Last Updated on December 2, 2022 by Verna Meachum
If you’re noticing more and more yellow in your hair, you’re not alone. It’s a common problem, but sometimes the yellowing can be a bit more noticeable than others.
So what are the causes of hair yellowing, and more importantly, how can we prevent it? Keep reading to find out!
Many people experience hair yellowing as they age. While it is natural for hair to lose some of its color over time, there are several other factors that can contribute to yellowing.
For example, exposure to sunlight and cigarette smoke can both cause the hair to yellow. In addition, certain medications and medical conditions can also lead to hair yellowing.
Fortunately, there are several ways to prevent or reduce hair yellowing. We’ll discuss some of the most effective methods below.
Blonde Hair Turning Yellow
Over time, bleached hairs that have been treated with hydrogen peroxide may turn yellow. Hair bleaching involves degrading melanin; which is a natural hair pigment present in the hair fiber.
A mixture of hydrogen peroxide, ammonia, and bleach boosters is applied to the hair fibers which degrades melanin and hair becomes lighter in color shade.
The level of bleaching is determined by the amount of hydrogen peroxide used (generally known as 10 VOL, 20 VOL, 30 VOL, or 40 VOL) and the pH of the reaction mixture. A higher lift in bleaching makes hair blond or silver in shade.1-3
Blond hairs are highly damaged by excessive use of alkaline hydrogen peroxide and require special care after the chemical process.
Furthermore, after a few days or weeks, blondes are more prone to acquire a yellow tinge in their color.
Now, let’s take a look at some scientific details about hair yellowing, its causes,, and how to prevent and fix the problem.
Causes of Blonde Hair Turning Yellow
Hair bleaching is a chemical treatment that changes the color of your hair’s natural color.
The melanin in bleached hair fibers is almost entirely stripped away as a result of excessive alkaline bleach treatments.
Melanin is a natural antioxidant that protects hair proteins from external aggressions or insults.4
Scientific studies have enlisted multiple factors involved that are responsible for inducing hair yellowing.
Solar radiation consists of a wide range of energy and wavelength. Ultraviolet and visible radiation are the most frequent types of radiation that reach us on earth.
UV radiations particularly have been known to indict damage to hair by oxidizing its proteins and lipids. This is known as “Photo-damage”.5-6
Repeated exposure to UV radiation also causes color fading and significant hair yellowing. This is evident in bleached hair fibers, which lack melanin to protect against UV radiation.
The color becomes a lot lighter and brassy. Red hair and darker hairs should also be wary, since the color fades to brassy without UV protection.
Solar-induced Oxidation of Hair Amino acids
Hair amino acids, as well as other molecules in the hair, are susceptible to oxidative damage caused by the UV radiation.
UV radiation is also responsible for the formation of highly reactive species that oxidize the hair’s amino acids, which results in yellowing. The yellowing of hair is commonly related to Tryptophan amino acid deterioration.
The free radical oxidation of tryptophan forms kynurenines. This oxidized derivative is yellow and thus imparts a yellow color to the hair fibers.7
The tryptophan oxidation is more prominent in excessively bleached hair fibers due to the absence of melanin protection.
Chlorine Exposure: Swimming Pool
Chlorine water is added to the pool to inhibit the growth of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms and preserve water quality.
However, this trace amount of chlorine in pool water also triggers an oxidation reaction in hair fibers. The reaction follows the same free radical mechanism and oxidizes hair amino acids.
Bleaching – side reaction
Hair tone may turn yellow as a result of poor or insufficient or incomplete melanin degradation during oxidative hair bleaching.
There are two types of melanin; Eumelanin and Pheomelanin. Eumelanin imparts brown black color while pheomelanin gives a red-yellow color tint to hair fibers.
The two melanins have different molecular structures and undergo bleaching via a slightly different mechanism.
Hair bleaching with low volume hydrogen peroxide or poor pH control may produce a surprising yellow hue. This is potentially due to a side-reaction occurring during the bleaching process.
This has also been referred to as metal build up on hair fibers. The presence of calcium, magnesium, and more importantly transition metal ions, copper, and iron can trigger multiple side reactions causing significant hair damage, and the formation of undesired hair yellowing.
Hard water contains high concentrations of minerals, such as calcium and magnesium. When hair is repeatedly washed with hard water, a mineral build up can occur on hair fibers. This is more commonly observed in people who live in areas with hard water.
