Is your gray hair yellow or brassy? You need purple shampoo. Here is everything you need to know about finding the best natural purple shampoo for gray and silver (and blonde!) hair, plus my top purple shampoo picks too!
By: Lisa Fennessy
Confession. The first couple of years I grew out my hair gray, I was convinced my experience transcended purple shampoo. Actually, it was more like I was running an offense for the “just use regular shampoo” team. I was fine rotating through my roster of favorite clean beauty shampoos. They were cleaning my hair per usual and everything was fine. Until it wasn’t.
About three years into my growth, my hair started taking on a brassy tinge. I couldn’t tell if my whites were actually white or if they were browns that hadn’t turned white yet. It was all getting a bit muddy and I found myself craving something to add brightness, definition, brilliance and clarity to my grays.
And then it dawned on me. I probably need a purple shampoo! Here’s why.
Skip ahead to what you need to know most!
- Why does gray or silver hair get brassy?
- The importance of clean UV + heat protectant
- Preventing yellowing or brassiness
- Why use purple shampoo?
- The active ingredients in purple shampoo
- The best purple shampoo for you
- How to use all-natural purple shampoo
- Best all-natural purple shampoo for thick, dense, oily hair
- Best all-natural purple shampoo for mature, thin, drier hair
- More clean purple shampoo options
Why does gray or silver hair get yellow or brassy?
Jenn Jones, master colorist and owner of Creature Studio in Atlanta explains, “Light colored hair like shades of blonde and gray are more susceptible to becoming discolored due to a number of factors like heat styling, medications, product buildup, sun, salt, chlorine and environmental pollutants.”
And she’s right. In fact, UV and heat are the biggest discoloring factors. Research has demonstrated UV turns proteins in hair yellow. Melanin in hair normally prevents hair from yellowing but gray and silver hair have little to no melanin content to prevent this.
A clean UV + heat protectant
Enter better beauty’s heat and UV protectant to help stop the yellowing/brassiness before it starts. Using a heat + UV protectant along with a great purple shampoo will be even more effective at bringing out those white, bright silver and grays.
I’ve tried several clean beauty heat protectants including Josh Rosebrook’s Hair Serum Spray and Innersence Organic Beauty’s Hair Love Prep Spray both of which are great but I have to say, EVOLVh’s SUPERFINISH Polishing Balm takes the cake.
The Polishing Balm stands out to me because it’s water-based and really light and it doesn’t change the texture of my hair. It’s like adding nothing but it’s like adding everything. Check it out. The Polishing Balm: defrizzes, adds moisture, softness, shine, strength, prevents breakage, splitting AND provides UV and heat protection. I know. I KNOW!
I add a dollop of this to my hair before every blow dry and it leaves my hair super shiny and soft. #obsessed
RELATED: Read my review on the best heat protectant for gray hair and beyond.
Preventative steps to stop yellowing or brassy hair
We can’t control the melanin in our hair, but we can control any external factors that cause yellowing or brassiness – like the products we choose to use.
Product buildup is a big factor when it comes to yellowing. To avoid it, choose EDTA-free shampoos, which can specifically cause yellowing.
Another preventative measure is to look for shampoos that are rich with plant antioxidants, which help reduce yellowing caused by UV. Antioxidants that are most effective for stopping hair yellowing (UV, heat, iron in water) are the ones that quench the hydroxyl radicals that are causing the yellowing. These are plant sugars like mannitol, quercetin and purple pigments in grapes and cranberry, to name a few.
Why Use Purple Shampoo?
Okay, now on to the purple shampoo!
Purple shampoos are called “purple shampoo” because they are actually…PURPLE. Jenn Jones adds, “It’s basic color theory. Purple and yellow are complementary colors. That means when put together, they neutralize each other. These shampoos are going to get rid of unwanted yellow or ‘brassy’ tones in light shades of hair so the hair is left brighter.”
