How to Blend Gray Hair With Lowlights

Lauren Hutton

 Getty Images

Gray hair is pretty much inevitable for us all. Some factors in our lifestyle may aide in preventing their arrival, but they’re a genetic predisposition likely bound to make an appearance sooner or later. While embracing our hair in its natural state has never been so chic, it still requires a fair amount of work, so how can we curb our grays from stealing the spotlight without breaking the bank every other month?

Enter: lowlights. They were a hot commodity circa 2002, worn on celebrities like Kelly Clarkson and Christina Aguilera against notably chunky highlights. But since then, lowlights have been largely under utilized. We know of their power to bring depth to our hair color, and when blended with highlights, they’re the key ingredient to full-bodied dimension. What we hadn’t yet realized: lowlights are the secret sauce to blending in our grays. Here are a few things you need to know before weaving them in.

Lauren Hutton
 Getty Images

Selecting the Right Shade

One of the most important things to take note of when choosing the right shade for your lowlights is your virgin hair color (also known as your natural base color). If you've highlighted your hair in an effort to blend your grays, adding some pops of your virgin base tone can provide the most natural-looking contrast.

Lowlights

Sections of your hair dyed a few shades darker than your base color, which add depth and dimension to your overall look.

Without contrast, hair color can fall flat. Growing out your natural gray into full-on silver is becoming a highly covetable move, but it takes a good amount of time and a hefty amount of patience—lowlights can help during the transition. Singular color can be especially unflattering when it comes to naturally grown out gray hair because it can give off a yellow-ish tinge if left unattended. Adding some subtle lowlights can help fight off those unwanted tones.

As with any color change to your hair, a good colorist is going to consider all the colors that are you: your skin tone, your natural base, even your eye color. These colors will inform how warm or cool of a lowlight your colorist wants to use and how to make your natural features shine in their best light. Other factors like face shape, hair texture, haircut, and lifestyle (how you style your hair at home) are also extremely informative when choosing a color plan that works best for you. This wide-lens approach helps to gain a more comprehensive picture of your needs.

Glen Close
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How Often Maintenance Is Needed

Lowlights don't require as many salon visits as highlights do, no matter how they're painted on. When you've chosen a shade that's as close to your base color as possible, your maintenance is a bit more laid back. Rather than first stripping the hair and then going back in to redeposit the desired tone—which is how highlights work—gray hair is already naturally stripped of color so all that's left to do is add the desired tone back to the hair.

Consider a semi-permanent color: Instead of a color deposit, which is what permanent colors do, semi-permanent colors will simply coat the cuticle, which is much less damaging. Gray hair often has the tendency to feel dried out, so using a semi-permanent color that doesn't open up the hair shaft and alter your strands' porosity levels will leave your grays feeling silkier, smoother, and in much better condition.

Helen Hunt


David Livingston / Getty Images

Lowlights That Last

Speaking of better condition, at-home care is a crucial step to making any of your salon efforts last; there's no exception when it comes to caring for your grays. As we mentioned earlier, gray hair has a tendency to go sour on its own. You can fight off brassiness the same way you would with grown-out highlights or bleach-and-tones: with a good blue or purple shampoo. (We recommend using Davines' Alchemic shampoo and conditioners or something similar as advised by your colorist.) Get something that will assist in intensifying the colors you want to keep, and counteracting the ones you don't. Especially if you opt for a semi-permanent color, you'll want to use a color-safe shampoo and conditioner to help prevent fading.

Caring for what's happening at the root is equally as important as caring for our color and anything else happening at the surface. When you first notice your gray hair come in, you'll notice it has a thicker, coarser density and possibly even a different texture than you're used to. Grays are typically drier and more porous because our scalps begin to slow down its sebum production as we age (sebum is the natural oil our scalps produce). Using a moisturizing treatment can help boost shine and soften the texture of coarse strands.

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