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Going White/Silver

Published on 2nd November 2002

White and silver hair never goes out of fashion but they happen to be the hardest colours to achieve. In this article I look at how it’s done.

Firstly you’ll need to start with light hair – very pale blond. Do this using bleach (see Beginner’s Guide to Bleaching if you don’t know how to bleach your hair). Fix any uneven colour as this is going to be really noticeable once your hair is white.

Some people say the best way to get white hair is to bleach it white but that’s a bad idea. The good thing about it is that the white will be permanent, but unless you have really short hair you’re going to end up frying it since you will need to bleach to near breaking point to get all the pigment out. The best thing to do is to get your hair pale blond and then apply a toner to get rid of the yellowness.

How do toners work?

White and silver toners work by canceling out the colour of your hair to give it a more neutral appearance. For example: bleached hair usually has some yellow tones remaining in it. This is what gives it the blond colour. Violet is the opposite colour to yellow on the colour wheel. A pale violet will cancel out a pale yellow leaving white. This is why white toners are purple. The purple in the toner is a very weak colour and shouldn’t turn your hair violet. However it can go wrong. If you were thinking there were lots of cool old women with blue and purple hair, it’s not usually because they thought what the hell and went purple, it’s more that the hairdresser got the mix wrong when toning their hair.
Silver toners work in a similar way to white toners only they are blue based rather than violet based. It cancels out the yellowness in the hair but also dyes it a very very pale shade of blue to give it a silvery look.
Since toners are like a very weak dye, they will only work on very light hair. If your hair isn’t light enough not much will happen. Don’t try to dye yellow hair white by using a stronger violet. You’ll end up with something mucky and nasty looking.

There are a number of white and silver toners around. The easiest to use are the ones made by the same companies that make unnatural coloured dyes. LaRiché Directions makes both white and silver toners and this is applied like any other semi-permanent. You can leave it on your hair for a few hours but one hour is usually plenty. Special Effects make an excellent white toner (the best I’ve tried) but be careful to follow the development time as it has a tendency to colour the hair violet. Other toners come in liquid form and can be applied by dabbing it onto the hair using cotton buds. Be careful as these are often setting lotions as well as toners.

If you’re feeling brave you can make silver and white dyes to your own recipe. I recently did Tony’s hair silver using a mixture of professional dyes. It’s quite difficult to get right first time round but if you don’t mind having blue or purple hair for a couple of weeks it’s a good way to experiment. I used schwartzkopf Igora Royal to make quite a strong silver. You can buy this at beauty supply shops but be aware that you buy the colour and the developer separately. The correct mixture for silver (and not the blue that his hair was first coloured) is 6 parts “platinum” and 1 part “anti-orange concentrate”. I mixed that with 30 volume peroxide though you can use 10 or 20 volume if your hair is weak. This will produce a very pale silvery white colour.

You can make a darker pewter colour by mixing 2 parts platinum, 1 part light ash blond and 1cm of blue concentrate. You must do a strand test before applying this as results can vary widely.

Keeping your tone..

You’ll probably find out when you have really light hair that hair grease is yellow. You’ll need to make sure your hair is always freshly washed for it to look its best. Try adding a spoonful of semi-permanent (like Special Effects or Directions) violet dye to your conditioner for white hair, and a spoonful of blue (blues that have a hint of purple in them rather than those that are more turquoise) to your conditioner for silver hair. This will prevent the yellowness coming back as quickly.

Silver hair achieved using Igora

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  • Applying a white or silver colour to dark hair will have little or no effect
  • Your hair should be lightened to a very pale blond before going white or silver
  • Do a strand test first as colour results can vary