How to Fix Yellowing Hair Problems for Blonde and Gray Hair

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Did you just have your locks lightened to a Barbie-blonde color? Or are you transitioning to gray hair?

Either way, you may be experiencing something frustrating: yellowing hair.

When you have blonde or gray locks, you may be irritated by how often they go from looking cool and light to sporting a pesky yellow tinge. 

A close up of a woman's blonde hair with yellow tint

So you might be wondering,Why is my hair turning yellow?”

If you want to know the answer to this, keep reading! 

We’ll also show you how to prevent the yellowing of hair and what you can do to get rid of those unsightly tones once you have them.

Why Does Naturally Blonde Hair Turn Yellow?

All hair colors contain underlying yellow tones that become more pronounced over time. However, these tones are more noticeable on lighter hair colors like blonde.

To understand why, we first need to talk about the science behind this issue and discuss the natural pigments found in hair.

Melanin is a natural pigment that gives our skin, hair, and eyes their color. They come from skin cells called melanocytes.

Now there are two types of melanin that are responsible for hair color, namely the following:

  • Eumelanin — brown and black pigments
  • Pheomelanin — red and yellow pigments

The color of your hair depends on the abundance and lack of these natural pigments produced by melanocytes.

Look at the chart below to understand this better.

Hair ColorMelanin Content
BlackLarge amount of eumelanin
BrownModerate amount of eumelanin
BlondeVery little eumelanin and pheomelanin
RedLarge amount of pheomelanin with little eumelanin

As we can see from the chart, the more pigment your melanocytes produce, the darker your hair will be. 

So if your strands only have a small amount of either type of melanin, they’ll likely be blonde in color.

This is the reason why light-colored hair is more prone to yellowing. 

Because blonde hair has fewer pigments, it may absorb yellow pigments from different products and pollutants more easily, which can affect its overall color.

It’s also more susceptible to hair discoloration caused by different environmental factors. 

Why Does Gray Hair Turn Yellow? 

While you may want to embrace your gray or white locks, unwanted yellow tones can prevent you from showing off your beautiful hair. 

But why does the problem of yellowing gray hair occur in the first place? 

Similar to blonde hair, gray or white strands also lack melanin. 

The reason is that as people age, the melanocytes in their bodies start to die. As a result, less melanin is produced, giving their hair a light gray or a completely white color.

Just like blonde locks, the fact that there is little to no pigment in gray strands makes them more prone to turning yellow when they get exposed to environmental elements or pick up yellow pigments from different sources.

Why Does Bleached Hair Turn Yellow?

What happens when you bleach your hair?

When you use hydrogen peroxide and bleach, your hair becomes lighter. That’s because this mixture is designed to remove your hair’s natural pigments from your strands by dissolving or oxidizing them. 

Now if you don’t lift your hair to the right level, it will become yellowish or orangeish in color or show brassy yellow tones. 

Dyeing your bleached hair can cover these tones. 

Unfortunately, the beautiful color of your dyed hair won’t last forever. Once it starts to fade, the underlying yellow tones in your hair covered by the dye will become more pronounced.

Common Causes of Yellowing Hair

Now we know that the absence of melanin makes it easier for natural blonde, bleached blonde, and gray hair to turn yellow due to exposure to different products or environmental elements. 

But which products or elements cause discoloration? Find the most common causes of yellowing hair below:

Prolonged Sun Exposure

Have you ever wondered why we use the term “sun-kissed hair?”

Well, it’s because human hair can change color after spending some time under the sun. This is due to photodamage caused by overexposure to the sun’s UV rays.

A woman on a dress sitting on the beach sand wearing sunglasses.

According to clinical studies, the UVA rays of the sun have oxidizing properties that work similarly to bleach in that they remove melanin from your hair. 

Now melanin acts as a sunscreen and protects your strands from the damage brought about by UV rays. 

But as these pigments do their job, the radiation dissolves them. This lightens your hair color and causes your strands to show more yellow tones.

Dark brown or black hair turning yellow may not be as much of an issue because it has more melanin, which means it will only begin to lighten in color after repeated sun exposure.

