product in your hair for as long as is necessary to reach pale yellow, without exceeding the manufacturer's recommended time limit. If the maximum processing time is 50 minutes, for example, you will either remove the bleach when your hair turns pale yellow, or when 50 minutes has elapsed.
If your hair isn't pale yellow once the maximum time has been reached, you will need to go through another process. Don't leave the bleach on any longer than the maximum time limit because the lightening reaction will have slowed down dramatically at this point. The small amount of further lightening that will be achieved will be at the expense of exposing your hair to the damaging alkaline pH for longer with diminishing return.
After rinsing the bleach from your hair, follow up with the use of Olaplex No.2 or a similar product if you're using it. Alternatively, a protein treatment can be used with lesser results than a bond builder.
If you do need to bleach your hair again, you must not do this without giving your hair a rest. A whole week is the minimum time before you should bleach your hair again.
At this point, natural oils have built up again and your hair is no longer dried out and weakened from a lack of moisture. To keep your hair in optimum condition, wait at least two weeks if possible. Just don't leave it much longer than this to avoid the risk of banding in the root area from long regrowth being at a different stage of lift to the rest of your hair.
However, you also need to be aware that you shouldn't bleach your hair again if it has shown less than favorable results to the first session, or if it isn't healthy enough to stand up to the process. If your hair barely lightened during the first bleach, it's not worthwhile to continue trying to reach a pale color because it will suffer too much damage.
- How to Bleach Hair
Bleaching properly is key. Learn the tricks of the trade for stunning results.
Toning Hair White
Now that you've reached the pale yellow stage, you're actually able to dye your hair white. This yellow tone is the result of the tiny amount of melanin still present in your hair, as well as the keratin's natural color showing through now that there is no other pigment in the way.
To make your hair look white, you need to neutralize the remaining yellow pigment by adding the correct complementary color. A complementary color is any tone that is directly opposite to another tone on a color wheel.
To neutralize yellow pigment, you need to use a pastel toner, and the toner needs to be violet-based. This pastel shade ensures that the dye you use won't overpower your pale hair. Over-toning will give a silver or violet-grey result, while under-toning will leave a trace of the yellow present.
There are many different products you can choose from to use as a white hair toner, but one of the absolute best is Wella Instamatic Clear Dust. No matter what you choose though, as long as the product is purely violet-based and not too dark, it will work.
Some of the best options are also listed below.
Wella Color Touch Instamatics Clear Dust
Fudge Paintbox Whiter Shade of Pale
Wella Color Charm T18
Keeping your hair white is a relatively easy task compared to getting it there in the first place. Once your hair has been lightened, it will remain that light unless it grows out or you dye over it. The toner in your hair, however, will fade with washing.
To prevent your white hair from yellowing, you will need to replenish the tone every time you wash your hair. This is easiest to achieve when you use a purple shampoo.
Hair that is pale yellow is easily light enough to be toned with regular use of a purple shampoo alone. In fact, you'll probably want to dilute your shampoo down with a plain white shampoo if you have one of the stronger purple shampoos. Use this shampoo in place of your normal shampoo to prevent your white hair from fading.
- How to Save Damaged Hair
Damaged hair doesn't have to be cut off. With the right care, even the most frazzled strands can return to their former strength and beauty.
- How to Dye Black Hair Blonde
Are you wanting to dye your black hair blonde but are afraid you can't do it? Discover how to go from black to blonde hair.
Keeping Your Hair Healthy
After dyeing your hair white, the next step is to continue to care for it and keep it healthy. Protein treatments, deep conditioners, and a commitment to the condition of your hair will see it looking great long into the future. Healthy hair feels and looks its best so it's worth the extra effort and time involved in keeping it that way.
Do you have a question about dyeing your hair white? Wondering whether you could achieve the color? Leave a comment for tailored advice and share your insight with other readers.
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.
© 2014 Maffew James
Maffew James (author) on August 13, 2020:
Wella Blondor Pale Platinum is great right after lightening.
Alternatively, literally any violet shampoo will work for regular maintenance after that as long as it's pure violet tone and not too dark. You can dilute it down with regular shampoo from the same brand in most cases if whatever brand you use has a plain white shampoo in the same product line (I wouldn't recommend mixing shampoos from different product lines even in the same brand though as the fragrance differences and such can conflict, although this may only be a minor annoyance).
