For most of us, gray hair is inevitable―but it comes with a lovely silver lining: a confident elegance that many women choose for style, as well as freedom from extra hours in a salon chair.
"I get more compliments on my hair now than in the 24 years I was dying it," says Anne Kreamer, author of Going Gray: What I Learned about Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity, and Everything Else that Really Matters. "Part of the reason I colored my hair for so long is that I believed I needed to reflect how young I felt inside," she says. "But I actually feel younger with gray hair."
Whether silver strands have just begun to show or you're completely gray, embracing your true color requires a few small adjustments to your styling routine. Try our expert tips to help keep your hair luxurious and lovely.
If you're seeing the first signs of gray . . .
What to expect: "Melanocytes, or cells that produce pigment in hair, stop functioning at a certain age, and hair comes out lighter, until more and more of it is gray," says David Bank, MD, director of the Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic and Laser Surgery in Mount Kisco, New York, and author of Beautiful Skin: Every Woman's Guide to Looking Her Best at Any Age. Where there are a few isolated gray strands, the tonal differences can have an effect similar to highlights. "My hair color is gradually changing, and I've noticed all these wonderful nuances and shades in it," Kreamer says. "People ask me who does my hair, and my response is always 'Mother Nature.'"
Gray hair has care requirements different from the tresses with which you're born―it's typically coarser. "The gray hair is less smooth and flexible than your hair was when you were younger," Bank says.
Styling solutions: In addition to different texture, hormonal changes mean your skin produces fewer natural oils, and that can leave gray hair feeling dry. To help remedy this, switch to hydrating shampoos and conditioners, says Ranella Hirsch, MD, a dermatologist in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Logics Color DNA System Age Revitalize Radiance Conditioner for Very Dry, Damaged Hair ($26) contains reconstructive proteins, nourishing essential fatty acids, and moisturizing glycerin. Once a week, treat tresses to a vitamin-infused deep-conditioning treatment. We like Garnier Fructis Sleek and Shine Fortifying Deep Conditioner ($7), with vitamins B3 and B6 and fragrant, nourishing extracts of avocado and apricot.
If your hair is totally gray . . .
What to expect: In addition to increased dryness and flyaways, your hair's new needs may dictate a switch in styling products. "Because gray hair is less reflective, you'll want a styling product with dimethicone, or weightless silicone, to add shine," says Martha Clemence, regional educator and stylist for Fantastic Sams Hair Salons in Atlanta. One to try: Dove Body and Lift Volumizing Mousse ($5), which provides gloss as well as light hold.
To further enhance shine, Clemence recommends a clear glaze treatment. "It temporarily closes the outside layer of hair, making it more reflective," she says. An in-salon glaze is temporary color that's sheer or has a neutralizing quality. It will wash out in one to six weeks. At-home glazes create shine with smoothing silicones; they typically last for a single shampoo. Try John Frieda Collection Luminous Color Glaze Clear Shine ($10).
Styling solutions: A shapely cut can be a rejuvenating update. "Look for a contemporary style―such as an updated shag―with more layers on the top of the head to help hair look fuller," Clemence says.
Once you've found the right cut, use a shampoo and conditioner meant to brighten gray hair. "They temporarily coat the outside of the hair, similar to volumizing conditioners and shampoos," Bank says. Previous versions had a downside―they left a slightly blue or lavender tinge to help compensate for the yellowing effect some women experience as their hair loses pigment. New types don't deposit color and are protein-enriched to strengthen strands. Try Pantene Pro-V Silver Expressions Shampoo ($6), which contains citric acid to gently remove hard water deposits and product buildup―both potential causes of dull or discolored-looking gray.