On the flip side, lighter hair colors, such as blonde and gray, are more vulnerable to yellowing caused by photodamage since they contain very little melanin.

Aside from losing the dark pigments, photodamage can also happen in the strand’s keratin protein structure and oxidize the hair’s amino acids. This can also give your hair a yellowish appearance.

Chlorine in Pool Water

Pool water typically contains a small amount of chlorine because this element acts as a disinfectant.

When you swim in chlorinated water, the chlorine gets absorbed by your hair. Once it penetrates the hair shaft, it bonds with the pigments in your hair and causes them to oxidize and change in color.

Chlorine can also bond with the keratin in your hair, which can cause dryness and yellowish tones.

Heat Styling

No matter how hard we try, we just can’t seem to avoid using our styling tools. After all, they’re essential to creating gorgeous hairstyles.

But if you’ve just gotten your hair bleached and colored, your curlers or straighteners may do your hair more harm than good.

That’s because the heat from these tools can damage your hair cuticles and keratin fibers. As a result, your strands will become more porous, causing the color to fade easily.

Hard Water From the Shower

Shower water is typically high in minerals such as iron, calcium, and magnesium.

Every time you wash your hair, mineral deposits may cling to and build up on your strands, leaving them with a yellowish tinge. 

This may result in your blonde or silver hair yellowing.

Air Pollution

The air around us affects not only our lungs but also affects our hair. How? It’s similar to hard water.

Polluted air contains an assortment of minerals from particles like dirt and fossil fuels.

It’s important to note that these minerals are positively charged, and our hair is negatively charged. This means your hair will attract these minerals like a magnet.

Over time, this will result in a buildup that can dull and discolor your bleached or silver locks.

The same goes for smoking. Exposure to tobacco by-products can result in hair yellowing or discoloration. 

Hair Products

Did you know that some of your hair care products contain artificial dye with yellow pigments?

Examples of these products include the following:

  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Hair spray
  • Wax and clay

Remember what we said about light hair picking up pigments more easily? That applies here. 

Using these products can cause your blonde, silver, or white hair to absorb the pigments in its formula and sport a yellow tint.

How to Fix Hair Yellowing

You can still remove yellow from white hair or bleached hair.

Here are some of our effective solutions.

Purple Shampoo

The best way to combat unwanted yellow tones is by using purple shampoo. This product may be a blonde’s best friend, but those with gray hair can use this too.

Purple shampoo is a toning shampoo that contains violet pigments and deposits them onto the hair to get rid of yellow tones.

How does it work?

If you look at a color wheel, you’ll see that purple and yellow are direct opposites. This makes the two colors complementary.

As stated by the color theory, complementary colors cancel each other out, resulting in a neutral tone like gray or silver.

So when you use purple shampoo like the Fanola No Yellow Shampoo, it will neutralize the yellow tint in your hair.

How to Use Purple Shampoo

  1. Wear gloves to prevent the product from staining your hands.
  2. Place a small amount of the product onto your palms and massage it onto your wet hair, starting from the roots down to the tips.
  3. Leave the shampoo in for two to three minutes, then rinse.
  4. Follow it up with a conditioner.

Clarifying Shampoo

As we’ve explained above, mineral and product buildup can contribute greatly to yellowing hair. You can remove this buildup by using a clarifying shampoo.

Remember to use a clarifying shampoo only once or twice a month because this product can strip natural oils off your hair and scalp.

How to Use Clarifying Shampoo

  1. Rub a small amount of clarifying shampoo like Neutrogena Shampoo Anti-Residue Formula on your hands and apply it to your wet hair and scalp.
  2. Lather it into your hair, then leave the product in for 30 seconds.
  3. Rinse the shampoo out and follow up with a conditioner.

Vinegar Wash

If you think a purple shampoo is too drying, go for a gentler all-natural option: apple cider vinegar. 

The acidic elements of apple cider vinegar can make the yellow tones in your locks lighter, which is why it’s so effective at removing yellow from gray hair or blonde hair.