Karen Hunter on August 07, 2020:
What manufacture / brand name of pastel color do you reccomend? Please and thanks .
Nikky on August 05, 2020:
I took the opportunity of the lockdown to let my hair go white. My roots had a very nice shade of white. Then I kept cutting and cutting.. but still had a 2-inch left of the brown. My hair stylist bleached the end. It looks very nice and i am still in the process! There is really not a shortcut to become white. It takes patience.
firstname.lastname@example.org on June 05, 2020:
I need the name of the dye I need it
Kim Seiber on June 01, 2020:
My grey hair is growing in almost entirely white. If I wait for white to take over my golden blonde/brown dyed hair, would I be able to maintain a pretty white with shampoo and toner or will I have to bleach it to keep it pretty? It appears pretty bright white with just a very few dark grey strands.
alvaro cuestas on April 01, 2020:
if i want to dye my ass hair but it's very dark, how many times should i bleach it? Luckily it's virgin hair
Link on January 26, 2020:
I want to dye my hair solid white but I'm not sure if it is possible. My hair is very very dark brown, I've only dyed my hair twice which were 2-3 years ago. I also have natural rough and coarse so I don't think it will be as damaged.
Jane on September 24, 2019:
I applied white color on my afro hair, but it gave me mixed brown n gold....after a week or two i applied tovo white on my hair..thinking it Will change......but my hair didn t turn white but became mixed.....i HAVE on my hair 3 distinct color....brown,gold,n a strange looking grey.....so want to know y i have this result
Oltem on June 09, 2019:
I got few notices of white hair now. I like sparkling white hair, is there any natural bleaching application, foods or what can turn my dark hair permanently white and as fast, pls ?
Needing reply, pls.
pat on April 09, 2019:
What conditioner should be used - is there a purple one ?
BROOKLYN GOTTI on September 29, 2018:
My hair is naturally white now I want silver can that be done
Linda Spiteri on July 17, 2017:
Hi there, I have naturally very white / grey hair, but the tips of my white hair has gone yellow. I use purple shampoo regularly, but wonder if adding a toner or bleaching would work (happy to be white all over, just want to get rid of the yellow/green on the tips). Please advise. Thank you!
Ramona on June 30, 2017:
My teen has med brown hair. She wants several strips of her hair colored fun skittles candy colors. I have questions for you.
Do I need to color her hair white first to achieve the bright Skittles colors?
Will the purple shampoo change the bright colors and how so?
If coloring her hair white first is unnecessary I'm wondering if it's possible to color segments of her hair white first leaving some white and blending in stripes of the skittles color?
Mari Fontanazza on May 30, 2017:
It took three years to grow out my premature white/silver hair. I noticed a few pale blond streak s. When I went to get my haircut (I loved the colour). The beautician say she could easily fix that. NO! Purple to yellow orange (TRUMP LOOKING). 1 called her mentioning this article. She said she could bot guarantee any color
This is what she did.l
] put shades EQ 9v then you turned out Violet. Then I used a gold color to counter the violet and highlighted you.
Not sure what to do now. Bye Bye white silver...hello yellow gold
Femi Osuolale on April 22, 2017:
Where can I get it
Mary Wright on March 18, 2017:
I recently cut off my waist length dyed hair. It's now shoulder length and 99% natural grey. I want to go with either silver or white. As it's virgin hair I think lightening grey should be easy. Any tips would be greatly appreciated
Linda webb on January 07, 2017:
I am 68 and have white hair. I recently acquired a pink patch . What has caused this? Nothing has changed in my life except having a hysterectomy in November. I need advice. Thank you!
axilleas on January 06, 2017:
if anyone wants white hair from any hair color add me on facebook (Axilleas Demour) im gonna tell you how to do it even if you have jet black hair there is a way trust me
Spencer on December 28, 2016:
I would like to have white highlights but is this the only way to achieve that? I have black hair naturally, so I assume so, and if so would it be better to go to a salon for it? Thanks in advance.
Cheryl on September 20, 2016:
My hair is already white (naturally) with some gray in the back. I am just looking to add some sparkle and more of a silvery tone. What would you suggest? Thank you!
