10 Best Tips for Gracefully Growing Out Gray Hair
Silver is sexy, but getting there can be tricky. These stylist-approved tricks for growing out gray hair can make things so much easier.
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Pro tips that make going gray so much better
There’s no avoiding it. At some point, you will have to deal with gray hair. Of course, how you deal with it is up to you. Some women start growing out gray hair as soon as it begins to appear. Others begin their journey by pulling out grays and then spend years dying it before deciding it’s too much of a hassle to do the constant cover-up. Even if you’ve found the best hair color for your skin tone, having to touch up your roots every four to six weeks can get old. No matter what your path is, going gray isn’t for the faint of heart.
“Many women find it challenging to grow out gray hair,” says hairstylist Krysta Biancone, co-founder of the Amari Salon & Spa and a stylist at Hair by Krysta. “This is because it usually occurs gradually, so the transition from natural hair color to gray hair is not easy.”
But it’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to going gray. In fact, it can be incredibly empowering, liberating and downright gorgeous when you make it to the finish line, and it can even make you look younger. But first, there are a few things you need to know—from avoiding hair mistakes that will make you look older and trying hairstyles that make you look younger to using shampoos made specifically for gray hair. We asked top hairstylists around the country to divulge their best tips for making this transition as easy as possible.
It might sound counterintuitive, but adding subtle color can make the transition to gray more seamless. “When you first decide you’re nearly ready to go natural, a step in the right direction would be to start going lighter. That way, the roots grow in a little more gracefully,” says Kali Ferrara, a hairstylist and colorist at the Salon Project at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City. “This can be done easily by a skilled colorist, with a lighter base color in conjunction with highlights.”
One word of warning: Steer clear of warmer colors like reds and strawberry blondes when growing out gray hair. Ferrara says these hues could backfire and show even more contrast with your roots. You should also avoid these other hair color mistakes.
Go a little darker
On the flip side, you could choose lowlights. But instead of adding a shade that’s slightly darker (which is normally what you’d do with lowlights), try to match your non-gray hair color. This will help blend without adding a brand-new shade to the mix. “Lowlights create some contrast and will give hair a more salt-and-pepper look that can be very becoming,” says celebrity hairstylist Gina Rivera, founder of Phenix Salon Suites in Encinitas, California. Just be sure not to go darker than your hair color, says Rivera. Doing so can create too much contrast and bring more attention to the fact that you are transitioning to gray, which won’t look good in photos or in real life.
Chop it off
Ready for a big change? Ferrara recommends growing your roots as long as you possibly can and then getting a super-short haircut to get rid of all the leftover color. How short you go is totally up to you. A pixie cut can be chic and low-maintenance, but if you’ve never had short hair, that could be too big of a change. A short bob looks good on just about anyone, so that may be your best bet, though a stylist will be able to help you determine just how short will be flattering for your face shape. In general, slimmer faces tend to look great with hair that hits just under the jawbone, while fuller faces may want to go slightly longer (think a few inches below the jaw).
“While this can be a dramatic change, it can also be just the new look you may be looking for!” Ferrara says. “Think of your natural hair color as a new adventure—a new, liberated you.”
Cover roots as they grow in
If you’re growing out gray hair but your roots are driving you nuts, there are a few ways you can hide them. One easy solution is to cover them with a headband, hat or chic scarf. Another option is root spray or powder. “These products can mask the roots very effectively,” says master stylist Lorrene Conino, owner of Salon Lorrene in Chicago. “Just spray the exposed areas after you style your hair.”
L’Oréal Root Cover Up comes in a variety of colors, so you’re sure to find something that works for your specific hue. Just shake the bottle well, hold it about 6 inches from your roots and spritz it on. Psst—this Rita Hazan root concealer is a handy product, too. It offers instant coverage on gray hair without an expensive trip to the salon.
Don’t slack on trims
If you can’t bring yourself to do a big cut, regular haircuts (even little ones!) can help make the process go faster too. Aim for a trim every six to eight weeks. This will help you get rid of split ends and maintain healthy hair during your growing-out period, says hairstylist Nia Jones, contributor at the hair blog the Latest Locks. After all, she explains, you may as well keep your hair looking as good as possible as you go through this tricky transition. Another bonus? Even if you aren’t getting a drastic cut, snipping a bit each time will get rid of old color. Consider bringing your hairstylist some inspiration with this list of the best hairstyles for women over 40 to find a ‘do that will keep you looking fresh.
