Why is my GREY hair turning yellow?

If you’ve started to notice your grey hair taking on a yellowish hue, you’re not alone. Many people with grey hair find that over time, their silvery locks can develop brassiness or yellow tones. There are a few key reasons this yellowing occurs.

Oxidation and sun exposure causes yellowing

One of the main culprits of yellowing grey hair is oxidation. Hair naturally contains melanin pigment. Grey hair lacks melanin, which is what gives it the silver color. However, over time oxidation can cause the hair cuticle to deteriorate and become rough. This allows the underlying pigment to show through, creating those yellowish tones.

Sun exposure is another factor that leads to oxidation and yellowing of grey hair. The UV radiation from the sun damages and breaks down the hair protein structure. This makes the hair more porous, allowing pigment to leach out.

Product buildup contributes to brassiness

Certain hair products can also cause discoloration of grey hair over time. Shampoos and conditioners, especially cheaper brands, can contain ingredients like silicone that gradually build up on the hair. This coating makes the hair appear darker or yellower in tone.

Hair dye and bleach are other products that commonly lead to brassiness. The process of removing your natural pigment so you can color the hair inevitably damages and opens up the cuticle layer. This allows natural pigment to seep through again and mix with the artificial dye, creating a yellow cast.

Humidity and hard water encourage yellowing

Environmental factors can also influence your grey hair color. Humidity causes the hair cuticle to swell and lift up from the hair shaft. This allows your hair’s natural pigment to show through more.

Hard water contains mineral deposits like magnesium, calcium, and iron. Over time these metallic salts can build up on hair, skewing it toward brassier tones.

Greying hair has more pheomelanin

The type of melanin your hair contains also impacts how likely it is to turn yellow. Eumelanin creates darker black and brown hues, while pheomelanin lends redder pigments. As we age and our hair goes grey, the ratio shifts toward more pheomelanin.

Since there is less eumelanin to neutralize red/yellow tones, grey hair is more prone to taking on brassiness. This is especially true for people with blonde or red hair, as they have higher pheomelanin levels to begin with.

Poor nutrition contributes to hair yellowing

Diet and nutrition also play a role in keeping grey hair free of yellow tones. Hair is essentially composed of a protein called keratin that contains sulfur. Sulfur is found in foods like eggs, meat, poultry, legumes, garlic, onions, broccoli, and cabbage.

If your diet is lacking in these sulfur-containing foods, your hair can become deficient. This makes it more porous and prone to oxidation damage and color changes.

Medical conditions may cause yellowing

In some cases, underlying medical conditions can contribute to yellowing of grey hair. One example is jaundice, which causes a yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes due to high bilirubin levels. Thyroid disorders and liver disease can also be associated with jaundice.

Kidney or bladder problems that cause a buildup of waste in the body can sometimes tint grey hair as well. Digestive conditions that hinder nutrient absorption like celiac or Crohn’s disease can lead to nutritional deficiencies that affect hair color too.

If you have no known medical conditions and your grey hair is turning yellow, it’s likely due to environmental factors. But if you have other symptoms, it’s a good idea to see your doctor to rule out a disorder that needs treatment.

How to prevent and fix yellowing grey hair

While some yellowing of grey hair is inevitable over time, there are ways to minimize brassiness and keep your silver mane looking its best. Here are some tips:

  • Use a purple toning shampoo 2-3 times per week. Purple pigments help neutralize yellow tones.
  • Rinse hair with apple cider vinegar. The acidity helps smooth the cuticle and balance pH.
  • Protect hair from sun with hats, scarves or products with UV filters.
  • Avoid excessive heat styling which causes oxidation and damage.
  • Switch to a clarifying shampoo and reduce product buildup.
  • Get trims regularly to snip off dry, damaged yellow ends.
  • Eat a balanced diet with sulfur-rich foods like eggs and broccoli.
  • Install shower filters to prevent mineral deposit buildup.
  • Use a blue or silver toner specifically for grey hair as needed.
  • See your doctor if yellowing is severe or you have other symptoms.

