I Tried 9 Natural Purple Shampoos for Gray Hair (Before & After Pics)

January 19, 2021 (updated March 28, 2023) — Written by

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! 

A woman holds up a bottle of Bruns SCHAMPO N24.
Our top pick for purple shampoo for gray or blonde hair.

By: Lisa Fennessy

IN THIS POST:

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.

RELATED: Gray hair, do care—why to ditch the dye.

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.



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 woman with wavy long gray hair looks at a bottle of evolvh spray
EVOVH Superfinish Polishing Balm.

Help reduce brassiness with a clean UV + heat protectant

Using a heat + UV protectant, along with a great purple shampoo, can be incredibly effective at bringing out those white, bright silver and grays—it basically helps stop the yellowing/brassiness before it starts.

I’ve tried a number of ethical beauty heat protectants (read about my full experience, and get full reviews of all the ones I’ve tried here), and hands down, the best one is EVOLVh’s Superfinish Polishing Balm. 

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

Code: NEWKNEW15 will save you 15% on your first order at EVOLVh here!

RELATED: Read my review on the best heat protectant for gray hair and beyond.

Other 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.

And since I mentioned it, reducing your exposure to UV rays is key to preventing yellowing of strands. Molecular Biologist and Cosmetic Chemist Kate Noonan explains that hair is made up of 95% keratin protein. When hair is exposed to UV, it breaks down that keratin—specifically the part that gives hair its strength and shine. UV also fades hair color and can create hair-yellowing. Using a hair sunscreen can help with this—and these are my top picks (you know I got you, girl). 

Reducing your use of heat tools like flat irons, curling irons and blow dryers can also significantly reduce yellowing of your hair. Too much heat on gray hair can turn it brassy (or yellowish). That leaves you with a few options:

  1. Stop using heat tools, and when you do, make sure it’s continually in motion (aka, don’t hold your blow dryer stagnantly on one section of your hair).
  2. Choose heat tools that dry or style your hair in half the time, like the Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer. It also has controlled heat settings that help reduce damage. Not sure if it’s for you? Check out my GRWM video here to see how FAST it dries hair.
  3. Skip heat all together and opt for a heatless styling tool! We’ve been testing a BUNCH of heatless curling options, so stay tuned for our review of the first, dropping later this week!

RELATED: The 3 best hair sunscreens for any hair type.


Lisa's gray hair, grown out for more than three years and treated with purple shampoo to reduce brassiness.
Lisa’s gray hair, grown out for more than three years and treated with purple shampoo to reduce brassiness.

Why use purple shampoo?

Okay, now on to the purple shampoo! Purple shampoo is actually another preventative measure, but it merits a bit of an explanation, so we are dedicating this entire post to taking a deeper look.

Purple shampoos are called “purple shampoos” because they are actually…PURPLE. Jenn 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.”

This is DIFFERENT than the chelating or clarifying shampoo, or apple cider vinegar rinses you might have heard of. A chelating or clarifying shampoo can be used to remove any product or mineral buildup that 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.

What are 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 seen brands use a myriad of ingredients to attempt this, from botanicals like purple potato, to mineral-derived pigments like ultramarines and iron oxides, to plant extracts like bilberry extract and beet extract, to synthetic dyes (like Basic dyes and Acid Violets). And in a nutshell, I’ve found that the purple shampoos that use vegetable and botanical extracts are a lot less effective compared to purple shampoos that use synthetic dyes.

So then the obvious next question is, what’s the deal with synthetic dyes and do we need to be concerned with using them? Let’s break them down by category to dive in deeper.

Basic Dyes

Basic Dyes (which is actually the proper name for these dyes even though it sounds like a descriptor—”Basic dyes” can encompass everything from Basic Brown 16 to Basic Blue 99 and Basic Red 76, the two we’re specifically talking about here) fall under the category of “coal tar” dyes, which means they are exempt from FDA approval. Coal tar dyes are synthetic dyes and contain petrochemical derivatives. 