Erin on August 06, 2016:
So Maffew, my hair is naturally strawberry blonde. It is super short and very fine. The bleach I used didn't hurt my hair. Though , I only had to leave it on for 5 minutes. I really want white hair. This article says not good for fine hair?
Rachg on March 03, 2016:
Hi Maffew! I'm currently white! I was a very light yellow earlier today (after getting my roots and old hilights blended so I could be all over blonde, at a salon) and then I toned my hair with a silver toner and a violet mixed. So now the yellow is gone but I'm not happy with this color. I would like to put something all over that would make me more of a darker blonde. But not too dark. Still a level 9, but more like a champagne blonde or pretty light ash. Can you recommend how I should do this and what colors would work? My scalp is pretty irritated from the bleach from salon today also.
Maffew James (author) on January 06, 2016:
This is generally the result of toner building up over time with continued use. When you apply root touch ups, you may be able to dilute the dye down for refreshing your ends, depending on what type of dye it is. For example, if you use a semi-permanent dye to tone your hair after lightening, you can mix conditioner into this to dilute the pigment down. If the dye is permanent, you can add clear mixer in some brands, or use a different level / shade if possible. For example, if you were using 9V or 9A to tone and the brand has a 10V or 10A, this will decrease the grey appearance because the dye is weaker. If necessary you can use the lighter shade on lengths only and a stronger toner on your roots following lightening as long as you blend it well. Another example is to switch shades, like from ash blonde to pearl blonde, or violet blonde. Pearl and violet blonde shades are more violet in tone than an ash shade, so this produces more of a white result rather than grey. However, you can get a violet tinge if it processes too long. A pastel ash shade, where the ash is weaker than a full ash shade is another option in some brands.
April on January 04, 2016:
Hi there! I have been at home dying my hair white for months now. The first time I did it, I absolutely loved the snowy white color it got. Since then, as I've done touch ups my hair has really latched onto the more grey tone. It is still a great look, but I wondered if there was something I could do to keep it less grey and more white?
Terri on June 11, 2015:
Thank u so much! I am so glad I asked first!
Maffew James (author) on June 11, 2015:
Is that Wella Color Charm 12A? If so, it's a high lift dye, so it's not the best dye to use as a toner. This is because high lifts usually deposit more colour than lighter blonde dyes, and contain more ammonia. They're designed to be used as an alternative to bleach that can lift up to 4 levels or so, and even if you use it with a weak volume of developer like 10 vol, it's still more damaging than a pale blonde dye is because of the amount of ammonia present.
It will also give a very intense colour; possibly even closer to blueish grey because of the more concentrated dye formula which is designed to cut down warmth as it lightens from a darker initial colour, and the 12A in Color Charm is blue-based, where you need something that is primarily violet based to counteract pale yellow to white. Blue won't tone yellow properly. A violet-blue based toner is usable, but this doesn't turn out white either; it looks more of a silver colour.
The best toner will be anything pastel, as these are very light and designed to counteract that last trace of yellow tone to produce white. Eg, Igora Royal 9,5-1, I.Color 10V, Wella Koleston 10/6, etc. In Wella Color Charm, T18 is an option for this as it is a pale violet toner meant for achieving platinum hair.
Terri on June 10, 2015:
Maffew! I have been working toward this white thing for months now-safely. I have a very similar story to Ms. Gayla's, though my original, natural color was an unreal looking blue/black. Years of blackest dye cover followed by much research & lightening "sessions" later, & I am nearly at the coveted pale yellow stage. My roots are silvery white & this latest lightening (your bleach bath) has gotten several compliments. Alas, the toner has faded & we've returned to the yellow. I'm ready to do the final bleach bath & I am a little confused about the toning. I have successfully used the lightest ash blond toner a couple of times with great results. This time, I'm wondering if I can tone with a permanent gel color I picked up in mid-confusion months back. It is called frosty ash-12A/1210. If it is possible to use it as a toner, would you kindly tell me how? & if it will result in a white color or something close? If it is not doable-could you also explain that to me? I think I've read a million things on toners, but I have a block or something & can't comprehend the bottom line. (Senility setting in perhaps
Maffew James (author) on May 25, 2015:
With the dyed hair, you do need to lighten it in order to take it back to a lighter colour closer to your white roots. This isn't always the easiest or quickest of tasks when a lot of dye has been used though. I'd recommend taking it slow to keep your hair healthy and avoid too much damage.
