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Finding the Perfect Silvery Hue for Your Hair

Going gray isn’t a one-color-fits all destination


spinner image from left to right jane fonda then rita moreno then jamie lee curtis
From left, Jane Fonda sports a smoky lilac, Rita Moreno shows off her silver roots and Jamie Lee Curtis flaunts her whites.
Lionel Hahn/Getty Images; Weiss Eubanks/NBCUniversal via Getty Images; Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for dcp

Before she turned 50, Katie Emery decided she wanted to transition naturally to gray hair by letting her dyed and damaged hair grow out. She scoured Facebook group after group for hair care tips and support from women undergoing a similar silver journey, but was confronted with only conflicting information.

In deciding to follow her own path to embrace her natural gray hair, Emery, 56, started a blog in 2018, where she’s been compiling tips for going gray (both for those going the natural route and those wanting to dye it at a salon), product reviews and testimonials and photos of women — of all shades of gray, hair textures and skin tones.

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“Everybody has a different experience,” says Emery, who blogs at Katie Goes Platinum, noting that suggestions ranged from cutting her hair short for quicker results to using dye to reverse the dark dye she’d been using to cover up her grays for years. None of the ideas were viable options for her.

“It doesn’t have to be a scary or distressing experience to let your hair go gray,” Emery says. Here’s how you can make the process less daunting, according to expert stylists.

It takes patience

“No matter what avenue they decide to take to achieve their final goal, it’s going to take a lot of patience, and you have to be prepared for that,” says Mickey Bolek, owner of Michael Anthony Salon in Washington, D.C., and a hairstylist for 36 years.

Bolek says that stripping color completely out of your hair and dyeing it close to your natural gray could take anywhere between eight hours to three to four salon visits — and it can be pricey. It depends on your location, stylist and overall hair goal, but Bolek estimates it can set you back anywhere from hundreds of dollars to around $3,000.

For those who want to take the same route as Emery, growing your gray out naturally requires patience. On average, hair grows about half an inch each month, according to Health.com.

One option is to chop off the existing colored hair and opt for a new, much shorter hair style, like a bob or a pixie cut, Bolek suggests, but “I do find that that is one of the last decisions that people make because I think that losing the hair color and losing the length of the hair all at the same time, it’s just too much change in one setting.”

spinner image left judi dench right diane keaton
Judy Dench (left) and Diane Keaton don white locks in shorter lengths.
Samir Hussein/Getty Images; Rachel Luna/Getty Images

Waiting for hair to grow out

If you’re open to dyes to enhance your gray hair as you let it grow out, there are a few options. If you want to prevent a line of demarcation from your gray roots to your colored hair, you can opt to dye all your hair close to your natural gray.

Ammonia-free, semipermanent colors come “in an array of silver, platinum, gray, dark gray,” Bolek says. This is the type of dye you should use if you want to achieve a more natural and subtle color. “They don’t alter your natural hair color, they just deposit color into the hair.” This dye will wash away with shampoo in about four to six weeks, or 20-plus shampoos, depending on how often you wash your hair.

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Bolek says direct dyes are more vibrant, most often seen in “fashion colors” like pink, blue, green, “but they do make those fashion colors in platinums and silvers.” This is an option if you want to achieve brighter tones — say, gray highlights — to add to your hair. This type of dye will last around 12 shampoos.

Pick your perfect shade

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Stacy London (left) and Whoopi Goldberg embrace a light touch of gray with their salt and pepper hair.
Kristina Bumphrey/SHE Media via Getty Images; Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

“Gray hair comes in a range of shades including silver, pewter, salt-and-pepper, steel gray, ash gray and charcoal,” says Maddy Hall, a hair colorist and color educator who trained at Cinta Aveda Institute in San Francisco. “The specific shade of gray can vary based on an individual’s natural hair color and how much gray has mixed in.”

Bolek says women request white and platinum blonde shades most often, but you should discuss your specific hair shade goals with your stylist.

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Gwen Stefani shows off platinum blonde hair. Bolek says he sees a lot of clients going for that same vibrant color.
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“The platinum tends to brighten the hair and give it the most vibrance,” he says.

It’s up to the client to choose their shade, but Hall says smoky lilac or lilac gray are currently trendy. For the fall, warmer tones “such as caramel gray or smoky brown with hints of gray are popular.”

spinner image left jennifer aniston right sarah jessica parker
Jennifer Aniston and Sarah Jessica Parker embrace their gray roots with what Hall calls a caramel gray. Hall says smoky brown with hints of gray are popular.
Steve Granitz/FilmMagic; Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images

If you need something on the lower-maintenance end of the spectrum, opt for darker gray shades “like a steel gray or ash gray,” since those tend to need less frequent toning, Hall says.

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Andie McDowell (left) and Roseanne Barr show off their darker, charcoal gray tresses.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images; Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic

“Generally, lighter gray shades like platinum or silver tend to be more high-maintenance, requiring regular toning and upkeep to prevent yellowing.” Hall says.

Bolek says it’s important to keep in mind that aging causes pigment loss in both the hair and the skin, and sometimes your natural gray will wash you out and give you a monochromatic look.

“I always use Nicole Kidman as an example,” he says. “There are times Nicole Kidman, her hair color, her skin color and whatever gown she’s wearing all look to be in the same family, and it all blends and there’s no definition. It just looks all monochromatic, and that’s something to consider to move away from.”

spinner image left andie macdowell and nicole kidman right blythe danner
From left: Andie MacDowell, Nicole Kidman and Blythe Danner. MacDowell rocks a darker charcoal gray. Kidman and Danner are examples of yellowing in white and gray hair.
Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for InStyle; Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Emery says a good place to start is finding a stylist who understands your skin tone and whether it’s warm or cool. She took the longer, natural route to gray, and when all the old dye had been cut out, she says she was surprised that her natural silver suited her skin tone well.

“Everybody’s different,” Emery says. “I think the natural gray, whatever it is, is the most flattering to the person because it definitely seems like Mother Nature understands what color to give us that will suit our complexion.”

The maintenance phase

spinner image from left to right jamie lee curtis then meryl streep then helen mirren
From left, Jamie Lee Curtis, Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep all show off their white hair. White and gray hair is prone to yellowing, says Bolek. You’ll want to make sure to protect it.
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for dcp; Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images; Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

Once you’ve achieved your perfect gray, the work isn’t over. Bolek says both colored hair and natural gray hair have some similarities: textural changes that result in coarser hair. Those with dyed hair tend to opt for products that preserve color and prevent fading, but Bolek suggests switching to products that keep the frizz at bay, using “something that’s going to nourish and give shine and help smooth down the cuticle of the hair.”

His bottom line: Use heat protectant on your hair if you’re using hot tools. Too much heat on white or gray hair can make it look yellow.

Hall emphasizes the importance of sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners that enhance color vibrancy and prevent yellowing.

Whether you decide to grow out your silver naturally or want some vibrancy added to your gray locks is a personal choice, Emery says, noting it should be a fun adventure.

“It’s one of the few times in your adult life that you can really feel rebellious and that you’re doing something for you and something that goes against the grain,” she says. “I felt like it was really an exhilarating and exciting experience.”

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