From what we can see, each of the Basics comes with its own set of things to consider, some of which we highlight in our look at Overtone

For example, we checked in with clean cosmetic chemist, Ayurvedic practitioner and founder of KKT Consultants, Krupa Koestline, who explains, “Basic Blue 99 [what we see in some purple shampoos] has been determined okay to use by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel (CIR) and the EU Safety panel, but have noted that the structure and composition can vary quite a bit and so that can be an issue if not properly tested.” 

She continues, “Basic Red 76 [also what we see in some purple shampoos] is an ‘azo-dye’. Basic Red 76’s safety in use is inconclusive per [the] EU. The Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) in an Opinion, SCCS/1385/10, has classified Basic Red 76, when used as a non-oxidative hair dye up to 2%, as not posing a risk for consumers. However, Australia doesn’t allow the dye and differs in opinion. The concern is the presence of o-ANISIDINE, which is a carcinogen.” The muddy waters around this specific issue are also illustrated in this challenge paper

Like with anything, it’s about the quality of the ingredients, the percentage of the ingredient and how much you trust the company making the product. Which leads us back to marketing lingo, greenwashing and transparency

Takeaway: Do I want to drink this? No. Am I okay with using a tiny percentage in my purple shampoo? Yes, I am.

Acid Violets

Violet 2 (also known as Ex D&C Violet 2) and Acid Violet 43 used to be derived from coal tar, but are currently 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.

Krupa explains, “Acid Violets are safe to use and don’t have any safety issues associated with them, in hair shampoo/conditioner application. They are both not recommended to be used on mucous membranes, but otherwise no other concerns.”

In some additional research and with help from Kate, we were able to add a little more color

  • Both Violet 2 and Acid Violet 43 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.

To put all this in context, Kate explains, “Often, just a 0.3% concentration of Acid Violet is needed to treat hair brassiness.”

Takeaway: With all that in mind, the concentration of dyes like Acid Violet 43 and Violet No. 2 that we find in the purple shampoos I’m trying and recommending are considered safe, both by the FDA and by my trusted cosmetic chemist sources.

Plant-derived “botanical” dyes in purple shampoo

The FDA classifies color additives obtained primarily from mineral, plant or animal sources as “not subject to batch certification requirements.” This means that the FDA doesn’t need to review each batch of these colorants, and that cosmetics companies can include them without having them reviewed by the FDA’s certification. But, says the FDA, they “still are considered artificial colors, and when used in cosmetics or other FDA-regulated products, they must comply with the identity, specifications, uses, restrictions, and labeling requirements stated in the regulations.”

Takeaway: Again…this comes down to the transparency of the brand and how much you trust their practices. A trustworthy brand will do its research and comply with regulations, as well as provide clarity on the ingredients in its products.

Should I use blue shampoo for my gray hair?

NO. Purple shampoo 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.”


How to find an all-natural purple shampoo that’s right for you

A collection of purple shampoos lined up on a bathroom sink.
Some of the purple shampoos tested for this post.

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 (though it’s rapidly expanding, as evidenced from the new formulas I’ve recently tried), and each brand I’ve found formulates a bit differently.

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.

How do I use all-natural purple shampoo?

If you’ve tried using purple shampoo to brighten your gray (or blonde) hair, but it doesn’t work—you *might* be doing it wrong. The trick? You have to leave it in and let it actually tone your hair!

Of course potency and efficacy can vary from brand to brand depending on percentages and ingredients, but if the question is “Does purple shampoo work?” the answer is YES, AND (!!) if it’s not working for you, you most likely are not giving the pigment enough time to transfer. 

The best way to use clean beauty purple shampoos is:

  • Apply on wet hair in the shower.
  • Wash hair as normal, but don’t rinse.
  • Let the shampoo sit on your hair for a few minutes (sometimes directions even say this explicitly) before rinsing. You can even take a clip into the shower and clip up your hair as you take this time to do all the other things like wash your face or shave. This gives the color a chance to work so you are not applying it and rinsing it off straight away.
  • Once you’ve let it sit, rinse out and conditioner like normal.

Here’s a quick video of me trying out my favorite brand or purple shampoo…

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 need to use a purple shampoo a couple times a week to get those grays non-brassy and bright. 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.”

Madison Reed hair level chart
Madison Reed hair level chart.

The goal here is to determine your own personal equation of frequency, taking into consideration shampoo formula, hair type, hair shade, hair texture and personal washing frequency.

What if my hair turns purple?

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.”

RELATED: 10 Things That Surprised Me About Going Gray


The best 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 purple shampoo pick for thick, dense, oily hair

Top pick for mature, thin, drier hair


All the purple shampoos I’ve tried (with before & after pics!)


After reading this, most people bought…


Common questions about purple shampoos for gray hair

What is purple shampoo?

Purple shampoo is a shampoo containing purple pigment to neutralize yellow and brassy tones in gray and/or blonde hair. Learn more here.

What’s the best clean purple hair shampoo?

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.

How to find the right purple shampoo?

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.


Have you found a cleaner purple shampoo that works for you?

TNK Team Note: This article contains affiliate links. TNK uses affiliate links as a source for revenue to fund operations of the business and to be less dependent on branded content. TNK stands behind all product recommendations. Still have questions about these links or our process? Feel free to email us.

By Lisa Fennessy

Lisa is the founder of The New Knew. Passionate about clean beauty, organic eats and nontoxic lifestyle, Lisa writes to create awareness. Conscious consumerism and informed decisions will impact the marketplace, our health and THE WORLD!

178 Comments

  1. Reply

    Wendy

    I hadn’t realized that. Thank you.

  2. Reply

    Wendy

    PS, can you recommend one that is scent-free?

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      I haven’t used one that is scent free yet but when I come across one, I will be sure to note it here! xo, L

  3. Reply

    Suzanne

    It looks like Bruns now has a scent free option. Do you think you’ll carry it in your shop in the future? The shipping from Sweden is high.

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Yes! If readers want it, I will bring it in!

  4. Reply

    Ellen

    The purple shampoo I use is Shiny Silver Ultra conditioning shampoo by one n only..
    I buy it at Sally beauty supply.
    It cleans my slightly oily salt and pepper hair well, without dryness. Leaves my hair shiny, and bouncy after styling.
    I always get compliments on my hair.

  5. Reply

    Jeannie Danford

    I’m wondering about Just Nutritive’s Gray Shampoo. Here are the ingredients. Would love your thoughts. Thanks, Jeannie

    Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera Hydrosol), Trifolium Pratense (Clover Flower) Extract, Psidium Guajava (Guava Fruit) Extract, Citrus Sinensis (Orange) Peel Oil, Persea Americana (Avocado) Oil, Punica Granatum (Pomegranate Seed) Oil, Hydrolyzed Rice Protein, Salvia Hispanica (Chia) Oil, Ribes Nigrum (Blackcurrant) Seed Oil, Decyl Glucoside, Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Oil, Thymus Vulgaris (Thyme) Oil, Salvia Sclarea (Clary Sage) Oil, Guar hydroxypropyltrimonium, Glycerin, Pelargonium Graveolens (Rose Geranium) Oil, Methylcellulose, Caprylyl Glycol, Santalum Album (Sandalwood) Oil, Citric Acid, Panthenol (Vitamin B5).

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Jeannie! This is an interesting find. Reviews on Amazon say they are happy with this product BUT I don’t see any agents here that would cancel out brassiness in gray hair. In fact this shampoo isn’t even purple. It’s an opaque color. I wonder what ingredient they are using to get rid of brassiness…? That would be my first question for the brand.

