5 Surprising Tips For Disguising Gray Hairs, From Highlights To Spot Treatments
Going gray is a natural, beautiful part of life—and, well, likely unavoidable for many of us. That said? It's also totally normal if you decide to cover up silver strands with a few dyeing techniques.
Case in point: Me! I started growing gray hair early (around my mid-20s) in spurts and spatters. I have a few areas on my head around my part and hairline that hoard the hairs. My reason for graying on the earlier end comes from genetics but, of course, was likely influenced by lifestyle and environmental factors such as pollution (free radicals can trigger premature aging of the hair much like it can the skin) and stress (chronic stress does a number on the body).
Well, I've also been dyeing my hair for quite some time: No, these blonde highlights are not natural. So covering them up was as easy as a strategic swipe of dye. If you, too, have developed some grays and are looking to camouflage them, here's our best advice:
Spot treat with dye.
At the first sign of graying, you don't need to run full speed into the colorist's chair for a whole head of dye. As colorist Christine Thompson, co-founder of the hair salon Spoke & Weal, explains: Grays tend to grow in clusters rather than all over. So Thompson recommends "spot treating" these clusters rather than painting all over. Not only is it more natural-looking, but it's better for your hair and scalp.
Strategically add lighter highlights.
One of the easiest ways to blend in gray hairs is through adding dimension. A silky swipe of highlight can help camouflage the silver hairs while also making any grow-out phase (or the time between appointments) less obvious. "My advice is to eliminate the harsh demarcation line caused by [single-process] artificial color: Balayage is a more gentle highlighting technique," says celebrity colorist Abby Haliti.
See, grays stand out more when contrasted against a single shade—especially a darker color—be it your natural hue or a single-process dye. This way, too, if any new areas of gray come in, they don't seem so obvious. After all, blending in grays is just as much about highlighting the other strands as it is the gray ones.
Ask for babylights.
These are basically tiny, purposefully subtle highlights that add a touch of sparkle to strands. "Babylights are super-fine—floss-thin—weaves of highlights via foiling techniques," says celebrity colorist and Redken brand ambassador Matt Rez.
"Typically their lightness is achieved by bleaching to desired level of lift, rooted to blend and melt into the base color, and glossed for the final color result—they are not meant to be very pronounced and are intended to simulate a super-natural, sun-kissed result."
These are helpful for those going gray, as they can mask your other lighter strands: This way, an errant gray strand may simply look like one of your babylights.
Try a glaze or gloss to soften strands.
To subtly soften contrasting hair—or to add luster, richness, and depth—glazes and glosses are a perfect solution.
"A glaze is basically a semipermanent color that coats the hair shaft with shine and lasts up to a few washes," says Rez. As the pigment sits atop the shaft and can be made with light-reflective nutrients, they are often used as a way to add luster to otherwise dull hair—or as a way to help blur any harsh line. Be warned: Because it only sits atop the strand, it washes out with a few shampoos—making this a good option if you want a temporary pick-me-up prior to an event or some such.
If you would like something more permanent, opt for a gloss. "A gloss requires a developer or processing solution, and it penetrates the cuticle of hair and lasts up to four weeks; I would say about 12 to 20 washes depending on its level and tone formulation," says Rez. Colorists will often use this in salons to blend bases.
Just don't pluck.
OK, so plucking won't cause more gray hair to grow in. (We've debunked this.) However, plucking won't stop that hair from growing back in altogether—and that new short, growth will likely stick straight up out of your head. That's far more obvious, no? "Being shorter, having a more wiry texture, and being white in color—the new growth will be poking out and more noticeable as it regrows," Rez explains.
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.