Decanter with apple vinegar and red apple isolated on a white background

How to Do the ACV Rinse

  1. Fill up a large basin or bottle with 1 gallon (3.8L) of water.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, then mix.
  3. Rinse your hair with the mixture.
  4. Leave it in for a few minutes, then wash it out of your hair.

Salon Visit

If the methods above don’t work, you can talk to your stylist about how to address your problem and get rid of the yellow tones in your hair.

They may suggest the following options:

  • Using hair gloss or toner to mask or neutralize the yellow tint
  • Applying highlights and lowlights to mask the yellow areas
  • Giving you an all-over color treatment

How to Prevent Yellowing Hair

After fixing the yellow tones in your hair, you may be wondering how to prevent the issue from occurring again in the future.

Here are a few effective ways to prevent your hair from turning yellow:

Avoid Sun Exposure

As much as possible, try to avoid being out in the sun for too long. When you do have to spend a significant amount of time outdoors on a sunny day, always wear a hat to protect your hair. 

You can also apply a UV protectant like the Sun Bum 3in1 Leave-In Hair Treatment before leaving your home, which can shield your hair against sun damage. 

Avoid Hair Discoloration from Chlorine

We know summer is coming, and you’d really love to enjoy a refreshing swim in the pool. Well, you still can, but make sure to take extra steps to protect your hair from chlorine.

To do so, you can soak your hair with tap water before getting in the pool, so your hair will be less likely to absorb the chlorinated water.

After that, apply a pre-swim hair product. We recommend the Aqua Guard Pre-Swim Hair Defense.

Another thing you can do is wear a swim cap to prevent the chlorinated water from saturating your hair.

Protect Your Hair from Air Pollutants

When you go outside, use a hair serum or leave-in conditioner like the Olaplex No. 9 Nourishing Hair Serum to protect your hair against pollutants. This will prevent the air-borne particles from clinging onto your strands.

In addition, use a scarf to cover your head when you go outside.

Combat the Effects of Hard Water on Your Hair

The most effective way to make fix a hard water problem is to soften your water by installing a water softener or a shower filter.

But if you can’t do that, you can opt to use a chelating shampoo such as Malibu C Hard Water Wellness Shampoo, which can remove mineral buildup.

Another effective option is the Living Proof Perfect Hair Day Triple Detox Shampoo, a product specially designed to target hard water buildup.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to get yellow out of gray hair naturally?

To remove the yellow tint from your gray hair, you can try natural products like apple cider vinegar. It’s an easy rinse that won’t take up too much of your time.

What medications cause hair to turn yellow?

Medicated shampoos for dandruff or hair loss that contain selenium sulfide, tar, and minoxidil primarily cause yellow hair discoloration.

In addition, drugs that are used to treat malaria can also change your hair color.

How often can I use purple shampoo to combat yellowing hair?

Since purple shampoo isn’t the same as regular shampoo, we recommend using it only once a week to avoid drying out your hair.

Say Goodbye to Yellow-Tinted Hair

When you start seeing an unsightly yellowish tinge on your blonde, gray, or white hair, it’s important to act as quickly as possible to remove it.

A close up of a brown hair with yellow tint

Try any of the solutions we’ve listed above to help you get rid of those unwanted tones right away. 

But remember: prevention is better than cure. Now that you’re familiar with the common causes of yellowing hair, you can take preventive measures to keep it from happening again.

This way, you can flaunt your beautiful, light-colored locks fearlessly.

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  • Rachelle Velasco

    Rachelle, is a sought-after freelance hair and makeup artist, shines particularly in the world of hair color. From subtle ombres and balayages to vibrant hues and intricate root work, she crafts unique styles tailored to individual preferences. Beyond her artistic talents, Rachelle also holds a Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education, showcasing her diverse skill set and dedication to learning.

  • Jessica Hoelscher

    With thirteen years in cosmetology, Jessica Hoelscher is a seasoned stylist recognized for her modern techniques. A graduate of Paul Mitchell the School in St. Louis, her expertise has been showcased on Fox Two News and in People Magazine. Self-employed at Salon Lofts, her work has graced TV screens, styling for renowned events and Ole Miss cheerleaders.