When to see your colorist

While home remedies can help reduce brassiness between salon visits, you’ll still need your colorist’s help to get rid of yellow tones and maintain your ideal silver shade. Plan to see your stylist:

  • Every 4-6 weeks to tone and refresh your grey color.
  • Anytime yellowing becomes very noticeable or widespread.
  • If you’ve been swimming or in the sun a lot to prevent damage.
  • Before a big event when you want your grey hair to shine.

Your colorist has professional strength toners and can assess your hair in person to determine the right plan. With regular salon toning sessions and proper hair care, you can keep your silver hair looking its absolute brightest.

Preventing yellow roots as grey hair grows in

As your natural grey hair grows in at the roots, it can also take on a yellowish cast, especially in contrast to the rest of your colored locks. Here are some tips to prevent yellow roots:

  • Get root touch-ups every 3-4 weeks to blend new growth.
  • Use purple shampoo just on the roots to neutralize brassiness.
  • Apply toner or temporary root concealer to roots only.
  • Consider getting lowlights or highlights blended into the roots.
  • Switch to a darker grey shade to camouflage the yellowness.
  • Use dry shampoo at the roots to soak up oil and discoloration.
  • Massage vitamin E oil into roots to reduce oxidation.

It’s normal to start seeing some root regrowth after 3-4 weeks. Keep up with regular toning and gloss treatments to prevent obvious contrast between the roots and colored hair.

Fixing all-over yellowing of grey hair

If you’ve noticed your grey hair isn’t just yellow at the roots but has an overall brassiness, don’t worry. In most cases this can be fixed with the right toner. Here are some tips:

  • Use a purple toning shampoo all over hair, not just the roots.
  • Have your colorist apply a stronger toner like a violet-blue to cancel yellow.
  • Opt for a grey toner with blue or silver pigments to neutralize brass.
  • Consider going slightly darker if the yellowness is very stubborn.
  • Get a clarifying treatment to strip product buildup then re-tone.
  • Use a weekly nourishing hair mask to improve texture and shine.
  • Reduce heat styling and sun exposure to prevent further damage.

In most cases, a professional grey toner at the salon should help get your hair back to a clean, bright silver. Maintain it by using purple shampoo 1-2 times per week. For severe yellowing, you may need to go a bit darker temporarily to neutralize it.

How to know if your grey hair needs re-toning

Since grey hair easily picks up yellow hues, you’ll need to get it toned fairly regularly to keep brassiness at bay. Here are some signs it’s time to schedule a toner treatment:

  • Your hair has noticeable yellow-orange undertones.
  • Overall color looks brassy and muddy rather than clean.
  • Mid-lengths and ends look more yellow than roots.
  • Your scalp is showing through roots much more than usual.
  • Hair feels dry, rough and porous to the touch.
  • Grey shade is warmer and darker than your goal tone.
  • Hair appears faded and lackluster even when clean.

Ideally, plan for a toner every 4-6 weeks as your colorist recommends. Toner rarely damages hair, so you can safely refresh your grey frequently. Avoiding brassiness will keep your hue looking crisp.

How often to use purple shampoo

Purple shampoo is a popular home remedy for keeping grey hairs free of yellow tones between salon visits. But how often should you use it? Here are some tips:

  • For mild brassiness, once a week is usually sufficient.
  • If yellow tones are more noticeable, bump up to 2-3 times per week.
  • Alternate with regular shampoo to avoid over-toning.
  • Focus purple shampoo just on the roots as needed.
  • Rinse out after 2-5 minutes max to avoid unwanted purple hues.
  • Adjust frequency based on how quickly brassiness returns.
  • Reduce usage if hair starts feeling dry or sensitive.

Purple shampoo is drying, so be cautious of overuse. Always follow with a good conditioner. How often you need it depends on your hair and lifestyle factors. Adjust as needed between salon toners.

