My journey to embracing my gray hair began 12 years ago. After twenty plus years of struggling to hide my true roots, I decided to embrace my natural color. I didn’t know what to expect, but I thought it had to be easier than the struggle of trying to hide my roots every three weeks. As my hair grew out, rather than get discouraged, I got more excited. I was supported everywhere I went, which gave me courage to continue. I felt as though I was finally unveiling the true me; there was a sense of freedom and ease. And hey, if it works for Anderson Cooper, it will work for me! My grow-out process took about a year and a half to complete, and I have never looked back. Ahead, I'm sharing a few tricks on how to treat your natural gray hair and embrace and enjoy the journey.
Find the Right Cut
Whether you choose long or short styles, keep the hair healthy and frequently trimmed. Celebrity color expert and stylist Tom Smith, color director at Bill Currie London/EVO International creative team says, “Natural white hair can ooze sophistication when worn well.’’ How one styles their naturally gray hair is key. Just because you stop dying your hair doesn’t mean your cut should take a back seat. A good haircut and fashionable style will always make you feel better and look more youthful. I know when I have a great cut, I can wear my hair both curly and straight and it looks amazing. Work with your stylist to find a shape that flatters your hair texture and features, and consider long layers to encourage movement in your style.
Consider Your Texture
As we lose melanin in our hair, the pigment diminishes and the hair becomes transparent and colorless/white. On top of this color change, your hair texture will also differ (read: it will become more brittle, dry, and frizzy). If your hair is coarse before it turns gray, it will be even coarser afterward. But know this: going gray isn't a losing battle, in fact, it has many perks. My hair has always been wavy and coarse, but it has gained body as my gray percentage has increased. I believe the attraction that most people have to natural gray hair is that it glistens and shines in a way that processed hair does not. This may have been my main reason for embracing my natural gray; I wanted shiny, healthy hair.
Try a Toner
The ingredients in sunscreen, face creams/oils, as well as environmental pollutants and minerals in the water are all claimed to discolor natural gray hair. My hair yellows very easily, so I must be very cautious of what it comes into contact with. Good hair care products are also key to keeping the lovely gray locks glistening.
One of my main concerns in dealing with my gray hair is keeping the grays bright, and fortunately, through trial and error, I’ve been able to find some amazing products. Stylist Tom Smiths shared these wise words with me “it’s all about looking after the condition, tone, and vibrancy of the hair.” Smiths recommends using a “violet toning product to neutralize any unwanted yellow and dull or brassy tones," and he believes that it’s important to use a toning shampoo that contains plenty of nourishing ingredients to ensure a healthy shine and vibrancy. His personal favorite is the EVO Fabuloso Platinum Blonde Toning Shampoo.
My favorite gray hair shampoo is by White Hot Hair, a company based in the UK that was founded by Jane Mayled. My favorites include:
1. Brilliant Shampoo: a soft violet colored shampoo that tones the hair and brightens it, once a week.
2. Glorious Shampoo: a white shampoo for daily use that detoxifies the hair and restores shine.
3. Luminous Conditioner: a creamy conditioner that adds extra hydration, radiance, and shine.
Nourish from the Inside Out
A problem that many of us experience as we age is hair loss and thinning hair. I definitely have noticed changes in my hair over the years, but I recently discovered KeraHealth, a nutraceutical supplement. I have been taking KeraHealth hair supplements daily for the past seven months, and my hair feels thicker and more luscious than it’s felt in years. My hair actually feels like my teenage hair. The brand uses innovative technology with the finest ingredients meant to treat issues from the follicle, and the results are amazing. (Byrdie also voted it their best hair growth system for 2020.)
Not-so-fun fact: Gray hair yellows in the sun, so it’s very important to keep it covered with a hat when outdoors. I learned the hard way when I burnt my hair on a hiking trip several years ago. The top of my hair turned a terrible yellow shade and it took months to correct and many different trials with purple toners. So now, I always wear a baseball cap when I'm outdoors and usually braid my hair and tuck it under the hat to protect as much of my hair from the sun as possible. This technique works and it has preserved my shimmering gray.
Protect Hair from the Heat
Gray hair may burn more easily due to its texture and porosity, so when using hot tools to style, caution must be used so as not to damage the delicate hair. It is very important to purchase good quality hair tools with temperature controls. Do not exceed 350 degrees, and never let the tool remain in one place on the hair for more than a few seconds. I rarely even blow-dry my hair, and when I do, I make sure I never leave the heat blowing in one area for too long. I usually air-dry my hair and create an easy beach wave with a simple styling wand from The Dry Bar. Heat can be your gray hair’s biggest enemy, so tread lightly.
Use a Satin Pillowcase
My final point in maintaining healthy gray hair is how you wear your hair to sleep at night. Firstly, I always wear my hair in a topknot secured with a hair tie to keep my hair from pulling on my pillow. Secondly, I use a pure mulberry silk pillowcase from MYK Silk that protects the hair while I sleep. The silk is meant to create less friction, protecting the hair from breakage, unwanted frizz, and fly-aways. Your hair will likely break less and hold its style better when worn up and sleeping on a silk pillowcase.
To quote Jane Mayled from White Hot Hair, “We want to do our best to ensure that our daughters and granddaughters feel comfortable in their own skin and are not afraid of growing older or horrified by finding a silver strand in their hair. After all, getting older is an amazing privilege." So take care of your body, take care of your hair, and let your true colors shine.
Why does gray hair have a different texture?
Gray hair has a different texture because your hair loses the pigment or melanin and the hair follicle doesn’t produce as much sebum. The sebum is the oil your body naturally produces to hydrate your hair. As a result, gray hair often feels more coarse, dry, and wiry, but using the right hair products can help.
What hair products help gray hair look smooth and shiny?
To counteract the more coarse and often wiry texture of gray hair, it is important you use a good daily conditioner and, as needed, a deep moisturizing treatment once a week. A shine boosting spray will also give you a smooth and healthy look.
How do you prevent gray hair from turning yellow?
Gray hair has a tendency to look brassy or yellow. To keep it looking a vibrant and shiny gray, use a color depositing shampoo or gloss occasionally. Many of these products have a purple tint and should be used once every week or two. Protect your hair from the sun and avoid any shampoos or hair products that have a gold or yellow tint to them.
Kumar AB, Shamim H, Nagaraju U. Premature graying of hair: review with updates. Int J Trichology. 2018;10(5):198-203. doi:10.4103/ijt.ijt_47_18
Richena M, Silveira M, Rezende CA, Joekes I. Yellowing and bleaching of grey hair caused by photo and thermal degradation. J Photochem Photobiol B. 2014;138:172-181. doi:10.1016/j.jphotobiol.2014.05.017
Cleveland Clinic. 2021. Why Hair Turns Gray.