At some point in our lives, many of us will experience that natural transition to gray hair. While some women may choose to color their hair, others go the route of embracing their natural hue. The latter can be a truly liberating decision and allows you to explore a brand new color. In our opinion, gray is just as beautiful and complex as any other shade, and a natural gray simply can't be replicated with dye (though we do love the look of platinum or silver hair as well).
To find out all there is to know about this trending color, we tapped hair and color professionals Denis De Souza, Nikki Lee, and Millie Morales for their expert advice. Whether you want to liven up your natural gray, emphasize some subtle streaks, or experiment with the shade artificially, we've rounded up our favorite gray hairstyles—complete with pro tips—to inspire you.
Maintenance Level: Low to high. It will be less maintenance if you have more natural gray hair color and also light natural hair color.
Goes Great With: Anyone who can handle cool tones.
Price: $200 and up. This will cost more than most colors would because you have to start with bleaching the hair and then follow with coloring.
The contrast of steel gray and black hair here creates a rich and versatile look. It's such a youthful way to go gray, but be warned: A look like this can be "very high maintenance because you have to bleach out the hair first," notes Nikki Lee, celebrity colorist and co-owner of Los Angeles-based Nine Zero One salon.
Stacy London has proudly sported her classic gray streak since she was a child. The fact that gray often comes in streaky is something that you can totally work into your style—almost like highlights. Whether it's natural or added with dyes, the subtle touch of color (or lack thereof) can work to frame your face and enhance your everyday look.
For blondes, going gray can be a more subtle endeavor. Many women who are almost all-gray choose to color their hair blonde or get blonde highlights. Blonde blends in better with the all-gray growth as the crown and roots grow in.
Jamie Lee Curtis
Jamie Lee Curtis wears her gray pixie like a glove. It's low-maintenance meets sophisticated—with a side of edge.
Grays hairs can sometimes grow in with a wiry texture. But using a color shampoo or rinsing hair with apple cider vinegar once a week can help to keep product build-up at a minimum and strengthen weakened strands.
Cicely Tyson's blunt bob replete with glistening grays is stunning—not to mention, it even matches her dazzling outfit. Interestingly, when you go gray, your eyebrows can too, which can make them look a little thin; however, here, Tyson's brows are on point. To get her look, you can either dye your brows to match your former base color or go a bit darker than your hair. The alternative is to use an eyebrow gel, like Hourglass's Arch Brow Volumizing Fiber Gel ($28), to fill in sparse areas and darken a light brow.
"Rihanna added gray highlights that blend in with her natural color letting her have a taste of the gray without going full-on," says De Souza. He adds, "To achieve the silver ribbons all over her hair I would use a natural level 4. Her colorist likely highlighted her with bleach and toned her with a fashion teal tone. It gives you a taste without going for it completely."
The long bob is a flattering look for gray hair, which lends it dimension. In fact, shoulder-length cuts are probably the most flattering hairstyle in general. Here, "Diane Keaton isn’t afraid to wear her gray locks long. Her hair is shiny and looks perfect with her fun style," says De Souza.
For this look, ask your colorist to add a few different shades to your natural hair. Traditional foil highlights will add gorgeous streaks, and you can also have them paint in highlights and lowlights to give the illusion of more volume. It's a great trick for straight, thin hair.
Helen Hunt's dirty ash blonde hair is the perfect base color for transitioning to gray as there isn't a stark contrast if you're trying to subtly introduce the silver. If you're looking to make the switch to your natural gray color, "start doing highlights only and stop doing single process bases, recommends Lee.
To keep gray hair (dyed or natural) from turning yellow—an effect of exposure to the sun, hard water, and other environmental factors—wash hair twice a week for 10 minutes using a color-correcting violet shampoo. This will neutralize the yellow.
Nicole Richie rocked this look at none other than the Met Gala. Her teased white-gray hair with a tinge of blue is electrifying. If your skin's undertones fall under the olive, yellow, or orange category, consider opting for more neutral gray hair colors rather than going full-on silver.
Quite a classy look, it's hard to beat a sleek bob with gray hair. "Helen Mirren looks soft and youthful with this beautiful shade of beigey gray and swoop bangs with her short bob," says De Souza. If your hair is naturally straight, a bob like Helen Mirren's is definitely a look to consider.
If you've been covering your gray, the trick is deciding when to go natural. Keep in mind that you will likely have to endure a period of six to 12 months that might look a little funky as your new natural hair grows in. As Garnier colorist Millie Morales suggests, you can cut your hair short. Lisa Lu looks stunning with her pixie, but if this look is too short for you, she also suggests slowly cutting off as much of the previously colored hair as possible so the new growth blends in more quickly.
Unlike warm colors (think: like reds, browns, and blondes), gray is a cool color, meaning, it can wash out your skin tone. To compensate, consider getting highlights or lowlights along the sides of your face to help make your face pop and to give your hair dimension. Balayage is often preferred over foil highlights for gray, especially if you want a subtle, natural look.
Amandla Stenberg wears gray well on her textured strands. To replicate her style, try using Amika High Tide Deep Wave Hair Crimper ($90) which works on hair of all types and textures. Her deep side-part serves to elongate and balance her facial features.
"Cara Delevingne gives us a modern twist to this traditional bob done by my talented partner at Mare Salon, Mara Roszak," says De Souza. He adds, "For Cara, I would start at a level 6/7 to achieve this look. Cara was bleached all the way from roots to ends and toned with a silver toner to cut through any brassy tones. Love her and her rad style!"
Jane Fonda's cool-toned silver hair transformation is fresh and modern at any age. Her bangs add extra impact to her otherwise sophisticated pixie.
If you're coloring your own hair, consider using a paintbrush or professional brush to apply color rather than a nozzle which isn't going to have the same force or breadth.