Going Gray Doesn’t Mean Giving Up. Here's How To Keep It Looking Great

That “natural” look can be helped along with all kinds of services and products.
Just because you've stopped dyeing your hair doesn't mean it'll survive without any TLC.
Andreas Kuehn via Getty Images
Just because you've stopped dyeing your hair doesn't mean it'll survive without any TLC.

No matter what age you are, you deserve to look and feel your best. And if you’ve decided to let your hair go gray, you still have plenty of options that will help you look your absolute best at any age. “Going gray doesn’t mean giving up,” said Tim Foster, stylist and colorist at District on 50th in Minneapolis. “I think it shows confidence.”

Many stylists agree that gray can be the ultimate power color. Tom Smith, stylist and trend forecaster, said, “Going gray can be incredibly liberating. It has the power to look incredibly sleek, sharp and chic.” Tarryn Feldman said, “Embracing gray hair can be a beautiful and empowering experience.”

Stylist Bradley Leake, owner of the Santa Monica salon Brdy Jay, commented, “A trend we love to see is embracing natural hair color. Gray is just that — it’s natural, and it’s beautiful, and I think gray is having its own moment right now.”

But that doesn’t mean it that it doesn’t need good care. Below, experts reveal the ways to go gray gracefully.

The science of gray hair

Yes, graying hair is a product of aging, but many people don’t realize what’s actually happening as the color of their youth is replaced by something different. “The biggest misconception about gray hair is that it is actually gray in color,” Smith said. “It’s actually the gradual halting of pigment production in the follicle of each hair, one strand at a time.”

Smith suggested taking a closer look to understand what’s happening: “If you look closely at a head of gray hair, you’ll see it’s not just one color, but a mix of your original darker color and scattered colorless strands. That’s the reason some people’s gray hair looks more charcoal or slate-colored, while others’ looks creamier or more beige-toned.” He’s recorded a short video that explains the process in more detail.

Marilisa Sears, artistic director at Mav Beauty, noted that more than just color is changing on a graying head. “The actual circumference of the hair can shrink, making hair thinner, including the cuticle,” she said.

The sharpness in contrast depends on your original color, too, said stylist and Kerasilk ambassador Harry Josh. “Gray hair is more visible when you have darker hair color. For example, if you have dark brown hair and you’re still dying it, you’ll start to see gray within two to three weeks after coloring, because the color is so extreme compared to the starting point.”

The right cut can go a long way toward making your grays look more beautiful.
Flashpop via Getty Images
The right cut can go a long way toward making your grays look more beautiful.

Make salon visits count

Just because you’re on the offramp of the Hair Dye Highway, you can still give your locks some well-deserved care at your favorite salon. For one thing, having the right cut matters more than ever after you go gray, many stylists said. “Having a foundation of a strong cut specifically designed for you does wonders for the overall look of gray hair,” said stylist Rod Anker.

“There’s a misconception that gray hair requires no maintenance,” Feldman said. “In reality, gray hair can be coarser and drier than pigmented hair, so it requires more moisture and specific care.”

“Quality hair care is crucial for gray hair,” Leake agreed. “If left to its own devices, gray hair can become extremely weak, often leading to that ‘wiry’ look. Simple treatments will make the biggest difference on the texture of your hair, which is just as important as the color, if not more so.” What are some treatments to consider? “A complete game-changer for gray hair is deep conditioning or repair treatments,” he said.

And even if you’re happy avoiding covering dye, there are color options that really might help your look stand out — and give your locks some pampering, too. Stylist Mickey Bolek, owner of the Michael Anthony Salon in Washington, D.C., said, “Semi-permanent colors to enhance the gray can also increase shine and softness.”

Bolek also mentioned a new perm technology that can help newly wiry hair. The Curl Cult perm “is not what you remember from the ’80s and ’90s,” he assured. “It’s 100% vegan and uses amino acids instead of harsh chemicals. It softens hair instead of snapping it off.”

The best at-home treatments for gray hair

For daily care, it’s important to pay attention to the texture and condition of your graying hair. “Using a clarifying shampoo from time to time will minimize the level of impurities that more-porous gray hair will absorb, keeping it bright and shiny.”

More than ever, moisture matters. “The goal is to get hair to the point where it is fully moisturized, since that will prevent breakage and add shine,” Sears said. “You want to ensure that your hair has enough moisture. Feldman said that drier and more brittle gray hair “makes deep conditioning treatments crucial.” She suggested intensive at-home moisturizing treatments to help restore hydration, improve texture and enhance hair’s overall health and appearance. How often? Josh said, “If your hair texture has changed, I recommend doing weekly intensive treatments like masks and leave-ins.”

If you’re noticing that your hair has taken on a yellow overtone, Anker said that can be caused by the quality and type of water you’re using. “If this does happen, then adding a purple shampoo into your rotation may be a good idea,” he said. That purple shampoo is a perennial stylist favorite, and many mentioned it as a good option. Foster said: “It will cut the yellow and make your hair silver and sparkly.”

But beware of too much of this good purple thing, Smith warned. “Just don’t overuse it, as it can cause your gray to become slightly or even fully lavender-colored.”

Tempting reasons to go gray

If you’re looking for a bit of validation for your decision to go gray, you’ll find lots of it from stylists. Feldman noted that hair health is one key factor. “Going gray can be a healthier option for your hair, since you’re avoiding frequent dyeing with harsh chemicals, leading to stronger, healthier hair.”

Need more reasons? Leake said, “Embracing your gray hair is a serious money-saving beauty hack, since you’ll be cutting down significantly on salon visits for dye maintenance.”

He went on to say, “In essence, going gray is an opportunity to embrace your natural beauty and express yourself with authenticity. It’s a personal choice that can reflect confidence, maturity and self-acceptance. So if you’re considering letting your natural gray hair shine through, know that it can be a stylish and empowering decision.”

Products the experts suggest

“Gray hair doesn’t make you old,” Leake said. “But it does mean it’s time to invest in some quality hair care that will keep you feeling healthy, youthful, bouncy, and beautiful.” Here are some stylist recommendations:

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Matrix So Silver Purple Shampoo
This highly rated shampoo promises to add brightness for natural hair ranging from gray to white shades.
Paul Mitchell Shampoo Two
This top-rated clarifying shampoo removes buildup on all hair types.
Philip Kingsley Elasticizer Deep-Conditioning Treatment
Smith said, "This is a great pre-shampoo treatment that gives elasticity and brings life back into all hair types. Because gray hair tends to be drier and more brittle, this is a great choice to keep your hair silky and bouncy."

Keune Care Keratin Smooth Shampoo
"I'm into smooth," Bolek said. "This shampoo smooths the cuticle, which is your hair's protective layer."
Keune Care Satin Oil
“It puts luster back into hair," Bolek said.

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