Once upon a time, finding a gray hair (or several) was equivalent to a fly in your soup. Eek! But nowadays, women are saying goodbye to the dye, embracing the silvery strands and going gray gracefully. Affectionately coined as “granny hair” on social media, once this trend gained momentum, the younger generation began flocking to their stylists asking for shades of gray, including silver fox, salt-and-pepper and platinum — and voila! The stigma of gray was gone.
If you’re like us and you’re just naturally going gray, lucky you — you’re halfway there! But it’s not as simple as just letting your roots grow out — it takes time and a little strategy with your stylist to ensure it looks great throughout the entire process.
How embracing gray can make you look younger
Going gray can offer anti-aging benefits, says Mike Petrizzi, a celebrity colorist at New York City’s Chris Chase Salon. Yes, that’s right — it can actually make you look younger. “The vibrance of a silver hue gives hair added luster that helps thinner tresses appear thicker,” he says. “Those that prefer a salt-and-pepper mix also reap the hair-thickening rewards as the contrast between light and dark strands provides depth and dimension for a fuller-looking mane.”
Plus, gray tones complement nearly every complexion. “Gray hair is literally for everyone and goes with every skin tone, but the process to get there will be different because, with hair, there is never a one-size-fits-all situation,” explains Los Angeles-based hairstylist Cody Renegar, who works with Marie Osmond and Gwyneth Paltrow. “The key is to have patience and not give up!”
Why do we go gray in the first place?
Grays aren’t just a glaring, outward sign of aging — they are parts of your hair follicles dying. Like skin, our follicles contain melanin, which is responsible for the color of our hair. As we get older, the melanin decreases, slowly draining the color from strands. First, they turn gray and eventually, white. According to the National Institutes of Health, 74% of people ages 45 to 65 are sporting at least a few silver strands on their heads.
This can be tough if you’ve always identified as a bombshell brunette or known for your gorgeous raven-black hair, and suddenly, a part of your identity seems to be leaving the building.
How soon and quickly you start to turn gray is dependent on several factors:
- Genetics: Mom started seeing pops of gray in her 30s? Research shows you will likely (or already have) too.
- Stress/health conditions: While we may joke around when we say our kids or spouses are giving us grays, there is some connection to stress and a pigment-less mane. Health conditions like thyroid disease and certain autoimmune disorders can also expedite the onset of grays. Researchers studying bone loss also inadvertently discovered that people who smoke had thinner bones and went gray earlier.
- Hormones: As if menopause doesn’t affect our bodies enough, fluctuations in hormone levels, specifically sex hormones, have been shown to affect our hair similarly, sparking the colorless strands.
How to easily transition from dyed hair to natural gray
It’s important to know that once you start, you’re in it for the long haul — and should plan on frequent trips to your stylist or stock up on boxed color. “You may need to see your colorist every couple of weeks to have your hair toned to keep the transition blended and get rid of any unwanted brassiness in the previously colored part of your hair,” explains celebrity hairstylist and PURA D’OR partner Clyde Haygood, who works with Kris Jenner. Scroll down for tips to tone your hair at home.
Here, the 3 most important steps to going gray gracefully.
Step 1 to going gray gracefully: Consider a shorter cut
“The way to cause the least damage would be to cut your hair short and let it grow out.,” says Haygood. He suggests a layered bob (like Helen Mirren’s) or a pixie cut (like Jamie Lee Curtis sports) for a chic style while you’re growing out your hair. “Wearing hats, head scarves or pinning hair up can also help you transition,” he adds. If you want to keep your length, you can add lowlights or highlights to hide the demarcation line (the line where the gray meets color pigment),” advises Renegar. (Click here to learn more about how to add subtle highlights at home.)
Step 2 to going gray gracefully: Keep gray hair hydrated
“Since gray hair is generally coarse, dull and lifeless due to less sebum, it’s important to keep strands hydrated,” advises Renagar. Haygood notes that blondes may not require as much care as those with darker, coarse hair, which can tend to look “wiry” when it turns gray.
Haygood suggests a purple shampoo and conditioner specially formulated for gray strands, like PURA D’OR Color Harmony (Buy from Amazon, $25.99), which will diminish brassy tones and contain essential nutrients silver strands need like biotin, keratin, bamboo fibers and argan oil, which thicken hair and help keep it shiny.
Given its dryer texture, gray hair can also be prone to breakage. Stylists say to look for products that contain Hemi15 (like 4U by Tia MultiUse Hair Oil with Vitamin E and Hemi15: Buy Walmart, $10.97), which is an ingredient derived from sugarcane and has been studied to help moisturize hair without weighing it down.
