Feeling ready to embrace your grey hair? We’ve got you. This grey hair guide covers everything you need to know about caring for grey hair, whether you’re rocking a silver streak or are in that awkward transitional phase where you’re letting your greys grow in.
Working a grey hair streak
We’ve all had the urge to tweeze grey hairs when they sprout up, but resist. “Plucking out grey hairs can damage the follicle, and then sometimes your hair just won’t grow back,” says Toronto-based hairstylist Kristjan Hayden. “As your number of greys increases, you will end up pulling out more and more. Since hair naturally thins as you get older, you don’t want to encourage it.”
Blend the texture
Since grey hair lacks pigment, it tends to have a different texture than the rest of your mane. “On finer hair, greys could be coarse, and on coarser hair, they can be fine, or sometimes it can be a combination of the two,” says Joan Novak, an independent colour stylist based in Whistler, B.C. To have your greys play nice with the rest of your hair, styling tools and products are essential. Novak recommends using a smoothing cream to manage your hair and to help control frizz. Ingrid Reinhart, a Toronto hairstylist, swears by hair oils to coax stubborn strands into place.
For those pesky silver strands that still don’t want to co-operate, try this easy hair hack. “A hairspray can do wonders when sprayed onto the fingers and used to smooth out particular greys,” says Hayden. When you spot treat these areas, you can pinch and pull the wiry hairs into place. “Sometimes those hairs just need a little bit of tension and product to make them match the texture of the rest of your hair.”
Transitioning to grey hair
Chop it off
Minimize that awkward stage when your greys are growing in with a stylish snip. “A sophisticated short haircut pretty much eliminates the growing-out stage,” says Hayden. Due to the varying textures of grey hair, going for a shorter hairstyle can help control hair that becomes harder to manage at longer lengths. A shorter style also works well with soft, finer greys, as less length won’t weigh hair down, giving structure and body to limp strands.
Layer it up
If short hair feels too drastic, it isn’t your only option. You can also opt for long layers that are slightly dishevelled to help diffuse grey roots, says Reinhart. Just ensure you’re armed with the proper styling tools—like an ace hair dryer—to make the most of your new do.
“Women believe that when it comes to colouring grey, it’s all or nothing,” says Novak, “but there are ways to work with it.” Novak often uses highlighting and lowlighting techniques to blend greys with semi-permanent colour to soften the regrowth line. “You don’t have to fully stop colouring your hair, and you don’t have to do all-over colour anymore either.” This process of using highlights and lowlights to gradually filter in your natural greys can take several months, but it will help blend your grey roots during the transition while still enhancing your style.
Find the right hair dye
If you’re using hair colour at home to blend your greys, Novak suggests using semi-permanent dye for a softer look. “Blending is when you can still see your grey hair through the dye. So it’s basically putting a hint of colour on the grey,” says Novak, “but not completely masking it.”
Caring for salt and pepper hair
Opt for clear styling products
Now that your greys are on full display, you want them looking their best, but some styling products might be dulling your hair. Next time you reach for your go-to hairspray or leave-in conditioner, take a look at the colour of the product. “Often they have a golden tint to them, which can tint your grey hair over time, giving your mane a brassy or blond-like finish,” says Hayden. The solution is simple: Swap out any yellow-based products for clear alternatives.
Watch your heat levels
Using blow-dryers and hot tools will help you create different hairstyles, but be wary of blasting silver strands with too much heat, as it can yellow or tint your hair. “It depends on how strong your hair is,” says Hayden. “Finer hair is more sensitive to higher temperatures, but coarser hair can take a bit more heat.” To avoid frying your mane, turn down the dial on your hot tools and use a heat-protectant styling product. You can also opt for non-heated tools like Velcro rollers to get your desired style.
Scan ingredient lists
Grey hair tends to be on the drier side, so using a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner is key for hydration. But all hydrating products are not the same. Avoid dimethicone, a type of silicone that’s commonly used in all types of hair products. “[Dimethicone] is not water-soluble, so sometimes if it’s in high quantities in products, it can go into your hair and not wash out, which will weigh your hair down,” says Hayden. This can particularly affect soft white hair that requires more volume.
Going for silver
Try a gloss
“Typically, grey hair is considered to have no pigment in it, but white hair does still contain a little bit of natural underlying pigment,” says Novak. Those pigments look either yellow or orange, depending on your shade of grey. To even out your overall colour, she suggests trying a coloured hair foam, which will tone down any unwanted brassiness. These foams won’t alter your natural hair—they’ll just put a little colour tonality onto the hair that looks tinted. Reinhart recommends using a foolproof clear gloss once a month, or at least once a season, to seal in moisture and smooth out your hair.
Use a clarifying shampoo
Adding a gentle clarifying shampoo to your lather, rinse, repeat routine once a week will help remove unwanted build-up on your locks—which can occur from hard water, pollution or styling products, says Reinhart. This step will keep your white hair brilliant and glossy.
Sub in purple products
Purple-tinted shampoos and conditioners help counteract yellow tones that can pop up in grey strands. Despite the shampoos being darker in colour, it’s the conditioners that contain more pigment. Depending on how much corrective pigment your hair needs, try just shampoo for a light toning effect. If your hair is quite brassy, opt for just the conditioner, says Hayden. If you overdo it on the purple products and your hair has a slight blue tinge to it, don’t panic; it’s just temporary. That purple cast will rinse out in your next shower when you use your regular shampoo.
Don’t forget UV protection
Since grey hair lacks pigment, it can easily be tinted by external factors like styling products, pollution and even UV light, from fluorescent lights or sun damage. Just like you protect your skin in the summer, Hayden suggests spritzing on a UV protectant, especially in the warmer months.
Originally published in 2019; updated in 2021