What woman doesn’t stand at the mirror, spy an ashen strand at her temple, and think to herself, But I’m not ready to have gray hair? It doesn’t matter if we’re in our early 20s or decades older -- we all perceive gray hair to be the thing that announces to the world that we’re older than we look and feel.
Gray hair is really just science at work: Whether you’re a brunette, a blonde, or a redhead, your hair gets its color from melanin. Sun exposure, stress, certain autoimmune diseases, and, yes, age can all contribute to waning melanin production. Likewise, a naturally occurring buildup in the body of hydrogen peroxide -- that natural bleaching agent -- can affect hair and wash out one’s gorgeous color. “As the melanocytes in the scalp shut down, hair can also become dry, coarse, and wiry,” says Philip B., a Berlin-based hair expert.
Thankfully, you have plenty of options -- from at-home hair dye to salon treatments and even nutritional supplements. (L’Oréal is rumored to be developing a “no-gray” pill that utilizes enzymes to pump up melanin in strands.) Whether you’re trying to cover, protect, or accept your grays, turn the page to get color-wise.
It all starts so innocently -- an errant silver strand poking out from the pack. But where there’s one, you can be sure others will (eventually) follow. Resist the temptation to grab the tweezers. No, tweezing doesn’t encourage regrowth in triplicate -- but it’s not a sustainable solution as more hairs turn gray. And more to the point: Plucking can damage the follicle and lead to thinning hair over time.
Reach for a temporary liquid color to hide the offenders. These brush-, spray-, and draw-on solutions stay put until shampooed out, without flaking off onto your brush, hands, and bed linens. Choose a tone that matches your highlights or base color, and use restraint when layering on more. Most temporary hair paints tend to make hair color more matte, so use a light hand and just tinge the grays to subdue them.
You want to fix it and forget it -- for the short term. The goal’s not to search-and-destroy grays but to distract the eye with beautiful color.
In the early stages of gray, consider highlights to soften the contrast between your base color and the grays. Or color your whole head with an ammonia-free, demipermanent hair color that matches your base shade. It turns those silver strands slightly lighter than your base, which, says Philip B., “creates nice variations in tone.”
When you’re about 50 percent gray, it’s decision-making time: Do you want to keep hiding your gray -- and how much upkeep are you willing to do? “The darker your base color, the more maintenance,” says John Frieda International creative consultant Harry Josh, who recommends highlights as well as permanent color to avoid a “shoe-polish look” and to soften the line of demarcation as roots grow in.
You’d like to protect those newly dyed strands from color loss. Dying makes hair strands more porous, so the more you shampoo those locks, the quicker the grays you covered will reemerge.
Safeguard fresh color with a shampoo formulated for color-treated hair that contains gentle cleansers and moisturizers that won’t disturb the cuticle and strip color.
You can also consider a color-depositing shampoo or an at-home gloss -- both of which deposit color each time you suds up -- to temporarily tint hair and obscure grays. They may, however, slightly alter the initial color, so if that’s a concern, stick with a basic shampoo for colored locks.
And don’t forget to amp up your conditioning routine. “Shine camouflages grays,” says Philip B.
You’ve committed to going au naturel. Just think of all the time and money you’ll save! As more and more high-profile women are embracing their streaks, you’ll find there’s no lack of products or information to ease the transition from partially to totally gray.
Tackle the texture first. A weekly moisture mask will help soften coarse gray strands. You’ll also want to switch to a violet-tinged shampoo to help neutralize yellow tones; even white hair can turn brassy from UV rays and minerals in the water. Ilise Harris, a New York City-area hairstylist, also recommends adapting your hairstyle “to add an edge or some personality.” Then, to keep from looking washed out, cap off your look with a pop of color elsewhere -- such as a colorful eyewear frame, a bright blush, or a bold lip color.
Pantene Pro-V Color Enhancing Silver Expressions shampoo and conditioner, from $5 each, pantene.com