The build-up of minerals on hair fibers can cause hair yellowing. In addition, hard water also makes hair dull, dry, and unmanageable.
Heated Styling Tools
Heat styling tools, such as hair dryers, curling irons, and straighteners, can cause hair yellowing. The heat from these styling tools can damage hair proteins and keratin fibers. In addition, the heat can also strip hair of its natural oils and moisture, making it more susceptible to damage.
Causes of Yellowing Gray Hair
Though we may not like to think about it, hair yellowing is a natural part of aging. As we get older, our hair follicles produce less melanin, the pigment that gives hair its color.
At the same time, the hair shaft itself become thinner and more transparent. Combined, these factors can result in hair that takes on a yellowish cast.
There are a number of other factors that can contribute to hair yellowing, including;
- air pollution
- hard water
- heat styling tools
- some hair products (i.e. Silicones can build up over time on the surface of your hair and cause it to become dull and yellowish).
- certain medications
- medicated shampoos (i.e. Minoxidil)
- exposure to chlorine or other chemicals(i.e.dyes)
- nutritional deficiencies
- autoimmune disorders
So if you’re concerned about your hair yellowing, it’s best to talk to your doctor or a dermatologist to rule out any underlying health concerns. Otherwise, enjoy your silver fox status!
Role of Oils in Hair Yellowing: Truth or Myth?
Natural oils and butter are extracted from plant fruits or their kernels. They’ve been used for hair and skin care since ancient times, and there’s a lot of evidence to support their hair- and skin-boosting benefits.
Consumers are increasingly hearing that certain oils might cause hair yellowing. This may not always be true.
Most oils are high in antioxidants (e.g. tocopherols and other sterols) and have demonstrated a positive impact to protect help hair fibers from the sun.
The hair yellowing by using oils depends on various factors and may vary from case to case. Each situation is unique.
Natural virgin hair will not turn yellow upon applying natural oils because of its dark color base and high melanin presence.
However, blond hair having a silver color base may show a little yellow tint when using certain oils.
Most natural oils are colorless to light creamy off-white. They do not contain any natural coloring agent.
For example, Coconut oil is very faint and colorless while Shea Butter is a little off-white colored. These emollients are an excellent choice for hair conditioning and do not cause any hair yellowing.
Does Argan Oil Cause Hair Yellowing?
There are few oils that naturally have a dark yellow color. Their yellow color is due to yellow coloring molecules naturally present in their composition. Argan oil is a great example.
It is orange to dark yellow color, and applying pure argan oil on silver, grey and blond hairs can cause hair yellowing.
However, this yellowing is limited to the surface and is due to deposition of coloring molecules.
Thus, if you have silver blond hair, you should not use a pure argan oil formulation containing high concentration levels of argan oil.
Argan oil is frequently used in shampoos, conditioners, and masks. It is safe to use these products because the oil has been emulsified where its particle size has been reduced significantly.
Also, such formulation generally contains argan oil in a concentration range of 0.25 – 2.50%, which are also blended with other ingredients in a water phase product.
It is extremely unlikely to cause blonde hair to yellow. However, it is suggested that you do a trial test by applying the product to a small section of your hair strands before you decide to use it all over your hair.
If you do not see any hair yellowing, then it is safe for you to use.
How To Prevent Hair Yellowing
- Use a solar protector; it’s important to use one during the day because sunlight is the leading reason for hair yellowing. The most common cause of hair yellowing is exposure to sunlight. On hot, sunny days, use a hat, shawl, umbrella, or scarf to protect your hair from the sun. It will help to prevent photo hair damage.
- Condition hair regularly; Leave-in conditioner is essential for bleached hair fibers, particularly for blond hairs. The combination of natural emollients, antioxidants, and free radical scavengers is most effective. Our top picks are Sun Bum leave in conditioner, Verb Curl leave in conditioner, Coola Organic Scalp & Hair Mist SPF 30, Aveda Sun Care Protective Hair Veil, Righteous Roots 2-in-1 Conditioner.
- Use a Shower Filter; The water that comes out of your shower head can also contribute to hair yellowing, as it may contain high levels of contaminants. To avoid this, you can install a shower filter, which will help remove the gunk from the water before it comes into contact with your hair. I highly recommend the Ion shower head, which I own and love. Click here.
