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Cheveux blancs qui jaunissent.

Why do white hairs turn yellow?

White hair tends to turn yellow more easily than colored hair. This phenomenon can be a source of aesthetic concern for those affected. To understand how to diminish the yellowing, it is first important to understand its origin. Let's learn more about this.

Summary
Published January 27, 2024, by Pauline, Head of Scientific Communication — 5 min read

Yellowing of white hair: what causes it?

White hair is generally more fragile than colored hair. This is due to the lack of melanin in the cortex of the hair fiber, the intermediate layer of the hair. Indeed, the role of melanin is not only aesthetic, it also helps to protect the hair, particularly from oxidative stress caused by UV rays or pollution. White hair being more porous, external compounds, such as chlorine from swimming pools or cigarette smoke, are more likely to deposit and remain on the fibers. These elements tend to yellow and dull the hair.

Another factor responsible for the yellowing of hair is theoxidation of melanin. This is due to oxidative stress and the presence of free radicals in the hair fibers. This oxidation leads to a change in the chemical structure of melanin, resulting in a yellowish color. Although predominantly devoid of melanin, white hair fibers still contain some residues of this pigment. All hair shades can be affected by this phenomenon, but it is more visible in individuals with white hair due to colorimetric reasons. Indeed, if you add white and yellow, you get a yellowish color, whereas if you add brown and yellow, you get more of a light brown.

Another cause proposed by scientists to explain the yellowing of hair is theaccumulation of kynurenine in the fibers. This pigment yellow naturally present in the body is a metabolite resulting from the breakdown of tryptophan, an essential amino acid. The mechanisms explaining the degradation of tryptophan into kynurenine and the accumulation of the latter in the hair are still poorly understood to this day, but it seems that they could be influenced by genetic and environmental factors, such as sun exposure or the intake of certain medications.

How to combat the yellowing of white hair?

Yellowing hair can give a dull appearance and sometimes lead to self-consciousness. To protect your white hair from this process, there are several tips available.

  • Purple or yellow-neutralizing shampoos.

    Purple is the complementary color to yellow and therefore neutralizes it. The use of a purple shampoo or a yellow-neutralizing shampoo, alternated with your usual care can prevent or correct yellowing. This type of shampoo is typically composed of blue or purple pigments that counterbalance the yellow color.

  • Sunscreen protection.

    The UV rays emitted by the sun are sources of oxidative stress and promote the yellowing of hair. To prevent this, we advise you to protect your scalp using a hat or a cap. You can also use a hair sun protection product. Often in the form of a spray or mist to be applied to the hair, the purpose of this type of product is to block UV rays.

  • Proper hydration.

    Hydrating white hair using masks or restorative treatments helps to strengthen them and thus makes them less prone to yellowing. This type of care is generally applied once or twice a week on the lengths and ends, and helps to moisturize and nourish the hair.

  • A swimming cap.

    If you are a swimming enthusiast, we recommend wearing a swim cap when you go to the pool. Indeed, this will not only protect your hair from chlorine, which contributes to hair yellowing, but also prevent your lengths from tangling and damaging.

  • Avoid using heating devices.

    The use of heating devices such as straightening irons or heated brushes is generally not recommended for white hair. Highly sensitive, this type of hair does not tolerate heat well, which can further weaken it and increase its porosity. Consequently, heat indirectly promotes the deposition of external substances on the hair, leading to yellowing.

  • Avoid tobacco.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that just over 20% of the global population smokes either occasionally or regularly. In addition to causing numerous health problems, tobacco promotes the yellowing of white hair due to the many free radicals it contains (about 200,000 per puff). Therefore, to limit health risks and prevent yellowing of hair, it is advisable to avoid smoking.

Sources

  • RAWNSLEY J. & al. Hair biology: Growth and pigmentation. Facial Plastic Surgery Clinics of North America (2018).

  • PHILPOTT M. Watching hair turn grey. eLife (2021).

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