Snowy White Hair

Older woman with almost white hair
Photo: JL-Pfeifer/Shutterstock
Q: My question is how to speed up the change of my hair from gray to white. I think snowy white hair is so classy. I've asked hair stylists about white highlights, and they seem to say that isn't possible.
What can I do to turn my gray hair more silvery white? I already use the purple products from Pantene and have tried White Minx rinse. I can't wait to have white hair some day, hopefully, but would love white highlights in the mean time. Thanks.

A: Your stylists have not been misleading you, it is virtually impossible to artificially create the effect of gray hair.
The reason for this is that gray hair looks the way it does because it lacks any pigmentation. It isn’t “white”, but rather translucent and its coloration and look comes from either the refraction of light off the shaft of the hair or the filtration of color from hairs beneath it.
That’s why hair that is peppered with gray takes on a “steely” or faded color, and why hair that has gone completely gray has the brilliant-white look (there is no color to filter through). There are some stage make-up products that will give an opaque whiteness to the hair, but these are meant to present a “grayed” look from a distance and are used by stage actors and actresses.
There are also some temporary hair color products that are supposedly “white”, but these are more for bold designs and are sold alongside those products to create blue, green and purple hair colors as well. There is, as yet, no natural-looking permanent hair color product to give you results equal to gray hair.
In fact, the only way to mimic gray hair would be to remove all the pigment in the hair and to do that would cause a lot of stress to the hair. The chemical processing which disperses the color molecules found in the hair and causes it to be lightened can also break down other structural molecules and can weaken the hair. The darker the hair is naturally (or through artificial color) the more processing must take place to remove color and the more damage is done to the structure of the hair.
Gray hair is a matter of genetics and other factors combined. The hair follicles at some point will respond to age or external factors by ceasing to produce pigment in the hair. This unpigmented hair may be isolated in random positions across the scalp, or it may appear in clusters as multiple follicles respond to whatever factors trigger the effect at the same time.
There really is nothing that can be done to “prevent” gray hair, although in cases where gray hair has been the result of some extreme stress or trauma, treatment of the trauma (or elimination of the stress) have seen the hair gradually return to its former color.
The ‘purple products from Pantene” and the “White Minx rinses” which you mentioned are designed for use on hair that is already gray, and which has been experiencing discoloration and yellowing. The blue tint of the products is from ingredients that are designed to counteract the yellowing of the hair. This yellowing can come as a result of product build-up, from smoking cigarettes and from other environmental factors and leaves the hair looking dull and dingy.
These products are meant to help keep gray hair bright, but will do nothing to promote the development of gray hair. Only nature seems to be able to do that.
See also:
Going gray
Why and how hair becomes gray
Are there different shades of gray hair?