- Use a chelating shampoo; Not only will a chelating shampoo help remove hard water deposits from hair fibers, but it will also help to remove other impurities, such as chlorine and heavy metals, which can cause hair yellowing. I recommend the following products: Malibu C Hard Water Wellness (my go-to), Ion Hard Water, Ouai Detox Shampoo, Kinky Curly Come Clean.
- Use Pre-Swim Hair Product; This helps to create a barrier between hair and water, thereby protecting hair from damage caused by chlorine, salt water, etc. Product recommendations: AquaGuard Pre-Swim Hair Defense, Ion Swimmer’s Leave in conditioner, TRIHARD Pre & Post Swim Conditioner.
- Apply Heat Protector; A heat protectant is a must if you use any kind of heat styling tool on your hair, as it will help to prevent damage from the heat. Product recommendations: Redken One United All in One Leave-In Conditioner and Heat Protectant, Ouai leave in conditione, Redken Iron Shape 11 Thermal Holding Heat Protection Spray, Biolage Styling Thermal Active Spray, It’s a 10 Miracle Leave-In plus Keratin Spray.
What if your hair has already turned yellow?
Bleach can make your hair more permeable, allowing it to absorb and release moisture more readily. The procedure also releases color molecules when your hair gets wet.
Purple shampoos will help to keep your hair looking fresh by neutralizing any yellow tones that may develop over time.
On the color wheel, the color yellow is the opposite of blue/purple. An anti-yellow shampoo or conditioner containing blue or purple pigment can neutralize the yellow color tint in hair.
In the worst-case scenario, if your hair has already turned yellow, use a purple or conditioner/mask which can help improve the hair color.
Click here to get a list of product recommendations.
Best Oils for Blonde and Gray Hair
As any blonde or gray-haired person knows, one of the biggest challenges is keeping hair looking its best.
One of the main problems is hair yellowing, which can be caused by a number of factors as we’ve already mentioned.
Fortunately, there are a few oils that can help to prevent hair yellowing and keep hair looking its best.
Argan oil is one of the best hair oils for blonde and gray hair, as it helps to protect hair from sun damage and keep it hydrated.
Coconut oil is also a great option for blonde and gray hair, as it helps to deeply condition hair and prevent protein loss.
For those with hard water, a few drops of malt vinegar can help to remove buildup and prevent hair yellowing.
Finally, for those who use heat styling tools regularly, a heat protectant oil can help to minimize damage and keep hair looking healthy. By using one or more of these oils, you can keep your blonde or gray hair looking its best.
Here are a few light textured oils that are ideal for gray or blonde hair. Excessively bleached hairs are damaged and highly porous, so only a small quantity should be used.
· Babassu Butter
And there you have it! Now you know all there is to know about hair yellowing, its causes, and how to prevent it. Whether your hair is naturally blonde or you’re a brunette who’s been bleaching their hair for years, we hope this article has been helpful.
So, go out there and enjoy your life without worrying about your hair turning yellow. And remember, if all else fails, there’s always hair dye!
1. Zavik, C.; Milliquent, J., Hair bleaching. In The Science of Hair Care, 2nd ed.; Bouillon, C.; Wilkison, J., Eds. Taylor & Francis Group, LLC London, 2005; pp 246-268.
2. Wolfram, L. J.; Hall, K.; Hui, I., The mechanism of hair bleaching. J. Soc. Cosmet. Chem. 1970, 21 (13), 875-900.
3. Zviak, C., The Science of Hair Care. Taylor & Francis: 2005.
4. Ortonne, J. P., Photoprotective properties of skin melanin. British Journal of Dermatology 2002, 146, 7-10.
5. Nogueira, A. C. S.; Dicelio, L. E.; Joekes, I., About photo-damage of human hair. Photochem. Photobiol. Sci. 2006, 5 (2), 165-169.
6. Ruetsch, S. B.; Kamath, Y.; Weigmann, H. D., Photodegradation of human hair: An SEM study. J. Cosmet. Sci. 2000, 51 (2), 103-125.
7. Dario, M. F.; Freire, T. B.; de Oliveira Pinto, C. A. S.; Prado, M. S. A.; Baby, A. R.; Velasco, M. V. R., Tryptophan and kynurenine determination in human hair by liquid chromatography. Journal of Chromatography B 2017, 1065, 59-62.