If the dye you have been using was permanent, dye remover is an option for the process. This reverses the chemical reaction that makes permanent dye 'permanent' and allows it to be washed out again. It won't always take all the dye out when there's a lot of buildup present and it only works on oxidative dye, but it is generally always a good first step because it doesn't damage your hair and it reduces the amount of bleaching that needs to be done afterwards to finish the colour removal.
After that, your hair needs to be bleached to take it towards a light blonde. This may take several applications and it is best to take the process slowly with a weaker mix of bleach rather than to try to lift it quicker with a higher developer. You probably won't be able to get it to white because not all leftover dye can be removed without effectively destroying your hair in the process, but a healthy blonde result is achievable. You also may see uneven lightening depending on whether certain sections of your hair have been exposed to more dye or different shades; eg, the older hair that is further down will usually have been exposed to a lot more dye over time.
Once you get it light enough, you can tone it to a nice shade. To better blend with the white roots and to allow this regrowth to look less obvious, an ash shade is best. Aim for something neutral to silvery and your roots can be left for longer before they become a problem. What you use to tone your hair to an ash shade will depend on what tones are present in your hair at this point and there is no guarantee of what that will be until it's lightened. Most likely however, it will be a yellow to slightly orange colour. Natural hair at this point would be primarily yellow, but red tone in dyed hair tends to persist further into paler shades. In any case, violet neutralises yellow, blue neutralises orange, and green neutralises red. Formulate your toner based on what tones your hair contains, matched to the base tone of the dye for proper correction.
Gayla on May 24, 2015:
I am a 50 year old woman who has been fighting prematuring gray hair for years. First gray hair was found at the age of 13 and have covering my gray since the age of 22. My father and paternal grandmother both had white (not gray) hair, by their early thirties. My gray seems to be the same white. I now have to color my roots every two weeks to avoid what I call the "Skunk Stripe"...not attractive!
So unfortunately my hair has been through many years of coloring as well as highlighting...
I have been agonizing about going to my natural white hair for several years and thought since gray is trending now, there is no better time than the present.
But...I am an absolute certifiable chicken!
In addition...I have long layered hair, mid back at the longest point. My thoughts (after researching many hours I might add) are to have my hair bleached and toned and then have white extensions added while my natural White hair grows out.
All of the research I have found has mostly been addressing younger women who want to go gray who have dark roots. I am not clear on the best route I should take since my roots are white.
Any thoughts you can share would be greatly appreciated...
The certifiable chicken
Maffew James (author) on May 21, 2015:
What did you use as the toner?
When no colour is absorbed from a toner, this is usually always because the toner isn't dark enough. Ie, if the violet tone in the dye is very weak, the small amount added to your hair isn't enough to actually neutralise it. It may be that your yellow hair isn't as pale as you think it is.
You can't just bleach your hair white though. No matter how long you bleach it, it never gets to white because the keratin your hair is made out of is a pale yellow colour itself. Ie, even if you could bleach all the melanin pigment, it would still have a faint yellow colour. What will happen is though is that your hair will dissolve. When the concentration of pigmented melanin falls, keratin is more readily a target of the chemical reaction occurring during bleaching, so your hair rapidly becomes damaged at this point.
As for food colouring. Technically, you could add violet food colouring to shampoo and use this as a toner. I want to stress though that if you were to do this, be very sure that the food colour you use is a pure violet tone (Not purple, and with no red or blue tones), or else it can look faintly pink or blue. Also be careful of how much you use as you will only need a very small amount.
A better idea is to use a violet shampoo like Fudge Violet to neutralise the yellow reliably. Test it on a small section of damp hair. If it's too strong, dilute it down with white shampoo before applying all over. As above, do make sure you test any violet shampoo though as they are often very strong on pale hair.
Claire on May 21, 2015:
Hi I just bleached my hair to a pale yellow color and I tried to tone it but the toner didn't work my hair is still yellow even though I left it on for 30 minutes. I don't want to tone it again because the toner made my head hurt can I just bleach my hair white without toner or I've heard of using food coloring but I don't know if that works.
please help I hate this yellow hair