Sometimes you will hear about using a chelating or a clarifying shampoo or apple cider vinegar rinses – but those are different. A chelating or clarifying shampoo can be used to remove any product or mineral buildup which may be contributing to brassiness. ACV is typically used after you shampoo, condition or color because it seals the cuticle down and adds some shine.
The active ingredients in purple shampoo
So the bottom line is that you need something purple in the purple shampoo to get the job done. I’ve found some purple shampoos that use vegetable and botanical extracts to do this but most of the time this means adding either Ex D&C Violet 2 or Acid Violet 43.
Kate Noonan explains,”Purple shampoos use Ex D&C Violet and/or Violet 43, which both have cosmetic INCI name CI 60730. Two manufacturers make these purples for use in hair products at concentrations less than or equal to 1%. Often just 0.3% is needed to treat hair brassiness.”
Violet 2 and Acid Violet 43 used to be derived from coal tar but currently are made during petroleum jelly refining. They routinely bear a “caution” statement regarding potential skin irritation and instructions for determining whether the product causes skin irritation in any given individual so I wanted to do a little digging to see why.
What I found out about the active ingredients in purple shampoo was…
- Both of these are not mutagenic in any of the tests like the Ames test or the micronucleus assay.
- Violet 2 in a 1% concentration shows no system toxicity and no significant local skin reactions.
- Acid Violet 43 was determined to be safe for use in hair dye formulations, when impurities are limited. The Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety is of the opinion that the use of Acid Violet 43 as a non-oxidative hair dye with a maximum on head concentration of 0.5% active dye does not pose a risk to the health of the consumer.
- The CIR (the US Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel) found that no dermatitis was seen when many human volunteers at different Derm centers had 1% Acid Violet 43 in petrolatum applied to their skin over a 6-month period.
Kate continues: “The best purple shampoos have the correct pH for the Acid Violet/Violet 2 to remove that brassiness look and [the right] plant antioxidants to stop yellowing from UV. Treating hair with a 0.3% violet shampoo is a better option compared to the harmful chemicals in toners and permanent dyes, i.e. resorcinol, Direct Black 38, pyrogallol, and PPD, which is in salon, box and henna dyes, unless they are ‘PPD-free.'”
I am personally okay with using violet dye in this manner, especially when it’s housed in the right formula.
Purple shampoo however is not to be confused with blue shampoo, which is used for darker hair to cancel out orange tones. Jenn warns, “Never put blue, even pale blue, on blonde hair when trying to cancel out yellow tones. Blue + yellow = GREEN.”
An All-Natural Purple Shampoo That’s Right for You
MOST of the purple shampoos on the market are formulated with other health-compromising ingredients like surfactants, parabens, fragrance and more, like DMDM Hydantoin. DMDM Hydantoin is a formaldehyde-containing ingredient and it’s sometimes listed (sometimes not if it’s hidden in a surfactant).
BUT! I was able to hunt down a few cleaner options that are formulated without all the junk.
Purple shampoo is currently an incredibly niche piece of the clean beauty market, and each brand I’ve found formulates a bit differently. Some are on the cleaner end of the spectrum while others linger on the more conventional end. Some use D&C dyes, some use botanicals and some use both. Others have a base that cleans really well, others are more nourishing and gentle.
Finding a “right fit” purple shampoo is really about taking into consideration your own type of hair and balancing that with how aggressive of a treatment you want. What it really comes down to in the end, as always, is making an educated decision about what you personally want.
Using clean beauty purple shampoos
The best way to use clean beauty purple shampoos is to apply them first to dry hair and let them sit for 10-15 minutes before washing. This gives the color a chance to work so you are not applying and rinsing it off straight away.
You will also have to play with frequency, depending on how often you wash your hair and the needs of your own gray hair. For the person who washes daily, you may only want to use a purple shampoo a couple times a week to avoid turning your hair an actual purple hue. Or for the person who only washes their hair once a week, you may be able to use a purple shampoo every time you wash.
It also depends on the shade of your hair. Jenn explains, “Anyone can use a purple shampoo; you just won’t get benefits from the color unless your hair is a level 8 [a medium blonde on the hair tone scale] and above. The pigment is just not strong enough to do anything to darker tones.”
The goal here is determining your own personal equation of frequency, taking into consideration shampoo formula, hair type, hair shade, hair texture and personal washing frequency.
If your hair happens to turn purple, Jenn suggests that “a clarifying shampoo will typically work well to pull out unwanted tones. You can apply the shampoo and let it sit for a while to help pull out the color. Typically, if your hair is over-processed or porous, the color can build up, usually on the ends, and be harder to get out.”
All-Natural Purple Shampoos
I’m going to use this space to document the purple shampoos I’ve tried that I would consider to be the cleanest options available. I’m starting with my top two recommendations by hair type and I will continue to add reviews here as I try more product. Comment below if you have an option I didn’t include here!
Top pick for thick, dense, oily hair
I’m going to come right out and say it. I love using OWAY’s Silver Steel Hair Bath. It smells great and leaves my hair feeling fresh, bouncy and clean. It’s packaged in glass which is RARE for any shampoo. Most brands won’t do this for safety reasons, but I love that this formula reduces the risk of plastics leaching into the product.
This formula pumps out a dark, iridescent, royal purple. It’s really great at removing oils and buildup. I’m kind of obsessed with how clean my hair feels after using it – did I mention that yet? It brightens and whitens over time. You won’t use this once and feel reborn. It’s also never turned my hair purple.
What really turned me on to Silver Steel Hair Bath is it’s stacked with nourishing hair ingredients like resurrection plant.
Resurrection plant the same ingredient we see in African Botanics’ Resurrection Cell Recovery Serum. It has the ability to survive in extremely harsh, dry conditions and has a regenerating, anti-oxidative, moisturizing and protective effect on the hair, skin and scalp. The formula is also rich in phytonutriens, and vitamins A, B and C, as well as hyaluronic acid, antioxidants and minerals.
Scent: There is no one-note that stands out to me here but it has a light spa-like scent.
This is a legit salon formula and I was really surprised I didn’t see any egregious ingredients associated with cancer, endocrine disruption or birth defects. This formula uses Violet 2 as a pigment to neutralize brassiness.
Shop Silver Steel Hair Bath here and use code HHT3076 at checkout!
Top pick for mature, thin, drier hair
This formula was recommended to me by one reader on Instagram – THANK YOU! I was so so so excited to give this option a try. In terms of ingredients, this is BY FAR the simplest formula I’ve seen to date. To be honest, I was kind of borderline shocked at the brevity of the ingredient list. It left me looking at the label like, Where’s the rest of the ingredients?
SCHAMPO N24 is packaged in plastic and squeezes out a medium, translucent purple. I would equate the consistency, color and texture to be like that slime kids get out of a .25 machine. Demi-translucent, if you will.
This shampoo is on the mild end of the spectrum – mild in cleansing power and milder in pigment. But it’s gentle enough to use every day. It works to clean without stripping or drying out hair, which is great considering hair gets naturally drier as we age. Especially gray hair!
It also has ingredients like jojoba oil to add protection against dryness, breakage and split ends, and grapefruit essential oil, which helps relieve scalp irritation. As far as antioxidants go, the campeachy tree also works to make the same purple pigment grapes/berries make and it makes quercetin too.
Kate adds, “The BRUNS shampoo looks really good because the pH is ideal for hair and scalp – I can tell what the exact product pH must be by their Ecocert COSMOS preservative choice. They also use the COSMOS cationic guar which reduces friction between strands, is scalp-friendly and works to keep hair strong. Here’s a cool article that mentions the importance of a low pH shampoo for hair.”
