Hair Color Techniques That Make Incoming Grays Less Obvious

Celebrity hair stylist Nikki Lee weighs in.

woman with gray hair on the beach


Maturing is a beautiful thing. It brings with it a wealth of experience, wisdom, and a better sense of self. But it also inevitably brings the desire to update your beauty and wellness routine, whether that be committing to a quality eye cream or investing time in low-impact workouts. For many of us, reaching a certain age can also mean looking for ways to incorporate (or cover) gray hair into your look. And while there's obviously no shame in having grays (people are actually requesting heads full of gray hair at salon bowls), there's no shame in not wanting to let go of a hue you've had for years (or your entire life), either.

That's why we've tapped celebrity hairstylist Nikki Lee to share her best tips for blending and covering grays, whether that be to restore your hair to it's former color or to embrace change and go silver all-over.

Meet the Expert

Nikki Lee is a celebrity hairstylist with clients among the likes of Lea Michele, Hilary Duff, Emma Roberts, and more. She is also the co-owner of Nine Zero One salon in West Hollywood.

Assess Your Hair

The more aware you are of the state of your current color and where you'd like it to be, the more efficiently a stylist can help you achieve a beautiful end result. Before even making an appointment with a stylist, take a good look at your scalp and decide if you want to blend your grays into your current color, go silver all-over, or cover your grays altogether.

Lee tells us, "The best techniques for covering grays all depend on the lightness or darkness of your hair and what percentage gray you have." The number of grays you have and the base color you're working with will determine the type of dye job you'll need. "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."

Try Flipping Your Part For Instant Results

Upon discovering your first grays, you might be tempted to try an all-over color, some highlights, or a demi-permanent hair color right off the bat. But before you go investing in an expensive dye job, consider switching up your hairstyle. Lee tells us, "Changing your part is always the first way to go to disguise the grays." 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.

How to Blend Grays For Each Hair Color

There's no universal method for blending grays. Based on your hair color, you and your stylist will work together to determine the best technique based on the result you're looking for—be it full-coverage or incorporating grays into your current look.

Blondes: Highlights

Matrix So Silver shampoo
Matrix So Silver Shampoo $14

"Natural blondes are so lucky," admits Lee. She says light-haired beauties "have an easier time covering grays because you can camouflage the gray with the blonde through highlightings, lowlights, and babylights." Lee explains either one of these techniques is 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." Plus, targeting problem areas one strand at a time makes for better, more precise coverage. Pro tip: ask your stylist to tone your highlights a bit on the cooler side so they blend even better with grays, then prevent them from going brassy with a purple shampoo.

Brunettes/Dark Hair: All-Over Color

Root Concealer Touch-Up Spray Temporary Gray Coverage
Rita Hazan Root Concealer Touch-Up Spray Temporary Gray Coverage $25

For those with brunette or black hair that want to cover grays completely, it's not quite as easy. "Unfortunately, if you're a brunette and you have gray hair, you'll typically need a permanent color every four weeks," explains Lee. This is because there's more contrast between the light gray strands and your dark locks. But since popping into your stylist's chair every month can be difficult, 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. My favorites are Garnier Express Retouch and the Rita Hazan Root Concealer Touch-Up Spray." To use, she tells us, "With the root spray, it's important not to spray it too close to the scalp. Instead, hold it far enough away to disperse it throughout the root evenly. We even test spray once on a towel to make sure it's ready to spray evenly."

Redheads: Demi-Permanent Hair Color

wella color charm demi permanent hair color
Wella Color Charm Demi Permanent Hair Color in Chestnut $7

"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. If you're not familiar with demi-permanent hair color, it's ammonia-free, which means it can tint the outer cuticle of the hair shaft.

However, unlike permanent dye, it can't penetrate the strand. Think of demi-permanent hair color as a stain. According to Lee, the best part is, "the gray will appear as highlights with demi-permanent," which allows you to cover them, and add tons of dimension at once. 

Preserve Your Color

in common universal elixir
In Common Magic Myst Universal Elixir $35

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 can strip the color off much quicker than a color-safe shampoo. Next, she says, "I highly recommend using a mask as your conditioner, since gray hair can have a more coarse texture. My favorite is In Common's Velvet Cloud Universal Mask." Swapping your conditioner for a mask will blend the wirelike texture with the rest of your hair. Finally, 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. In Common's Magic Myst is my favorite," says Lee.

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