Tea, coffee & cigarette smoking can stain grey hair

Your morning cup of tea or coffee along with cigarette smoke contain compounds that can actually deposit pigment into grey hair and create a yellowish stain over time. Here’s how they cause discoloration:


  • Contains tannins which impart color, especially black tea.
  • Tannins bind to hair protein resulting in darker stain.
  • Can accentuate red and orange pigments in hair.
  • Dark teas like chai tea have more staining potential.


  • Coffee contains eumelanins, a type of pigment.
  • These tend to give hair a darker brownish stain.
  • Acidity of coffee opens cuticles allowing more staining.
  • Heat from coffee may accelerate chemical reactions with melanin.

Cigarette Smoke

  • Tar and nicotine in smoke adhere to hair strands.
  • Toxins cause oxidation damage making cuticles rough.
  • Can interact with melanin and shift hair warmer in tone.
  • Effects worsen over years of smoking.

To counteract, use a clarifying shampoo regularly, steep tea/coffee in a mug rather than cup, or consider quitting smoking. Avoiding these will prevent further discoloration of grey hair.

Minimizing yellow tones from swimming

Between the chlorine, salt, and sun exposure, spending time in pools and ocean water can lead to obvious brassiness in grey hair. Here are some tips to swim without amping up yellow tones:

  • Coat hair in conditioner before swimming – creates a barrier.
  • Wear a swim cap to minimize direct exposure.
  • Rinse out right after getting out of the water.
  • Use a clarifying shampoo after to remove residue.
  • Apply a deep conditioning mask after to hydrate.
  • Avoid letting hair dry in the sun which worsens damage.
  • Get a toner or gloss treatment after frequent swimming.
  • Reduce time spent in chlorinated pools when possible.

While you can’t completely prevent subtle color changes from swimming, these measures will help minimize major brassiness and keep your grey shade intact.

How diet impacts yellowing of grey hair

Your diet and nutrition play an important role in keeping your hair – and grey hair in particular – free of yellow tones. Here’s how:

  • Protein – Hair is mostly protein, so getting adequate amounts prevents brittle, porous strands prone to yellowing.
  • Iron – Carries oxygen to hair follicles which provides essential nourishment. Low levels can contribute to dull, yellowed strands.
  • Vitamin E – A powerful antioxidant that protects against oxidative damage from UV rays and pollution which discolors grey hair.
  • B Vitamins – Important for generating melanin and preventing hair pigment loss. Niacin in particular helps neutralize yellow.
  • Omega-3s – Found in fish and nuts, omega-3 fatty acids maintain moisture and shine for vibrant, non-brassy hair.
  • Zinc – Prevents hair damage and depletion of protein components that keep hair strands strong and flexible.

Make sure to eat a balanced diet with plenty of lean proteins, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. Consider taking a multivitamin to fill any nutritional gaps.

Foods that reduce yellow tones

Adding more of these foods can combat brassiness from the inside out:

  • Salmon – Rich in protein and astaxanthin which reduces free radicals.
  • Blueberries – Contain antioxidants that neutralize damage from UV light.
  • Carrots – Vitamin A strengthens the cuticle layer and boosts moisture.
  • Green Tea – Polyphenols help block UV rays to prevent oxidation.
  • Nuts like almonds and walnuts – Provide vitamin E to condition dry strands.
  • Eggs – Sulfur-containing proteins provide color-protecting keratin.
  • Spinach – Iron, folate, and vitamin C foster healthy hair growth.

Focus on getting a serving of these foods daily for hair that maintains its true color.


While some yellowing is inevitable, by protecting your grey hair from oxidation and sun damage, treating it gently, maintaining your color, and eating a healthy diet, you can keep brassy tones at bay. Using a purple toning shampoo helps between salon visits.

See your colorist every 4-6 weeks for a toner, gloss or root touch-up to refresh your shade. With a little diligence, your silver hair can retain its cool, luminous tone.

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