How to Conceal Gray Hair With Highlights

Celebrity hair stylist Nikki Lee weighs in.

elderly person in studio portrait

IRINA POLONINA / Stocksy

Maturing is a beautiful thing. It brings with it a wealth of experience and wisdom and a better sense of self. It can also inspire you to make updates to your beauty and wellness routines.

For many of us, reaching a certain age can also mean looking for ways to incorporate gray hair into your look or cover it. While there's no shame in having grays (people are requesting gray hair from their colorists), there's also no shame in not wanting to let go of a hue you've had for years, either.

We tapped celebrity colorists to share their best tips for blending and covering grays, whether you want to restore your hair to its former color or embrace change by showing off your silver streaks.

Keep scrolling to learn all about blending gray hair with highlights.

Meet the Expert

  • Nikki Lee is a celebrity hairstylist and colorist whose clients include Lea Michele, Hilary Duff, and Emma Roberts. She is the co-owner of Nine Zero One salon in West Hollywood and cofounder of In Common haircare.
  • Harry Josh is a hairstylist and colorist for celebrities, including Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Rose Byrne, and Cindy Crawford. He is also the creator of Harry Josh Pro Tools.

How to Blend Gray Hair With Highlights & Lowlights

Whether your hair can be successfully blended with highlights and lowlights depends a lot on your natural hair color—as in, the one you were born with, before your grays sprouted.

"The best techniques for covering grays all depend on the lightness or darkness of your hair and what percentage gray you have," Lee explains. "Someone with a few grays can get away with highlights or demi-permanent hair color. If they are 75 to 100 percent gray, they need permanent dye."

Here are the best ways to cover and blend grays based on your base hair color.

  • If your hair is blonde, blend grays using highlights and lowlights. Lee says light-haired folks "have an easier time covering grays because they can camouflage the gray with the blonde through highlights, lowlights, and babylights." Lee explains these techniques are the most natural-looking option for covering grays "because your stylist can select any grays you're trying to cover specifically and put them in a foil while weaving."
  • If your hair is brown or black, try single-process color. For those with brunette or black hair who want to cover grays completely, think about single-process permanent color, not highlights or lowlights, Lee says. There's more contrast between your light gray strands and dark hair, which makes blending with highlights and lowlights too tricky.
  • If you're a redhead, cover grays with demi-permanent, single-process dye. "For the most part, redheads can get away with a demi-permanent hair color, which will blend the gray into your natural shade and allow for a softer grow-out," explains Lee of the hair color, which is ammonia-free, meaning it stains the outer cuticle of the hair shaft; unlike permanent dye, it can't penetrate the strand. By using demi-permanent color, gray strands "will appear as highlights," Lee says. Not only will your grays be covered, your overall hair color will have greater dimension.

How to Highlight Gray Hair at Home

Our experts weren't hot on the idea of DIY highlighting. "Highlighting your hair at home is just not advisable," Josh says. "You really won’t get the results you’re hoping for, and it will cost more to fix at a salon."

That said, if you're a blonde and already experienced in doing DIY highlights, at-home highlighting kits are an option.

If you want your new blonde highlights to blend well with your silvery gray hairs, think cool tones rather than warm, buttery blonde tones.

"The best thing to do to cover grays at home and avoid the salon is asking your stylist for a little at-home color help in between visits," he suggests. Next time you're at the salon, ask your colorist if she can put together a custom coloring kit for you to touch up your gray roots at home.

If you want to cover grays without ever setting foot in a salon, try a single-process color kit; we like these professional-grade hair coloring kits.

How to Care for Gray Hair With Highlights & Lowlights

Once your grays are perfectly blended, highlighted, or covered, it's important you take precautions to preserve the color as long as possible.

First off, Lee says, "I would steer clear of any clarifying shampoo and stick to color-safe shampoos only." Clarifying shampoos strip color from hair much more quickly than color-safe shampoos do.

Prevent blonde or gray highlights from going brassy with purple shampoo. Try Amika Bust Your Brass Cool Blonde Shampoo, a cruelty-free purple shampoo that hydrates hair and smells like expensive perfume to boot.

amika bust your brass cool blonde shampoo
Amika Bust Your Brass Cool Blonde Shampoo $20
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"Repeated color can damage the hair follicle, so working to keep it nourished and hydrated between salon visits will preserve your color and keep hair healthy," Josh adds. A hair mask like Briogeo Don't Despair, Repair! Strength + Moisture Leave-In Mask can help coarse gray hair feel smoother and look more healthy.

briogeo leave in mask
Briogeo Don't Despair, Repair! Strength + Moisture Leave-In Mask $28
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When it comes to styling, proceed with caution. "Heat styling can always dull hair color, so be sure to always use a heat protectant before blow-drying your hair," Lee says. "In Common's Magic Myst is my favorite."

in common universal elixir
In Common Magic Myst Universal Elixir $35
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"If you’re heat styling, make sure you use the best tools possible," adds Josh. The Harry Josh Pro Tools Pro Dryer 2000 is praised for its powerful motor, which cuts drying time to minimize hair damage.

harry josh pro tools pro dryer 2000
Harry Josh Pro Tools Pro Dryer 2000 $249
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Lastly, if gray roots are getting you down, Lee has a hack for you. "I highly recommend the temporary root touch-up in between appointments—they're a dream and super easy to use," she says.

Lee recommends taking a touch-up spray like Rita Hazan Root Concealer Touch-Up Spray and spraying it while holding the can several inches away from your head, evenly distributing the product on your roots. "It's important not to spray too close to the scalp," she advises.

Root Concealer Touch-Up Spray Temporary Gray Coverage
Rita Hazan Root Concealer Touch-Up Spray $25
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Tips to Embrace Gray Hair

Upon discovering your first grays, you may be tempted to try all-over color, some highlights, or a demi-permanent hair color right off the bat. Before you go investing in an expensive dye job, try a few hairstyling hacks first.

  • Part your hair differently. "Changing your part is always the first way to go to disguise the grays," Lee says. For instance, if you usually wear a center part and it shows off a specific spot that continues to be a nuisance, try a side part instead.
  • Cut bangs. If you have some grays at your hairline, try face-framing bangs, Josh suggests.
  • Use hair accessories. "For a quick fix, [add] a hair accessory like a headband or clip to cover up some growth," Josh recommends.
  • Play around with hair extensions. "A ponytail or extra hair extensions can also give you the coverage you’re looking for," he suggests.
  • Use root touch-up spray on gray areas. "A root spray or root cover touch-up can cover a slightly larger area of hair if you’d prefer to keep your style the same," Josh says.

However you decide to tweak, color, or not color your grays, a polished hairstyle will help elevate your look, no matter what. "Having a good blowout or style, regardless of color, will always make an impact," Josh says.

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