Is Silver Hair the Same as Gray Hair?

June 9, 2023 — Written by

Silver hair and gray hair have become more of a mainstream conversation since 2020. But what instigated these trends and what even are they? We’ve got the answers, plus some tips for maintaining your silver hair.

By: Lisa Fennessy

IN THIS POST:

Two major recent events have pushed our society’s gray hair paradigm in a different direction. One was the 2020 pandemic, which left everyone stranded at home with no access to hair salons or barber shops. People who were used to dyeing their hair at home continued on; however, there was a massive number of people who were forced into hair dye abstinence. We saw memes riffing on the novelty that we were about to “see everyone’s real hair color” and the Mona Lisa with her gray hair roots growing out.

But what started as a moment of panic, turned into a lifestyle change for some. 

“My gray journey started during the pandemic and I never regretted it.” – Farris

“I was looking at pictures of my pandemic hair (2020) where I doused the top of my head with really dark root touch up vs now. Now I have lighter, gray hair. I feel I am more myself and unashamed. I would rather have nice white hair than fake dark. Feels so freeing!” – Karen

“During the pandemic I decided to take the plunge. I used to dye my hair with a brown base and lots of blond highlights. It was very expensive and took at least four hours to process. Now that I have gone gray, I get plenty of compliments and it’s so easy. So sorry I waited so long. By the way, I’m 71.” – Patricia

The other event is when gray hair emerged as a trend in 2015 after women like Rihanna and Kylie Jenner opted to dye their hair silver. This was just two short years before I decided to grow out my own gray hair and looking back, I wonder if this trend had an impact on my decision to do so. 

Regardless of how we got here, we can say with certainty there are more women embracing their gray and silver hair at an earlier age now than ever before. And this intentional dye job is a *little* different than growing out your natural gray or silver hair, BUT it’s still helping bring gray hair to the mainstream in a positive way.

RELATED: How to go gray.



Is silver hair the same as gray hair?

Hair loses its pigment as we age and that can manifest in so many different ways. This can look like a full head of white hair on some people and just a few strands of gray hair on another. I’ve been known to compare gray hair to snowflakes because no two outcomes are alike. Our coloring, hair texture and the way our gray hair grows in is unique to each of us. I mean, as cliche as it sounds, there’s a reason why the phrase “fifty shades of gray” exists.

Because of this and the desire to express ourselves, talking about how to take care of it and connect with others, we try to categorize it and name the type of gray hair we have. Is it silver? White? Gray? And then what type of gray? Salt and pepper? Dove gray? Ash gray?  

But shared language doesn’t emerge based on fact (or in this case, color alone). How we relate to and identify with a concept influences the language we use to describe the color of our hair as well. 

While some will go to great lengths to make sure their hair is dyed and roots are covered, others will view this change as a cool and even countercultural way of expressing themselves. This acceptance or denial affects the way we talk about our hair and the words we use to describe it. While someone who loves their hair might use words like “silver” and “bright,” someone who doesn’t might use words like “washed out” or “losing its color.”  

RELATED: Growing out gray hair.

Karen, a member of The Gray Book muses, “Does anyone else refer to their hair as ‘silver’ vs. gray? Because the transition is rough, I feel like the ‘g’ word in and of itself sounds drab and old.  I’ve started calling it silver, at least the verbiage, albeit a minor detail, & this is JUST my opinion, sounds classier and refined and a little blingy. Helps to mentally make the transition a bit easier for me.”

So when we ask the question, “Is silver hair the same as gray hair?” We can look at that through two different lenses. 

1. The actual color itself. 

2. How people who have gray hair talk about their hair.

If we are just looking at color alone, gray hair and silver hair can be very similar…or they can be very different. In broad strokes, we call gray hair “gray” because it’s white hair growing in and mixing with your natural darker hair. Simply put; mix white and black and you get gray.

Therefore, the more white you have in your hair, the more silver it looks while the more, darker hair you have on your head, the grayer it looks. On opposite sides of the spectrum, this difference is more obvious, but as we near the middle it gets a little more nuanced. 

For more clarification and insight, we Googled “gray hair” and “silver hair” and here are the first few images it pulled for each…

Gray hair

Silver hair 

That being said, people with gray or silver hair will refer to it as they see fit, which could be “gray” or “silver”—or something else entirely. 

Silver hair vs. gray hair

To illustrate this point here are some additional ways and words people will use to talk about and describe their gray or silver hair. 

By using percentages like this…

A chart visually showing the percentage of gray hair in colored hair.
Image: Grace & Lace

Or describing names like this…

A chart showing gray hair colors.
Image: here

Or by equating it to a tone…

Even if you look it up in the dictionary, it’s not very helpful because “silver hair” and “gray hair” as phrases are not in the dictionary. And in the end, how these words are used is left open for interpretation by people who have gray hair. 

RELATED: Attending a wedding and going gray?

What causes silver hair?

A longstanding observation is to compare photos of a president before he took office and after he left office. One major difference in most presidents over this 4-year time period is they get way more gray hair. Kind of like me with my son’s 2023 baseball season. 👇

Lol, just kidding. That’s actually me 2017 v 2023 😊. Pointing this out because stress can play a factor as one of the causes of silver hair. However, according to Harvard Medical School, “When and how thoroughly your hair turns gray is influenced mostly by the genes you inherit from your parents.” 