Step 3 to going gray gracefully: Smooth and cover the in-betweens:
Gray roots? Use a semi-permanent root touch-up dye, like Clairol Semi Permanent Root Touch-Up Color Blending Gel (Buy from CVS, $11.99) close to your hair shade to blend the line of demarcation between grays and the rest of your color, suggests celebrity hair colorist Nikki Lee, who has worked with Eva Longoria, Geri Halliwell and Heidi Klum. Since this is only semi-permanent, it will fade in about six weeks. You can reapply as necessary until you’ve got enough growth to appear all gray.
Halfway gray? Petrizzi suggests refreshing hair with a tinted gloss. “The glaze neutralizes the ‘dirty’ and dulling yellow tones gray hair tends to take on, and it smooths the cuticle to boost strand shine and vibrancy.” Simply apply a gloss, like AGEbeautiful Topcoat Toner in Beige Blonde (Buy from Sally Beauty, $10.99) to damp hair, combing through from roots to ends to evenly distribute the formula. Let sit for 10 minutes, then rinse. Use twice a month to maintain results.
Completely gray? Spritz hair with a lightening mist, like John Frieda Go Blonder Hair Lightening Spray (Buy from Walmart, $12.28). It contains citrus and chamomile extracts, which naturally sharpen gray tones for brighter color.
Brassy grays? Grab some baking soda. Mix ¼ cup of baking soda and one tablespoon of water, and gently rub on damp hair for one minute. Let sit for 10 minutes, then rinse. This will keep pollution and products from discoloring hair.
Dull strands? Add shine with chamomile tea. The tea of choice, when you’re under the weather or looking to unwind, is also a great choice when you’re looking to gloss up dead and dull strands, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. Simply steep three chamomile tea bags in two cups of boiling water, let it cool and then pour onto damp hair. Let sit for ten minutes, then rinse. If you want to add extra oomph, mix in ¼ cup of apple cider vinegar and a squeeze of lemon juice!
Two growing gray gracefully success stories
Want some going-gray inspiration? Check out the stories of these 2 women who embraced going gray gracefully:
1. Katie Emery, 55
“When I was 50, I turned to the internet for ways to ease into the transition of going gray and was shocked by the lack of positive information. Most articles were more along the lines of ‘Help! My hair is going gray,'” explains Katie Emery.
“I had no blogging experience, but thought, Why not create the kind of blog I want to read? So I hired a WordPress tutor to learn the basics, took online blogging courses and searched Facebook groups to help with the learning curve,” Emery says.
“In 2018, I launched, Katie Goes Platinum. It includes my journey, real-life stories from other women who are going gray, as well as resources and products to help others with the transition.”
“After just a few months, I applied to MediaVine, which helps bloggers succeed in advertising, to help me ramp up my profit. Today, I earn $3,500 a month in ads and affiliate sales. I also have a full-time job, so I squeeze in about 25 hours on my blog per week during the nights. This extra income helps keep my family afloat and also have a little more fun, whether it means eating out or taking a fun trip!”
“Blogging is so fulfilling: It feeds into my creative side and has opened up a whole new community that I didn’t even know existed. It was so empowering to start this new journey at age 52 — I’m not even close to slowing down.” — as told to Hannah Chenoweth
See more tips from Katie below:
2. Susan Albers, 59
“I found my first gray at just 16 years old, and by the time I was in my 20s, they were coming in fast and furious. Every three weeks, I would break out the bottle of color or head to yet another pricey salon appointment to hide them,” says Susan Albers. “As I got older, I would see women far older than me still coloring their hair — and it just seemed so obvious. ‘Why, then, am I still coloring MY hair?'”
“The more I thought about it, the more determined I became to let my grays shine. My stylist and friends tried to discourage me, saying, ‘You’re going to look 10 years older!’ But all I wanted was to be a reasonable version of my current age—whatever that may look like.”
“The grow-out process was awkward at times, but worth it. At age 48, I started the growing-out process. For a while, temporary color on my roots helped the contrast be less obvious. Sure, there were some awkward moments, but my motto became, ‘Wear it like you mean it!’ I’d walk outside with confidence, pretending I looked ‘normal.'”
“It took about three months, and there were some awkward moments, but it was worth it. The maintenance is so much easier.”
“Besides shampooing and conditioning, I don’t do a thing to my hair now, and going gray gracefully has been liberating. Plus, my husband loves it! He truly thinks I am more beautiful today than when I was a brunette.”
“Having a support system makes all the difference. Ever since, I’ve wanted to encourage women to embrace their age and appearance. Strangers stop me on the street and tell me they love my hair and would do it too if theirs would look as good. So I give them my cellphone number and tell them to text me for encouragement. When they take the plunge, I’ll be their biggest fan!”— as told to Kathryn Streeter.
To read more about caring for gray hair and going gray gracefully, click on these stories