Maybe it’s because rocking silver strands is such a bold statement or it could be that some of us have embraced our naturally grown-out grays in quarantine. Either way, gray hair is having a moment and there’s never been a time to go gray. But transitioning your hair to gray is a process that takes patience. Haircare attention must be paid! We've got everything you need to kick the hair dye to the curb and go gray for good. We’ve put together a guide of expert tips, stylist hacks, and product picks to help you transition to gray hair smoothly.
What we refer to as grey hair is actually a combination of normally pigmented hairs interspersed with white ones. As we age, our hair stops generating melanin, which is what gives our hair color. Melanin-producing cells called melanocytes are responsible for the pigmentation of the skin and hair. Each hair bulb has a stock of active melanocytes and a stock of dormant melanocytes. When the hair growth phase is complete, the hair follicle reconstitutes and imports dormant melanocytes to replace depleted active melanocytes. But when the stock of dormant melanocytes is also exhausted, the hair can no longer pigment and becomes white. After the age of 35, your hair is likely to grow back in gray. This is why most people start to notice their first grays in their 30s. But because it’s an inherited trait, some people go gray much earlier. Diet and hormonal factors can also affect premature graying, as well as health conditions like diabetes, anemia, or thyroid problems.
Ever wonder why your gray hair seems wiry and stubborn while the rest of your hair lies flat? A common misconception about gray hair is that it’s physically coarser than your other hair. But this isn’t the case at all. Gray hair can seem coarser because the oil glands in the scalp produce less sebum, which will result in drier and tougher strands. The same biological process that affects the color of your hair also affects the structure of the hair being produced as well. With age, hair loses density, shine and is even more fragile and sensitive to the sun’s UV rays. We wrote more about this in a post called Why Hair Texture Changes with Age.
The simple answer is no, though you can take folic acid to slow down the graying process or use antioxidant haircare to protect dormant melanocytes.
If you've made the decision to go gray, having patience is key. Transitioning smoothly to gray comes from growing your natural gray hairs out, so you’re likely in for a 6- to 12-month grow-out period. But fear not silver-hued seekers! We’re here to help you make this time as painless as possible. We put together a list of expert tips, styling hacks, and product picks to help you grow out your gray as gracefully as possible, below!
Because gray hair tends to be drier than your other hair, an unpleasant side effect of going gray can be frizz. Kaytlyn Albo, Master Stylist and Davines educator with Mod Salon in Kelowna, BC, Canada says one of the most important things you can do for your hair while transitioning to gray is to use hydrating hair care products. Kaytlyn suggests “Swap out your regular shampoo and conditioner with an anti-aging shampoo and hair conditioning treatment to maintain the health of your scalp as well promote soft, shiny, and full-bodied hair. A keratin sealing spray and an anti-frizz oil to also help soften, add moisture, and add shine to dull looking hair,” says Kaytlyn.
One of the quickest ways to transition to gray smoothly is to cut your hair short. The silver will naturally blend in and require less maintenance than longer hair as it grows out. Try an ultra-short pixie cut or slowly trim off your colored ends a little at a time so the new growth blends in more quickly.
We discussed how gray hair tends to be drier; brushing it helps to evenly distribute the natural oils from your scalp throughout your strands. Brushing your hair nightly with a boar bristle brush will result in smoother, softer, glossier gray hair. Remember to start at the roots and work your way down to the ends. Brush or at any tangles with light, gentle strokes. Don't try to pull or force it. Instead, isolate the tangled section and hold it in your hand, and gently run your brush over it until it loosens up.
We love the idea of using balayage highlights or lowlights throughout your hair to blend your natural grays as they grow out. Toni Jennings, Davines colorist and co-owner of Hair House in Austin, TX explains that if you are transitioning to a full head of gray hair, the best approach depends on your natural hair color. Toni says she’s seeing a lot more clients embrace their grays as of late. “For the clients coming back to the salon after quarantine and loving the low-maintenance look of their natural hair,” she says. “I’ll use a demi-permanent color within 1-2 shades of their natural hair color to soften the line of color demarcation as it grows out, before painting on highlights or lowlights to blend in existing grays. You don’t get 100% coverage with demi-permanent color, so this keeps your hair’s natural dimension and a more subtle demarcation line," explains Toni.
A hair gloss is a shine treatment for colored-strands. The intended outcome of using a hair gloss is a longer-lasting and more vibrant color, as well as reducing split ends, frizzy hair, and overall dryness. Hair gloss treatments can also be used to tone your color, a professional glossing treatment every six to eight weeks will brighten your grays, and keep unwanted tones away. If you’re planning to stop coloring your hair, consider keeping up with glossing treatments to keep your gray looking healthy.
Gray hair has no natural pigment so just like blonde hair, it can turn brassy over time. Using a purple-toned shampoo and conditioner will fight that brassiness and help you maintain your gorgeous gray strands. Use Alchemic silver shampoo and silver conditioner in place of your regular once a week to neutralize yellow tones and balance out the brass.
Environmental pollutants and UV light can make any hair color—including barely pigmented grays—look dull. And gray hair can turn yellow from things like chlorine or the mineral deposits in your water. Protect your strands from this discoloration by using hair products with SPF when you plan to be in the sun for long periods of time. If you swim, rinse your hair thoroughly with clean water before and after the pool so it doesn't soak up the chlorinated water. If your tap water contains a lot of deposits, consider getting a filter that attaches to your shower head.
As for styling, stay away from heavy pomades, waxes, and serums. They can coat gray hair and make it look dusty. Use an anti-frizz oil on your ends and style your hair up in a sleek silver bun. Prep your hair by running a hair milk and through your strands twist them into a bun. Use a hairpin or two to hold it in place. For more styling ideas see Updo Hairstyles for Everyone.
When it comes to makeup that flatters your new hair color, shades of gray, and jewel tones like ruby red, sapphire blue, and deep purples) are your best bets. Avoid earth tones such as beige and olive, which can wash you out. Gray hair can make your complexion appear dull, so look for blush shades like apricot, peach, and rose. Stay away from beige or tawny colors. They will make your skin tone look muddy next to gray hair. Use a liquid or cream blush rather than a powder that can leave your skin looking dull. Groom your brows, trimming any wayward hairs, and define your arches with a taupe pencil so they don't disappear.
Grey hair used to be something we avoided at all costs. Now, it’s a statement of confidence and intent. People of all ages are embracing a hair color that for years was seen as a sign of letting yourself go. Now is the time to go gray! If you’re ready to say goodbye to dyed hair and rock your natural hair for good, make an appointment with your stylist and come up with a plan. Stock up on the right products and update your hair care routine and your transition to gray hair will result in shiny, soft beautiful strands.
by Jaclyn LaBadia, featured contributor
cover photo by @kennakunijo