As more and more gray starts growing in, make sure those strands look as good as possible. Although gray hair is less vibrant than hair of other colors, it still can become dull and uneven if not properly cared for. Sun exposure, washing hair with water that has a high mineral content, and improper hair care are just a few reasons gray locks can turn brassy. Luckily, there’s a quick fix: Using shampoo and conditioner designed specifically for silver or white hair can help tone down brassiness by balancing out the warm undertones, says Biancone. Hair Biology’s Purple Shampoo and Conditioner Set for Gray Hair is a good option.
You can also include purple toning products into your maintenance routine. Why purple? To understand how a purple product works, you need to know a bit about color theory. Essentially, on the color wheel, purple is opposite of yellow. This means that purple shampoo or toner helps to neutralize unwanted yellow or brassy tones that can come along with grays. Try adding OGX’s Blonde Enhance + Toning Drops to your shampoo or conditioner once a week to keep your hair the color you want it. Taking this small precaution when caring for gray hair can help create luscious-looking locks with longevity.
Go big on moisture
The texture of gray hair is quite different from the hair of your youth. George Papanikolas, a celebrity hairstylist and the global brand ambassador for Matrix, explains that it’s typically more coarse, frizzy and dehydrated. To combat this, he recommends arming your strands with moisturizing products that will keep it silky and shiny. His go-to: the entire Biolage line. It’s a particularly good idea to apply a weekly hydration mask for your hair, like Biolage’s Hydra Source Mask. It’s paraben-free, which Papanikolas says is particularly good for preserving moisture.
Don’t try to remove hair dye on your own
Let’s say you’ve been dying your hair to cover up those grays but wish you hadn’t. Well, even if you’ve just been using root touch-up kits as new grays grow in, you should never try to lift or remove hair dye on your own. “Chemicals are typically used to remove color, and you need to know what you are doing,” warns Rivera. “If you don’t, you could end up really damaging your hair.” If this is a route you’re intent on exploring instead of waiting for the color to grow out, book an appointment with a professional. Just be aware that removing hair dye is tricky and often takes multiple appointments.
For an easier, much gentler option, try using a clarifying shampoo to lighten the dye on your strands, says Jones. These shampoos are formulated to remove excess buildup and give you a deep clean, but they may also help wash away some color. Paul Mitchell’s Shampoo Two Clarifying Cleanser can help you get the job done. Just don’t use it (or any other clarifying shampoo) more than once a week. These products give hair a deep clean, and using them too often can strip your strands of natural oils that add hydration.
Experiment with new styles
Whether you’re trying to cover up the gray or want to embrace it, Jones suggests playing with different styles outside of the boundaries of your everyday look—i.e., a ponytail, a different part that flatters your face shape or a brushed-back style that “hides” roots. Changing things up allows you to play with your style, and it also makes growing out gray hair look cool and intentional. Who says blondes have all the fun?!
Accept that it will take time
Just as frantically trying to figure out what causes gray hair won’t prevent it, stressing over how your grow-out looks is not going to do you any favors either. “Know this: It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” says Rivera. If you get frustrated and turn to dye when you really want to focus on growing out gray hair, you’re just going to have to start all over again. “The temptation to cover up grays will only last for a short time. So focus on your goal and try to avoid going back to dye.”
One thing that may help? Look at pictures of celebs of all ages who look incredible with their naturally gray hair. Some examples? Andie MacDowell, Diane Keaton, Helen Mirren, Jamie Lee Curtis and Hilarie Burton. Also make sure to pull together your entire look with makeup, accessories and outfits that can help you look younger and stylish at any age.
Additional reporting by Jenn Sinrich.
- Krysta Biancone, co-founder of the Amari Salon & Spa and hairstylist at Hair by Krysta
- Kali Ferrara, hairstylist and colorist at The Salon Project at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City
- Gina Rivera, celebrity hairstylist and founder of Phenix Salon Suites in Encinitas, California
- Nia Jones, hairstylist and contributor at Latest Locks
- George Papanikolas, celebrity hairstylist and global brand ambassador for Matrix
- Lorrene Conino, master stylist and owner of Salon Lorrene in Chicago