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Just because you’re going gray doesn’t mean you’re about to start rocking a senior citizen discount. Surprise: Gray hair can grow at any age and it can be pretty stunning if you make the gray hair transition.
It’s increasingly popular to embrace silvery locks as its own lewk. And that’s in addition to it being lower maintenance and way friendlier to your wallet and hair than coloring it. (Although coloring your hair is totally cool, too!)
But, there are a few things to know before you embark on a gray hair transition of your own. We chatted with Cody Moorefield, freelance hairstylist and colorist in New York City, to get the deets on how to transition to gray hair.
Hair doesn’t go gray because it’s damaged or dead. Gray hair simply means the hair follicles are no longer making melanin (aka your hair pigment). This can happen over time as your hair produces less pigment and you’re left with silver, gray, and white strands.
Genetics are mostly responsible for when you start to gray, although sometimes hair can start to gray after an illness or intense stress.
By the time you’re 60, pretty much everyone has gray hairs. If you have gray hairs popping up before your 30s, you could loosely call this premature graying, although it really just depends on your genetics when you start to get gray hairs.
“People just gray when they gray,” Moorefield explains. “Some people gray when they’re teens, some people don’t gray until their 40s.” (We see you, genetics.)
How long it takes to become a silver fox — we mean, fully transition to gray hair — will sorta depend on what you’ve done to your grays in the past.
Hair grows about half an inch a month on average, so you can expect your locks to grow about 6 inches per year.
According to Moorefield, you pretty much have two options for growing out your grays:
- Stop coloring and let it grow out on its own, then eventually cut the colored hair off when it gets long enough.
- Continue to color your hair as you grow out your grays.
The second option is trickier, but it’s doable. It may take “multiple sessions with your colorist before it is completely perfect, but it is possible,” says Moorefield.
“Either way, you are usually looking at months of transition,” he adds. “There is really no quick way to transition… unless you cut it all off.”
tl;dr: be patient!
If you’re ready to commit to growing out your gray hair, there’s actually a bunch of at-home and salon treatments to help you transition your natural gray locks (and cheat time).
Here’s how to make the transition a little easier as you wait it out.
1. Don’t pluck your grays!
Remember that episode of “Full House” where Aunt Becky told Uncle Jesse that if he plucked a gray hair, two more would grow in its place? OK, that’s not true, but Aunt Becky was still right about not plucking.
Plucking your grays is just going to make your gray hair transition take longer, explains Moorefield. Once you start to gray, it doesn’t stop, so let ’em grow.
2. Use purple-based shampoos
If you remember the color wheel from art class, purple is opposite yellow. A purple shampoo may help tame the color transition because it will neutralize yellow tones in hair, especially blonde hair.
When blonde hair goes gray, the grays will look more yellow because it has more yellow undertones in the melanin, Moorefield explains.
If your hair doesn’t have any yellow tones to it, then “purple shampoo isn’t necessary,” says Moorefield. So if you have brown and black hair — which have blue/violet undertones — you don’t need it to help the transition.
3. Splurge on a new showerhead
Hard water basically means the acqua in your water system is high in dissolved minerals, like calcium. If your gray hair is looking yellow, hard water might be the culprit.
You can easily filter hard water with a new shower head. An inexpensive one will set you back $25 to $30 at the hardware store. You can also DIY a vinegar-based cleaner to clean deposits off your existing shower head, but your water will still be hard.
4. Camouflage your grays with demi-permanent hair color
Another strategy Moorefield suggests is to camouflage grays with a less permanent hair color as it grows out. Demi-permanent hair color doesn’t fully penetrate the hair strand like permanent color does and it lasts 6 to 8 weeks.
“It’s a great option for transitioning because it does not have the hard grow out line that permanent hair color does,” says Moorefield.
Demi-permanent subtly tints your hair and looks more like highlights (but it’s not actually highlights). The idea is that your grays will grow out with less of a hard color line and then fade off.
5. Hide grays in plain sight with highlights
Highlights aren’t just for making your hair look like you just got back from a beach vacation — they’re also light enough to mask grays.
Moorefield says he has one client who he gives babylights (aka a white-blonde highlight in a permanent color) near the client’s part line. The babylight blends in with the client’s grays, so they look more like blonde. Magic!
6. … or with lowlights
Lowlights involve darkening hair, so it looks darker than your natural hair color. (In other words, your natural color takes on the role of the highlight.) Getting lowlights in a permanent color similar to your natural color also works to camouflage grays as they grow.
7. Go for an ombré
It can be a lot easier for natural blondes to embrace the gray tradition, but you can also fake it. Ombré hair is a darker-to-lighter look. If you have blonde hair, you can do a reverse shoulder length ombré while growing out your grays (think grayer on top and darker blonde on the bottom).
8. Get the right cut
The right haircut can mean everything to transitioning to gray. It can help shorten the growth time and make the transition look more seamless.
There’s several different hairstyles and haircuts that go hand in hand with going gray. But in reality, you can style your hair however the heck you want as you make the transition.
If you’re ready for a new do, go ahead and start making that Pinterest board for gray hair inspo with some of these picks.
- Hair up. A ponytail, French braid, or just a messy bun can help distract from the harshness of the transition if you’re going gray without any salon help.
- Classic bob. A classic bob can help cut down growth time, while still looking put together.
- Shaved head. It’s not for the faint of heart, but gray hair on a shaved head can be undeniably cool. Don’t believe us? Just Google “Amber Rose buzzcut.” We’ll wait.
- Pixie cut. Pixies can be a lot of work because they need to be trimmed frequently. But, if you’re ready for a throwback style, this could be the easiest way of all to embrace your grays — just keep trimming to your gray roots!
- Bangs. Not up for letting go of your long locks? Bangs already look bangin’ (sorry) on their own, but they can also help pull your gray hair into more of a look.
When you transition to gray hair, you’re also going to need to transition your hair care products — not your frequency of washing, though. “Wash as much as you would your non-gray hair,” says Moorefield.
- Shampoos for gray hair. There are plenty of shampoos made specifically for gray hair. Many of these are purple shampoos and can help you care for those grays and get rid of any yellowing. Also try to avoid parabens and sodium sulfates in your shampoos (these can overstrip your already dry hair).
- Conditioners for gray hair. Yup, there’s also purple conditioner to go with your purple shampoo. You’ll want a conditioner to help lock in moisture without weighing down your strands.
- Moisturizing styling products. “Some people experience a texture change when going gray, so a hair care regimen that is more moisturizing or smoothing can alleviate some of the dryness or wiry texture that gray can have,” Moorefield says. He recommends using hair products containing argan oil to soften the texture of hair.
- Be careful with heat styling. “Gray hair can be more resistant to styling, so you may find you need heavier styling products or a little more heat,” Moorefield says. Too much heat can bring out yellow tones in gray hair, so go low and slow.
Gray hair or silver hair isn’t just for grandma and grandpa. It’s totally normal to start going gray in your 20s and 30s, just thank genetics. If you’re ready to fully embrace gray hair, you can kick off the transition at home and at the salon.
Fortunately, it’s possible to make the transition — you just have to be patient!