How to maintain silver hair

The best way to maintain silver hair is to keep it out of the sun and reduce heat styling. This will help it from turning brassy or yellow-looking. On top of that, you can also consider using a conditioning or purple hair mask to keep hair shiny and brilliant, brushing it regularly to help natural hair oils to coat strands and get regular trims. Lastly, you may need to swap out your shampoo too. Here’s why. 

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

What shampoo is best for silver hair?

The answer to this question will depend on your specific type of silver hair. Here are some options: 

  • If you have just a little silver in your hair, you might be able to use any regular shampoo. 
  • If you have no yellowing or brassiness in your silver hair, you might be able to use a regular shampoo. 
  • If you have silver hair that is yellowing, you might want to consider using a purple shampoo
  • If you have silver hair that is starting to look dingy or dull, you might want to consider a detoxifying or chelating shampoo. 
  • If you have silver hair that is very white, you might want to consider using a silver toning shampoo

A silver toning shampoo will add some darker gray / silver tones back into your hair and it’s a good option for people who have very white hair with very little dimension. 

RELATED: What’s the deal with Overtone?


What is silver hair called?

Gray and silver hair are going through a bit of a takeback moment, although I would be remiss to say the days of gray hair being equated to “letting yourself go” is a thing of the past. We are still witnessing ageism and sexism in real life and in dramatized moments like when Lisa LaFlamme, long time Canadian news anchor, was fired just last summer after she stopped dyeing her hair. And when Miranda had a “fem power” moment, symbolized by dyeing her gray hair red again in the highly anticipated debut of …And Just Like That

But for some, this antiquated, patriarchal, oppressive paradigm is now not only being rejected but also being redefined as a fullest expression of oneself, powerful, edgy and freeing. We see this in many ways. One of these ways is silver-haired women showing up on social media looking and feeling fly. Just follow #goinggray for a hot second and you will see what I mean. 

We also see this in the words women are using to describe themselves and their hair. Here are just a few of the empowering phrases that we’ve seen people use:

  • glitter strands
  • silver hair
  • metallic highlights 

And the last one I’m going to mention is Silver Fox, which has been mostly reserved for “an attractive older person with gray or silver hair, especially a man” and “attractive middle-aged men having mostly gray or white hair.” Don’t believe me? Just ask our friends dictionary.com and Merriam Webster, they will tell you. 🙄

But language is a living and evolving thing and women are claiming this phrase for themselves, so look out. Let’s see how long it takes for the dictionary to catch up (I mean, it only took 80+ years for “gaslighting” to be named the Word of the Year, so…. 🤣😭).


Can silver hair be dyed blonde?

I don’t know how many times in my life I’ve been told by a hairdresser, “No, you can’t dye your hair that color.” And I should have listened because the one time I overrode my hairdresser, insisting on thick stripe highlights, the highlights just ended up breaking off because they were so brittle from being lifted so much. 

But the good news is that if you have silver hair you can pretty much dye it any color with ease. It’s like a blank canvas. You don’t have to lift it to prep it and it will take any color from blonde to purple to black without much, if any prep. 

Will silver hair dye cover yellow hair?

Sometimes hair turns yellow, but you don’t want it to be yellow. Blonde or gray hair can turn yellow due to UV exposure, cigarette smoke, heat tools and more. If you are in this position, the easiest course corrector is to try a purple shampoo. Purple is opposite yellow on the color wheel and works to cancel out brassy tones in blonde or gray hair.

However if you are looking to dye your hair silver to cover up yellow hair, we recommend consulting your hairdresser for a custom plan. 


Silver hair accessories

Clawclips are having a moment rn and we are here for it. Here are some fun silver hair accessories, including cute claw clips, to adorn and show off your brilliant locks. 


What do you call your gray hair?

xo, lisa in cursive

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.


Silver hair FAQ

Is silver hair the same as gray hair?

If we are just looking at color alone, gray hair and silver hair can be very similar…or they can be very different. In broad strokes, we call gray hair “gray” because it’s white hair growing in and mixing with your natural darker hair. Simply put; mix white and black and you get gray. Learn more here.

What is silver hair called?

What you call your gray or silver hair is up to you! We do have a few suggestions about how language has evolved—check them out here.

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!

2 Comments

  1. Reply

    Angelina

    Wow I did not know there’s so many terms, I just say white hair lol.
    I am fortunate that I live a simple life, I do not live in a big city and I do not have a high profile job, it gives me space and freedom and the acceptance that what is simple and natural is everything, and I realize that for some this is a bit more complicated. I am getting older and I am starting to get more white hair, with that said I hope more people will choose to age gracefully and not mind or care so much about what other people say or think. Whatever age, gender, culture, socio economic status etc or season in life you are in just be yourself and love yourself. If we all somehow try to be more intentional about being natural, women growing their hair gray wouldn’t be such an issue (just like Richard Gere or George Clooney way back in the 90’s!), or weight or wrinkles or size or skin complexion and etc..if we can stop giving our time and attention, and power to whatever society/social media dictates then they will all go away in time and not matter anymore.
    I see my mom and women her age (late 60’s to 70’s) always stressing about getting their hair done, and if they somehow didn’t feel the need to do all that I bet life would be way more simple, enjoyable, stress free, fulfilling, and time and money well spent on something more valuable, especially if they started not caring about going gray at 40!
    Let’s turn the tides ladies.
    Sorry for such a long comment!

    1. Reply

      Lisa Fennessy

      I love it. “Let’s turn the tides!”

Leave a comment

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