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!

176 Comments

  1. Reply

    Elana

    PS I did leave a good lather of shampoo on for 15 minutes before rinsing it. And now that I look at it again, it’s definitely starting to reduce the yellow. Will it continue to have more of an effect?

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Elana! Yes! Each wash lasts for about 7 days so the effect will build on itself! So glad you are seeing results. xo, Lisa

  2. Reply

    Ann

    I am allergic to coconut. Do any of the recommended shampoos contain that?

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Ann! For purple shampoos, this is all I’ve got! Although you could check out Flourish, that is one I’ve been meaning to add to this list too…I’m not sure if they use coconut or not but they just came out with an ethical purple shampoo this year too. xo, Lisa

  3. Reply

    Elise

    Do you ship to Canada? I’d love to try the Bruns N24 but can’t find it anywhere here.

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Elise! I’m sorry but at this time we do not ship to Canada. xo, Lisa

  4. Reply

    Janice

    Hello! Is it recommended to also use a purple conditioner? Thanks!

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Janice! You don’t have to but you will get better results if you use both together. xo, Lisa

  5. Reply

    Ronda Erickson

    Hello – I tried the OWAY’s Silver Steel Hair Bath – but it didn’t lather well. The smell is great and it left my greys nice and bright. but ot really any lather – not sure what i did wrong. or is this now the shampoo worked for you?

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Ronda! Sometimes people’s water can effect the lather like if you have hard water or soft water. This one lathers pretty well for me. I always do two rounds of washing and the second round always lathers better than the first round. Do you do two rounds as well? xo, Lisa

  6. Reply

    Sherry Marroquin

    Hi Lisa,
    I’m 75 yrs and have baby fine hair. A lot thinner than when I was younger. The front & temple areas are platinum white. The rest is medium to dark brown. My hairdresser says no to bleach. Is there a way to get it to start turning white!
    Sherry

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Sherry! Outside of bleaching it, I don’t know! I wish I knew though because I would be using that recipe too – I just want my hair to turn whiter and whiter ; ) Many women choose to wait it out, that might be your best course of action here but if you discover an alternative to help turn hair white, let us know! Best of luck! xo, Lisa

  7. Reply

    Betsy

    Are any of these products cruelty free? And, the bottom 3 inches of my hair are still there from the last time I dyed it, 18 months ago, the rest is growing in very white at the hairline, and then graying. Which shampoo would you suggest? Thank you.

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Betsy! I’m not sure which ones are cruelty free – an easy DM or email to the company can answer that ; ) And these shampoos will not effect darker hair. They work best on white and light colored strands. That’s where they have the most visible effect! xo, Lisa

  8. Reply

    Jessica

    Hi, Lisa! I’m so excited to try the Bruns SCHAMPO N24 but it says it’s out of stock. Do you have any idea when it will be in stock? I’ve been looking for something for a while and I’m so excited I found this page!!!!

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Jessica! We are currently restocking this product as I type this so it should be back in stock online within the next few days. Definitely by the end of the week! xo, Lisa

  9. Reply

    Jean

    My now natural grey hair is starting to turn green!! What shall I do?

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Oh man! What products are you using right now Jean?

  10. Reply

    Supriya

    Hi!

    Thanks for a very informative article! I am only now deciding to go gray, have about 4 months’ growth. I am salt and pepper, original brunette, with one band of silver on top of my head, with other pockets here and there. Somewhat like your profile picture below. Plus I have the warm reddish brown from my coloring days. My gray growth is only about 3-4 inches. I have a lot of brunette still. Do you think I could benefit from using a purple shampoo? Will it turn my warm brown colored hair weird? I can’t wait to fully transition- it’s this in-between stage that scares me the most. Thanks in advance!

