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Is silver hair the same as grey hair?

Grey hair and silver hair are often used interchangeably to describe the natural lightening of hair color that occurs with age. However, there are some key differences between grey and silver hair in terms of how the hair becomes lighter, the undertones, and appearance.

What causes hair to turn grey or silver?

As we age, our hair naturally loses pigmentation and turns grey or silver. This occurs when melanin, the pigment that gives hair its natural color, starts to decrease in the hair follicles. This causes new hair strands to grow in lighter and appear grey or silver.

The loss of melanin occurs because melanocyte stem cells in the hair follicles begin to die off and stop producing melanin. This process is largely determined by genetics, so people tend to get grey/silver hair around the same age as their biological parents or grandparents did.

Genetics and onset

Genetics play a major role in when someone’s hair starts to turn grey or silver. Some people begin greying in their 20s, while others maintain their natural hair color into their 50s and beyond. On average, Caucasian people tend to start greying in their mid-30s, while Asian people often don’t grey until their late 30s. African Americans typically don’t grey until their mid-40s.

Stress and other factors

While genetics are the main determinant of when greying begins, other factors can influence it as well. High levels of psychological and physiological stress can accelerate greying. Illness, nutritional deficiencies, and hormonal changes can also promote earlier greying.

Gradual vs sudden greying

For most people, greying happens slowly over many years. The greying process usually starts with stray grey hairs at the temples, sideburns, or beard area in men. Over time, more grey hairs appear and work their way back along the scalp.

In some cases, people can experience sudden or rapid greying that seems to occur overnight. This is often triggered by extreme stress, illness, or nutrient deficiency. Sudden greying is estimated to impact 6-8% of greying adults.

What is the difference between grey and silver hair?

While grey and silver are often used interchangeably when referring to hair color, there are some notable ways they differ:


Grey hair tends to have more uneven, yellow, or brown undertones. This can give hair a duller, darker grey appearance. Silver hair has a more even, shimmery white tone lacking warm undertones.

Grey Hair Silver Hair
Yellow/brown undertones Cool, white undertones
Dull, uneven look Shimmery, luminous look


Grey hair is more likely to be coarse or wiry. The onset of greying causes changes to the hair fiber and cuticle that can make hair dry and frizzy. Silver hair tends to remain smooth and soft.


Grey hair usually starts at the temples and sideburns before spreading. Silver hair is more likely to occur sporadically all over the scalp before becoming completely silver.

Age of onset

Grey hair can begin in the 20s, 30s or 40s depending on genetics. Silver hair is unlikely to occur before the mid-40s and becomes increasingly common in the 50s and beyond.

Can grey hair turn silver over time?

In many cases, grey hair that starts out with yellow/brown undertones can gradually turn into a more solid, shimmery silver-white color. There are a few reasons this can happen:

  • As more melanin is lost over time, grey hair tends to lose its discoloration and becomes a more uniform white.
  • Sun exposure can help rinse out yellow undertones in grey hair, turning it silver over time.
  • Certain shampoos and hair products designed for grey/silver hair can help eliminate brassiness and improve tone.

Speeding up the transition

While grey hair can naturally turn silver over a period of years, there are some things you can do to help speed up and enhance the process:

  • Use a purple or bluing shampoo 2-3 times per week. These products use color correctors to neutralize yellow tones.
  • Try a weekly toner or gloss treatment to boost shine and remove discoloration.
  • Avoid heat styling, chlorine, hair dye, and other damage that can cause yellowing.
  • Get highlights or lowlights to blend in stubborn grey spots.

Caring for grey vs. silver hair

Caring for grey and silver hair requires some special considerations to keep the hair looking its best. Here are some tips:


Use a gentle silver or grey hair shampoo. Avoid shampoos with yellow or golden undertones. Condition well focusing on ends.

Drying and Styling

Let hair air dry when possible to prevent damage and yellowing from heat styling. If using hot tools, apply a heat protectant. Handle hair gently.

Sun Protection

Use a sunscreen or hair product with UV filters when outdoors. The sun can cause yellowing, damage, and remove moisture from grey/silver hair.

Conditioning Treatments

Nourish hair with weekly masks or conditioners made for grey/silver hair. Avoid brassiness with purple or blue color correcting masks.

Product Build Up

Clarify occasionally to remove residue and mineral deposits that can yellow grey or silver tones. Use a chelating shampoo 1-2 times per month.

Grey Hair Care Silver Hair Care
Gentle, sulfate-free shampoo Hydrating, purple shampoo
Anti-yellowing conditioner Weekly deep conditioner
Avoid brassiness Prevent mineral buildup
Protect from sun damage Minimal heat styling

Embracing the grey/silver transition

For many, the onset of grey or silver hair can be an unwelcome reminder of aging. However, more and more people are embracing grey and silver locks as a striking and sophisticated look.

Going grey gracefully

The key to aging gracefully with grey or silver hair is proper care and keeping the hair looking shiny and healthy. Transition slowly with highlights, leave conditioning treatments on longer, and enhance your hair’s natural pattern of grey growth.

Celebrity silver sirens

Many celebrities like Helen Mirren, Emmylou Harris, and Anderson Cooper proudly show off their grey and silver manes. Their style demonstrates how beautiful grey and silver hair can look.

Stop hiding grey

More women are deciding to stop hiding their greys. Dyeing to cover greys can become tedious and damage hair over time. Embracing natural grey and silver hair is a bold, confident statement.

Be proud of silver

For men and women, silver hair conveys experience, knowledge, and power. Lean into your new sophisticated look by getting stylish haircuts that show off your silver strands.


While grey and silver hair are often used interchangeably, there are some differences. Grey hair tends to be more uneven in tone with yellow/brown undertones, while silver hair has a luminous, white tone. Over time, grey hair can fade into a more complete silver-white. With proper care focused on conditioning, purple shampoos, and sun protection, grey and silver hair can look beautiful and distinguished.