  6. Reply

    S Savage

    This model was in another grey hair ad for Earth Toner Darkening Shampoo Bar, so I don’t believe anything in this article.

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi! First of all, I’m not a model. My name is Lisa, and I run this blog, HI! Second, if that company is using my likeness, it is stolen imagery because I did not give them permission to do so.

  7. Reply

    obsessionwithoptions.com

    What an incredible journey you’ve taken us on through your blog post! 🌟 Your experimentation with nine different natural purple shampoos for gray hair, complete with before and after pictures, is an absolute goldmine of information for those looking to enhance and maintain their beautiful gray locks.

    Your dedication to testing and reviewing these products shines brightly through your writing. The level of detail you provide, from the initial condition of your hair to the visible transformations after using each shampoo, is truly remarkable. Your honesty about the process and the effectiveness of each product is both refreshing and invaluable for your readers.

    The inclusion of before and after pictures adds a visual dimension that brings your experience to life. It’s evident that you’ve put time and effort into showcasing the results, and the impact is undeniable. Your commitment to transparency and authenticity sets a high standard for beauty bloggers and reviewers.

  8. Reply

    Kathy

    Hello, I am looking for a purple shampoo that will leave a purple tint in my gray hair. The gray is in front and on top but I still have dark brown hair. What is your suggestion? I am new to this purple shampoo.

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Kathy! You could try using Overtone. I know a lot of people use that to tint their hair purple. We have some before and after pics and more on Overtone in this post. Hope this helps! xo, Lisa

  9. Reply

    Stephanie

    I was wondering if a purple conditioner is also necessary if using a purple shampoo. I see that OWAY only offers a Frequent Use conditioner.
    Thank you for all your time and effort you put into your work!

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Stephanie! Great question. It’s really individualistic depending on what your hair goals are. Sometimes I use both purple shampoo and purple conditioner. Sometimes I use a regular shampoo and a purple conditioner and sometimes a purple shampoo and regular conditioner. I mean there are no rules here. If you want more brilliance, use both. But if I were to pick only one purple product to use it would be conditioner over shampoo simply because it stays on the hair longer. BUT (!) most conditioners are not as pigmented as the shampoos are so then if you used the shampoo and left it on longer (like a conditioner) you would get more out of that than a conditioner lol. I hope I didn’t just make this super complicated. Basically you can’t go wrong. xo, Lisa

  10. Reply

    Heather

    Actually, reading the thought process on this helped me decide to start with conditioner first and make my way up to shampoo, if needed. Thanks for that little journey you took us on. 🙂

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Of course! Let us know if you land on something you love! xo

  11. Reply

    Shane Roberts

    Lisa, i am a mostly silver with still some darker haired, man and was wondering if N°24 SILVERBALSAM, 330 ML (conditioner) and shampoo would be the best option for me. I have long hair that I wear back a lot of days and typically wash and condition twice a week. Thank you!

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Shane! The benefits of the N°24 SILVERBALSAM are: 1. It’s moisturizing and won’t strip hair so if you have a dry or itchy scalp or dryer hair this will be a good moisturizing option for that. It’s not a great fit for people with oily hair because it’s more on the milder side. 2. It’s purple so it will help cancel out any brassiness. If you have brassiness or yellowing in your hair this will help brighten strands. If not, you don’t need a purple shampoo. 3. It has healthier ingredients than most purple shampoos – if you value that. Hope this helps!

  12. Reply

    Chantal

    I can also add Shikai Color Reflect Platinum Shampoo to this list. I love the brand and their Color Reflect line really works.

  13. Reply

    Holly

    I like the Shikai one too – not too much scent either. And easier to get where I live. And cheaper 🙂

  14. Reply

    Amy Goff

    What type of conditioner do you use?????

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Amy! I like the Bruns purple Hairmask – have you tried it? Sometimes I’ll just use a non-purple shampoo but then use a purple conditioner to help brighten. Conditioner is everything imo bc it stays on longer!

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