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Supriya! Great question! So the purple shampoo will only effect your white/gray hair. It will not effect your brown hair. You don’t need it yet if you are not seeing yellowing in your gray hair. If you are, you can try it and see what you think. It’s not a hair dye and it won’t permanently change your hair color so it’s basically risk free. It only works on light shades of hair by counteracting any brassiness. Hope this helps! xo, L

  11. Reply

    Mary Ann

    Hi Lisa
    Love your article. I have gray in the front hairline and gray coming underneath my hair. Underneath my hair it is really coming in curly. My hair is brownish/black. Because I don’t have a lot of gray can I still use the purple shampoo BRUNS? Even though I don’t have a lot I’d still like it to look great. Mary Ann

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Mary Ann! Your hair sounds beautiful! So what the purple shampoo will do is ensure the gray you have is more brilliant and less yellow or brassy looking. It won’t effect your brown or black hair. xo, Lisa

  12. Reply

    Priscilla

    Hi Lisa,
    Can you tell me a safe way to strip the brownish dye from my hair and embrace my gray faster?

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Priscilla! I wish I had an answer for that. You could try getting help from the salon….I personally don’t think this is anything I would experiment with at home. xo, Lisa

  13. Reply

    Michelle

    I’m 100 percent gray/white. Been looking for a fragrance free purple shampoo for quite awhile. Can anyone help? They all seem to have fragrance.

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hoping someone can help here! xo, L

  14. Reply

    Joann

    Hi. This comment in reply to Priscilla’s question. 6 years ago I was definitely Grey under my dyed dark brown hair. I did not want to take the long way to go go Grey. My hairdresser bleached my hair as far as she could (it was a light brown) and a few weeks later stripped it even further. She put a color on that matched my natural Grey and voila, as it grew out it looked great. I have been natural ever since, and I love it. Talk to your hairdresser, hopefully she can help you get on the fast track to natural beauty. Good luck.

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Thank you Joann! xo, L

  15. Reply

    Debra Brown

    Hi Lisa! I am just starting on my gray journey and have about a 1/2” of growth. I’m a natural medium brown but dyed it for years to conceal the gray for many years. I used a purple shampoo the other day for the first time & it actually dulled my silvers around my temples. Is this normal? I was hoping to make them more noticeable. Do you think I should continue?

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Debra! Which brand was it? I’m wondering if it was one that deposited some silver color…xo, L

  16. Reply

    Rosa

    Hi, been using the XOXO purple shampoo. Can you let us know if it is safe? Am a baby- boomer with some salt and pepper hair. Love the purple tone on me. Looking for reasonable prices too!

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Rosa! I’ve looked at a ton of purple shampoos. The ones in this post 👆 are the ones I recommend! xo, Lisa

  17. Reply

    Miranda

    I’m glad I read this. I’m almost out of the current purple shampoo I’ve been using. I’m not a huge fan of it, so was looking for something different and more natural. I have had my eye on Klorane, but glad I read your comments about it. Can you elaborate on why it’s on your no-no list?

    Are there any clean formulas that only use plant dyes? It seemed from your article that there are not?

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Flourish Haircare also came out with a plant-based purple shampoo too this past year. As for Klorane, I didn’t love the ingredients (like acrylates, ceteareth-60 and fragrance). More here on why!

  18. Reply

    Miranda

    Have you tried the Quick Silver clay? Super curious about your experience with that.

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Miranda! I haven’t tried it…if someone tries it, leave us a comment here and let us know how it works! xo, L

  19. Reply

    Lisa

    Between the SCHAMPO N24 and the Silver Steel which one has the lightest scent? I might be able to handle a mild natural scent from essential oils but can’t do anything parfumy.

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      Hi Lisa! The BRUNS for sure! xo, L

  20. Reply

    Cindy

    Very happy to have found this site and love the thorough descriptions of the recommended purple shampoos. Thank you.
    In response to someone who’s asked about stripping out the brown to embrace the natural grey sooner I thought I’d share my experience. When I decided last March to stop coloring my hair … very tired of going every 4 weeks to have only about 2 weeks without the grey showing through … I didn’t want the normal demarcation that usually occurs so I asked my stylist to basically give me grey highlights. She actually did a combination of alternating grey and blond highlights for a more blended look. Now almost a year later I no longer color, just tone. Hope this helps.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *