A common question people ask is “Why does white hair turn yellow?”
Graying hair is typical as people age, but white hairs that yellow are less familiar. It’s also not exactly natural – but thankfully, it is avoidable. However, some environmental factors make prevention more difficult, and it’s important to know what you can and can’t control.
Why Hair Grays
Hair loses its shine and vibrancy as we age. Its color darkens through young adulthood, then hair graying starts at varying ages depending on the person. It’s easier to notice dark hair graying before blond hair. So if you have light hair, you’ll worry less than a dark-haired family member.
How long your hair holds color can depend on cells called melanocytes which produce the pigment called melanin that determines hair color. They’re bunched at the bottom of the hair follicle, and they seem to be responsible for most of our hair’s characteristics.
Researchers still aren’t entirely sure why hair grays, but it appears to be an evolutionary trait to find a mate. More vibrant hair is a sign of health and vitality, and as we progress in age, that matters less. After we find a partner, our body doesn’t seem to worry about its upkeep like it used to!
It’s also a matter of stress and age, and its effect on the body. Much like our immunity system weakening with age, hair fibers become less able to hold their color like when we were younger. Hair can’t retain its shine, no matter what we do to it.
After our hair becomes gray or white, we want to keep it healthy. White and gray hair can still look vibrant and healthy, but it requires cares and upkeep. Sometimes, however, damage to it can unnaturally change its color or appearance.
When damage occurs, it can lead to thinning hair. A less-known problem, though, is when white or gray hair begins to yellow.
Why Gray or White Hair can Yellow
Melanin in hair affects its color, and white hair has no melanin in it. Gray hair only has a small amount of melanin. Yellowing can happen for a few reasons:
- Genetics. Your family history can make yellowing better or worse. So if your hair yellows, it might not be your fault! Blame grandma or grandpa.
- Medication or diet. Taking some medications can lighten your hair, which can lead to it yellowing. Yellowing may stop when changing or completing medication.
- Heat. Excess heat can effectively “bleach” your hair, so exposing your white or gray hair to a lot of heat and doing it often can make yellowing worse
- Infrared light exposure. Infrared light is a category of radiation that can come from the sun, incandescent light bulbs, and other sources. It’s invisible to the human eye, but too much of it can harm your hair and cause more yellowing
- Pollution. Bad air quality and other forms of pollution can cause a lot of problems for your hair. It’s also harder to avoid. A cleaner environment usually means your hair will look better
- Shampoo. The chemicals in shampoos can cause hair color to fade and degrade. If your hair yellows around the same time as when you switched your brand, that could be the source of your problem
Yellowing hair isn’t a one-size-fits-all problem. It doesn’t come from one source, like the flu. Every case of yellowing hair can be different. White hair turning yellow and gray hair turning yellow aren’t always the same thing, but some things can help stop your hair from yellowing or maybe reverse the process entirely.
How Can You Reverse Yellowing Hair?
Sometimes, you can’t. If it’s mostly a genetic problem, then you don’t have much control. However, if it isn’t genetic, there are a few things that might help:
If yellowing hair starts about the time when you’re on a new medication, talk with your doctor about switching to another drug. It might carry fewer side effects
A healthier diet can mean your hair gets better nutrients that support healthy follicles. Not only could your hair improve, but other health problems could become less of an issue
Less Stress in Life
Controlling stress is easier said than done, but less stress can relieve some pressure that could be harming your hair
Changing Your Shampooing Habits
Switching your shampoo could fix the problem, or shampooing less. Some chemicals used in shampoos can strengthen and protect your hair, but others can damage it. One shampoo for gray hair turning yellow might be better than others
If you live in a hot place, you might have better hair health by living somewhere cooler or if you expose your hair to sunlight less. A hat or parasol would be easier than moving to another state. Environmental pollution also favors moving. However, this is a somewhat extreme response to yellowing hair. But a cleaner environment would help your hair health
For some lucky individuals, a small change in diet, habits, or a visit to the doctor can fix their yellowing problem. Being aware of the problem makes it much easier to figure out why your hair started to yellow in the first place. Sometimes, that requires an honest friend or family member who sees you often enough to notice small changes in your hair.
Scientists have been trying to figure out what causes our hair to change since at least 1881, but it’s difficult. Even when they learn something new, they warn that there’s a lot that they don’t know. Studies that target hair color haven’t isolated what causes yellowing, but they’ve found some interesting results that point others in the right direction.
The lack of knowledge is promising, though. With so much left to figure out, there’s a possibility that they can learn how to reverse and stop hair damage that causes yellowing. Even the genetic problem might be fixed. With more researchers targeting the problem of yellowing hair, our limited knowledge might expand for the better.