I have thicker hair, but I’ve actually come to love this option because I can use it all the time without fear of giving myself straw head. It also has a lovely grapefruit/citrus scent.
SCHAMPO N24 uses naturals (campeachy tree) as well as synthetics (Acid Violet 43) as pigment to neutralize brassiness.
The only downside here is that BRUNS was not available in the US – UNTIL NOW, SISTERS! I’ve brought them into ShopThisOrganicGirl and they are available for the first time ever, stateside. Shop here!
More clean purple shampoo options
To be honest, my favorite thing about this shampoo is that it washed my hair as good as any conventional shampoo ever has. The “clean hair” satisfaction score here is off the charts.
Everessence left my hair feeling fresh, bouncy and clean but it also left it really dry. My scalp got dry and my hair dried out a bit after just 2 months of usage.
This formula comes in plastic and squeezes out a metallic dark, rich..almost gray. Because it removes oils so well from my hair, I found I could only use it every other wash or every third wash. That may work for some but also, when the treatments are spaced out, it slows results.
What really drew me to this formula is that it’s made from 83.8% certified organic ingredients and 99.36% naturally derived ingredients. I also really like that they use vegetable and fruit extracts to pigment instead of D&C dyes. I will say this pigment was more of a gray metallic rather than a vibrant violet/purple, which you can see in the photo.
The scent here is like an old school box of Nerds – very sweet and grape-y.
In addition, it’s fortified with certified organic Argan oil, vitamin E and provitamin B5 ,which moisturize and add shine to hair.
This would be a good fit for anyone with more oily hair that needs more frequent washing.
The only other drawback is that it’s not available in the US. I ordered this from Australia and paid about $40 in shipping alone for this 8oz bottle.
A reader asked me if I tried Kavella and I hadn’t, so I just ordered a sample. Kavella uses Acid Violet 43 and Acid Red 33 as colorants in a cleaner base. I love how pigmented this formula is, however I’m not recommending it for two reasons. This formula was super thin and runny. And it uses lower foaming surfactants as the primary and secondary surfactants so it NEVER foamed up for me – not even after three rounds of washing.
Call foaming/sudsing shampoo a personal preference, but I will go out on a limb and say most people feel the same. HOWEVER if you are someone who prefers a shampoo that does not foam at all – then this one could be a good match for you.
This is a purple shampoo that’s been on the market for a while now. I love Rahua. The entire brand is formulated around the foundational ingredient rahua oil which indiginous Amazon women have used for years to nourish their hair and skin.
I tried this shampoo and it did not brighten or whiten my grays. I reached out to Rahua and they clarified that, “It’s actually designed to extend the vibrancy of color-treated hair and highlighted hair.” They added that it can also be used on gray hair to prevent natural brassiness but the takeaway for me was this is not it’s the main objective nor does it work to neutralize it.
In addition, I don’t see any FD&C dyes or fruit/vegetable extracts for an active pigment or color.
This formula is really designed to preserve color rather than neutralize brassiness.
Some additional formulas I have my eye on…
Quick Silver Hair – A clay-based system that works to remove buildup as a way to neutralize brassiness.
Dr. Craft – A serum you can use to neutralize brassiness. I tried to get a sample, but they are not currently shipping internationally due to COVID 19. Stay tuned.
The No List
Some brands that market themselves as green or clean, but who don’t make my cut when it comes to ingredients:
- Natur Vital
- Klorane USA
Have you found a cleaner purple shampoo that works for you?
Common questions about purple shampoos for gray hair
Purple shampoo is a shampoo containing purple pigment to neutralize yellow and brassy tones in gray and/or blonde hair.
There is no shortage of purple shampoos to choose from. These are some of better options (sans SLS, synthetic fragrance, parabens etc.) that I’ve tried.
Finding a “right fit” purple shampoo is really about taking into consideration your own type of hair and balancing that with how aggressive of a treatment you want. Check out my recommendations for natural purple shampoos.