Say it with us: “Gray” is not a four-letter word.
While there’s no shame in covering your gray hairs, there’s certainly no shame in flaunting them proudly, either!
Like it or not, gray hair is an inevitability. You might not see your first silver strand until you’re well into your 30s, or it might unexpectedly pop up while you’re still a teen. Since preventing
gray hair isn’t an option — you can’t stop Mother Nature, after all — all you can do is decide how you want to handle your grays.
Depending on your hair color and type, you might want to cover your grays instead of letting them grow in, and we get it! Making the full transition can definitely feel daunting. But if you’re ready, good news: There’s no shortage of ways to deal with your natural grays hair.
To get the lowdown on how to go gray, we talked to an expert: Hairstory ambassador Whitney Lichty, aka Silver Strands of Glitter, who’s been giving us major hair envy since October 2019.
So, why’d she decide to ditch the dye and embrace her grays?
“My decision to grow my natural hair color started way before I stopped dying my hair,” says Whitney. “I spent years thinking about it, researching it, and trying to understand the reasons behind why I felt the need to color my hair for so long.
When I finally started my journey, one of the biggest supporters, aside from my husband, has been the community that I found on Instagram—not only growing and documenting their natural hair color but embracing it, embracing aging, and encouraging self-love. My hope was that I could give that same kind of encouragement to others.”
What’s the Best Way to Transition to Gray Hair?
Going gray gracefully can be a delicate matter because it’s not a one-size-fits-all process. Once the first grays start appearing, there’s no way of knowing how quickly the others will follow suit. It could take decades for your hair to go totally gray, or just a few years. There are exceptions, of course, but while a condition like poliosis or extreme trauma can cause your hair to suddenly turn white, you’re more likely to come out of it with a streak like Rogue from X-Men, rather than fully white hair like Storm.
So when it comes to transitioning to gray hair, there’s no one way to do it. There are all sorts of factors to consider, including your natural color, hair type, and how much of your hair is already gray.
“There are many ways that you can transition your hair,” says Whitney, “including having your hair dyed to match your roots, adding lowlights or highlights to help with the line of demarcation [i.e. the line where your pigment meets the grays, cutting your hair short, or simply letting your natural hair color grow out.”
Her advice? “Meet with a trusted stylist and come up with a plan that will work for you and your hair.”
Here are a few of the options you might consider:
Option 1: Dying Your Hair to Match Your Roots
For the most part, this approach will be simpler the lighter your hair is. Blondes generally have an easier time dying their hair, in part because they don’t have to bleach it first the way those with brown or black hair often do before coloring it.
No matter the color, though, dying hair that’s already been dyed can be particularly tricky because that color will have to be stripped before the gray dye can be applied. With a little patience, though, any shade of hair can be dyed gray — you just need the right colorist.
First, though, ask yourself this: Is the reason you’re considering this route because you’re sick of the upkeep that goes along with covering your grays, and you think this is a sort of one-and-done option? If so, keep in mind that there is a certain level of maintenance involved with caring for hair that’s been dyed gray.
For instance, lighter shades of gray hair dye tend to fade faster than darker shades, so you’ll have to spend more time and money on maintaining the look. As for how often you can dye your hair, it really depends on how your hair responds to the dye. Washing your hair less often (and using silver, blue, or purple shampoo when you do), limiting heat styling, and using a heat protectant like Hairstory Dressed Up Hair Protector will help keep the dye from fading too quickly.
Option 2: Adding Lowlights or Highlights
This option is similar to the above, but it’s not as much of a commitment and allows you to keep your pre-gray color longer by creating a softer contrast between your pigmented hair and your gray hair.
If you have fully gray roots, you can also talk to your colorist about giving your hair an ombre effect to soften the transition between the roots and your pigmented hair.
Option 3: Cutting Your Hair Short
If you have a distinct line of demarcation, lobbing off all the hair below it is by far the easiest method for transitioning to gray hair. Search for images of pixie haircuts, or try pinning your hair up to give yourself an idea of what it’ll look like short.
Option 4: Letting the Grays Grow Out
Of course, you might not be ready for a big cut like that, especially if you’re used to having long hair. Letting your new natural color come in is another easy way to go gray, though this can be frustrating depending on how fast your hair grows. You also might not love the way it looks if your once dark hair is slowly growing in a light, silvery gray. If your line of demarcation is particularly pronounced, though, there’s a super simple way to camouflage it.
