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11 Hair Color Tweaks That Pack a Punch

Small (and big!) changes that will turn heads

spinner image Various headshots of women with different color hair styles.
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images; Neilson Barnard/Getty Images; Samir Hussein/WireImage/Getty Images; James Devaney/GC Images/Getty Images; Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

We've finally arrived at a historic do-or-dye moment for 50-plus hair. Whether you hit the salon for highlights, swap brunette for blond or go gray, do it with attitude and style. No one cares anymore whether your hair color looks obviously fake or authentic (that's up to you!). Feeling and looking your best is all that matters. Here are 11 ways to do it:

spinner image Before and after hair color photos of Diane Keaton and Glenn Close
Everett/Alamy; (3) Getty: Alberto Rodriguez; Albert Ortega; Mark Sagliocco/WireImage

1.   Let gray hair declare you officially cool  

Silver foxes are finally in and staying that wayIf you've decided to get real, let a salon pro ease the transition from coloring your hair to au naturel instead of toughing it out. Do it gradually. Adding some silvery or golden highlights (depending on your hair color) blurs the boundaries between "old" color and incoming grays. Diane Keaton — blond for decades (she was a L'Oreal Paris hair color spokesperson) — went gray in a year by the clever use of highlights. Glenn Close did the same and cropped short to speed the process. Proof in both examples that gray can be as effective as blond in adding a luminous frame of light to mature faces.

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spinner image Helen Mirren with gray-ish hair.
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

2. Add warm or cool highlights to keep grayish hair lively

Even when you’re finally gray, that may not be the end. And no, adding a few highlights is not cheating. It's just as authentic and smart as slipping on a good support bra or a little BB cream! All grays are not created equal. For some, gray comes in gloriously silver, platinum or white to rave compliments. For others, it arrives in a steely-slate hue that drains skin of warmth and accents a sallow, ashy, pasty or tired complexion. Adding some radiant highlights can kick up the color just enough to make a difference, as Dame Helen Mirren knows.

spinner image Wendie Malick short multi-color gray and brown hair gets a boost from highlights and lowlights
Michael Tran/FilmMagic

3.   Two-tone gray needs a modern cut  

Sometimes gray appears as part of a multitone mix that's uneven, streaky or visible just around the hairline. Use it advantageously by going shorter with a style that accents the tone-on-tone effect. You might add some highlights for a spicier blend, as Wendie Malick does.

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spinner image Mary J. Blige Julia Roberts with blonde hair.
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images; Vera Anderson/WireImage/Getty Images

4. Go bright blond to make a statement    

Almost any woman 50-plus — from light skin to dark golden (except the very ruddy) — can be a blond bombshell. However, going brunette to blond is not a DIY project! An experienced salon colorist can evaluate skin tone, hair health and your expectations. She'll let you know if your "fantasy" blond is doable, safe (especially if hair is fine, fragile, textured, chemically straightened or relaxed) and what it will take to maintain the color at home. Going ultra-blond like Mary J. Blige or Julia Roberts may take several appointments and include in-between strengthening treatments.

spinner image Jane Seymour with a soft warm strawberry br-onde hair color.
 Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

5. Go softer brown with bangs to update longer hair

For most women committed to long hair, this combo reboots their looks without a major chop. Even going two shades lighter than your original color makes a significant change, though Jane Seymour switched from brown to a warm strawberry brown-blond ... and cut bangs. Another option is to go from a dark espresso brunette to a rich chestnut shade — more discreet but effective, too.

spinner image Julianne Moore and Susan Sarandon with red hair.
 Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images for Chopard; Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic/Getty Images 

6. Go red only if you can truly pull it off 

A word of caution: Red is a tricky hair color. It is easier to maintain a red-brown than a fiery bright shade; a warm red is more flattering than blue-reds like cherry and purply-reds or orangey shades. Fair complexions with pink undertones like Julianne Moore's look great in more blazing reds, while olive or neutral skin tones like Susan Sarandon's flatter rich auburn or copper shades. Born-that-way red fades with age to a ginger tone and requires color procedures to restore intensity, but faux red (whether you start out that way or fake it) washes out more easily than any other hue. Opt for no-sulfate shampoos and conditioners for color-processed hair.

spinner image Kyra Sedgwick and Halle Berry wearing their hair up.
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7. Add streaks strategically

Most women don't really need all-over highlights (aka a "full-head" on the salon menu). A few lighter, brighter pieces around the face illuminate without a major change. If you often wear your hair up or pulled back like Kyra Sedgwick and Halle Berry, you can just add a few highlights around the nape, bangs or sides. Balayage — an alternative to foil highlights — lets a salon colorist paint and customize streaks in a freehand way. One of the hottest balayage requests now is a mix of brown and gold like a tortoiseshell or tigereye look.

spinner image Christine Baranski maintains blonde looking hair.
Samir Hussein/WireImage/Getty Images

8. Keep a bob or lob blondish and multitoned for less worry, more style    

Blond is the hardest color to keep healthy for mature hair, which is typically drier, thinner, more fragile and frequently heat-styled. Getting blond requires stripping pigment from the hair (with ammonia and peroxide — two of the most damaging chemicals) and then having color put back in. Compromise by going bronde, aka brown-blond, a mellow hybrid look created by adding multitones of caramel, amber, butterscotch or honey to a base of light to medium brown like Christine Baranski to cut down on touchups. Once a week use a purple shampoo to restore color and kill brassy tones, and scatter your part to camouflage roots. Dark roots are fine, but light roots appear as thinning hair.

spinner image Jennifer Aniston with blonde highlights and Diane Lane with brown highlights.
Steve Granitz/WireImage/Getty Images;  Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images

9. Do baby-lights    

These are tiny, subtle slivers of highlights (and possibly lowlights) that are not noticeable as actual streaks but make color look less solid and more natural. It's a good choice if you want a more laid-back, muted look, whether you go sun-kissed blond like Jennifer Aniston or stay in the brown range like Diane Lane. Ask for low-contrast highlights instead of high-contrast ones.

spinner image Sarah Jessica Parker with darker hair roots.
James Devaney/GC Images/Getty Images

10. Ombre your hair for low-maintenance high drama 

This technique started as a trend and has become a classic color option for us. The color is darker brown at the roots and slips seamlessly into a lighter color — usually blond mid-shaft to tips. Fans include Sarah Jessica Parker. It's a way to keep your natural dark color and have your blond, too, with almost no upkeep. When you're tired of it, just trim the bottom off.

spinner image Sigourney Weaver with a lighter hair color.
Jerod Harris/FilmMagic/Getty Images 

11. Stay a brunette but go warmer with a touch of red or gold

Skin tone changes with age, so adapting by going a shade or two warmer or brighter instead of changing your color is still a good move, as Sigourney Weaver proves. For a natural look, don't go too far — you want to amp up your color — and don't aim for your original darkest brown or black hair color, since that would emphasize lines, discolorations and shadows.

And my final advice: If you're piling on foundation, blush and bronzer every day to look good, your hair color is not doing you any favors. Go see a salon pro for a free consultation.

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