“Playing with different hairstyles while you are growing out your hair can help you find different styles that are better at disguising your line of demarcation if you are feeling self-conscious, or help you show off your silvers if you are feeling confident,” says Whitney.
As for dealing with what can feel like an excruciating wait for your grays to grow long enough, Whitney has some great advice for that as well.
“Take pictures!” she says. “When you are dying your hair, it can feel like your roots show up after one week, but when you are purposefully growing out your roots time can feel like it’s at a standstill. There were months when I wasn’t even sure my hair was growing at all. Documenting your grow-out can be a great visual representation along the way.”
You could even take a page out of her book and post your journey to Instagram, where there are plenty of other people transitioning to gray hair!
Maintaining Your Gray Hair
In the long run, letting your hair go gray will save you both time and money, but it’s still hair that you need to take care of, and it comes with its own set of special requirements.
Managing New Textures
When hair turns gray, the texture often changes, which means you might need to rework your haircare routine.
“Managing the changing texture of your gray hair will mean something different for each individual,” says Whitney. “Part of this gray hair journey, for me, has been embracing the texture that has come with it. My gray hair is dry and is growing in a bit unruly. I make sure to deep condition weekly to keep it moisturized and help fight some of the frizz.”
While gray hair texture does vary from person to person, one thing you can almost certainly count on is having drier hair. Cut back on regular shampoos, which often contain harsh chemicals and detergents, and try a shampoo-alternative like Hairstory New Wash or New Wash Rich. They both help combat dryness and maintain hydration.
Braving the Elements
As hair loses its pigment, it becomes more porous, and therefore more prone to absorbing pollutants and hair discoloring agents, such as:
- Impure air
- Smoky environments
- Shampoos with artificial colorants
One of the easiest ways to protect your hair from things like smoke and pollution is by wearing a head covering, like a hat or a scarf, when you go outside. If you notice poor air quality taking a toll on your hair, wash it regularly with a gentle cleanser.
Going Gray Gracefully FAQs:
Do I Need to Revamp My Look?
As you go gray, you might wonder if you need to start adding more color into your makeup routine or wardrobe now that your hair isn’t bringing any. According to Whitney, it’s entirely up to you.
“I personally have not changed a single thing about my makeup since going gray,” she says. “I have had conversations with women who feel washed out with gray hair, which is easy to understand when you have spent years with your face framed with color just to have that color replaced with a cooler, more muted shade.
If this is the case, adding a pop of color like a brighter lip gloss or blush can be an easy and great way to bring some additional color to your face.”
How Do I Know I’ll Look Great With Gray Hair — And Not Just Older?
To be totally honest, there’s no way of knowing what your gray hair will look like until you start growing it out, and even then it’ll take some time before you have enough length to get a decent idea. Your top layers might come in a much lighter gray than your bottom layers, or you might notice a lot of your hair coming in a darker gray with light gray streaks. Much like curl patterns, your gray pattern will be unique to you.
Not knowing what your hair will look like can make the thought of going gray even more intimidating, and we certainly won’t judge you if you aren’t quite ready to take the plunge. However, it’s important to think about why exactly you’re so hesitant to do so.
It’s no secret that gray hair signifies getting older, something that’s unfortunately not always embraced in our society. Wanting to hide gray hair is usually a result of wanting to appear young — which is understandable. But, as Whitney puts it, “Growing out your natural hair color is about being unapologetically yourself. It’s about respecting, valuing, and loving yourself for more than your appearance.”
And if you are finally ready to do so and you get some not-so-nice feedback from friends or family, Whitney has the perfect response: “Thanks for your opinion, but what makes you happy is not what makes me happy.”
To Gray or Not to Gray?
That’s really what it comes down to — what makes you happiest, whether it’s covering up your grays or fully accepting them.
“Though not everyone’s experience is the same, it has been a great transition for me thus far,” says Whitney. “Growing my gray hair out has only increased my confidence, my self-love, my self-respect, and my empathy. My intent is never to make anyone feel bad for dying their hair or to convince anyone that they need to grow out their natural hair color, but rather that they have a choice.”
Her final words of wisdom? “My encouragement would be to give it a try. You never know, you might just fall in love with your natural hair color!”