The Best Ways to Care for Grey Hair

Deciding to embrace silver strands can be a liberating experience for some women (wave goodbye to the upkeep and the costs that go with it), but how do you make sure your hair still looks and feels luscious?

After 16 years of dying my hair, I was fed up with the high-maintenance routine that went into covering up my blazing white streak. From the ages of 26 to 42, I spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars on upkeep. The only thing that stood in the way of quitting was my fear of looking…well, old and unattractive. But after weeks of soul searching and scrolling through countless Internet photos of confident women with gorgeous silver ’dos, I found the courage to show off my own sparkly strands. Freeing myself from this unnecessary chore seemed like a no-brainer. Do the scary thing, and the rest will follow, right?

It wasn’t that easy. As it turns out, nothing about hair and beauty standards is simple, and that includes caring for grey hair. Growing out my long, dark-chocolate-coloured locks took an agonizingly long time. Styling it was still work. And I was never going to look like British Vogue editor Sarah Harris, no matter what products I tried. Everyone’s hair is different and that includes a multitude of shades, patterns and textures.

The age at which you go grey is also highly individual, and mostly depends on genetics, according to chemistry professor Joe Schwarcz, director of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society. If one or both of your parents went grey at a young age, he tells me, you’re more likely to start earlier as well. Disease and smoking are also known to speed up colour change, but there isn’t good evidence that stress alone can do it. What is clear is how it works: Hair follicles gradually lose their pigmentation, which is made by a complex protein called melanin. Around the same time your body stops making melanin, your hair follicles also start producing less sebum, a naturally occurring oil that hydrates hair. The result is strands that can be drier and more wiry in texture.

Here’s what else I learned about growing out grey hair and how to keep it looking its best.

Consider how to ditch the dye

There are a few ways you can go grey, and it may depend on how much of it you have and what your tolerance is for this totally awkward phase of embracing it. (If you never dyed your hair in the first place, yay, you can skip this part.) You can quit colouring cold turkey. That’s the cheapest and easiest option. You’ll have to live with the demarcation line where your coloured hair and your roots meet until your natural colour reaches your desired length (this can take years)—or until you decide to chop off the dyed part and wear it in a pixie cut.

Another way to go is “grey blending,” says Ruby Fernandes, a stylist and colourist who specializes in light shades at Sekt Hair Studio in Toronto. Grey blending involves adding highlights or lowlights to both your natural roots and your artificially coloured hair to either camouflage or accentuate your grey strands.

You might also consider a more radical “grey transformation,” which involves a long day of having any artificial colour stripped out of your hair, bleaching everything but the roots and then applying a new colour that matches your natural shade of grey. Find a colourist who has expertise in blond and grey hues. “They know how to get the highest level of lightener while keeping the integrity of the hair, as well as how to get the right tone of grey,” says Fernandes.

Quench your greys

As your grey hair is growing in, it may feel dry or bristly, but that doesn’t mean it’s unhealthy. “Grey hair is as healthy as any melanated hair,” says Renée Beach, a dermatologist at DermAtelier in Toronto. “It is just unfortunately associated with age and a lack of upkeep and glamour.” But even that stigma is starting to disappear, thanks in no small part to a pandemic “silver lining” that has seen more women of all ages ditch the dye. To help deal with a change of hair texture, notes Beach, look for products that contain humectants and protein derivatives, which can help make grey strands softer, shinier and less prone to breakage. With drier hair, you can also get away with less frequent washing, adds Fernandes. Win-win.

Deal with discolouration

Many people notice that their grey hair—especially lighter shades—can also take on a yellowish tint. This can be caused by anything from minerals in water to heat damage to residue from hair products or even natural oils from the scalp, says Schwarcz. Protective measures include using a cleansing shampoo to remove any buildup or yellowish cast, using a heat protectant when styling and keeping your hair covered from the sun when UV exposure is at its highest.

(Related: Should You Be Using Clarifying Shampoo?)

Experiment with toners

A popular trick that helps get rid of brassy tones in grey hair is using a purple or blue shampoo. The way it works is simple: On a colour wheel, purple is opposite yellow and blue is opposite orange, so adding blue or purple pigments to your hair works to cancel out yellow or orange discoloration. Schwarcz and Fernandes agree that knowing which one will work best for your hair requires trial and error, but a good rule of thumb is that, as your hair starts to grey, purple shampoo is good for blondes and blue shampoo is better for brunettes.

You can also try toning with a semi-permanent silver dye or gloss, at home or in the salon. Having your hair professionally clarified and toned every six months is still far less of a commitment than regular root touch-ups. Regardless of your hair colour, toned hair “just feels fresher, brighter,” says Fernandes. “So does finding a cut that looks great on your face shape.”

how to care for natural grey hair | Best Health Magazine Trend Report Grey Hair Care Hi Res CopyImage: Christie Vuong

Shop our picks

Here are six silver-friendly products that clarify, tone, nourish and more.

This clarifying shampoo helps lift product buildup, excess oil and mineral residue with a formula of apple cider vinegar and hair-smoothing keratin.
Ouai Detox Shampoo, $39,

A light blend of olive oil and argan oil in this blow-dry cream helps smooth and protect hair from styling heat without weighing it down.
Marc Anthony Nourishing Argan Oil of Morocco 3 Day Smoothing Cream, $14,

Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez’s hair stylist, Chris Appleton, raves about this spray for shiny, sleek and “glass-like” strands.
Color Wow Dream Coat Supernatural Spray Anti-Frizz Treatment, $14.50,

This pigment-depositing shampoo and conditioner set helps neutralize brassy tones to get rid of unwanted yellow streaks while adding brightness to colour-treated and natural grey and white shades.
Matrix Color Obsessed So Silver Duo, $38,

Envelop your hair in a hydrating mask that promises plumper and bouncier hair for 72 hours.
L’Oréal Paris Hyaluron Plump Moisture Wrapping Mask with Hyaluronic Acid, $8,

Next: Why You Should Tell Your Derm About Hair Loss

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Originally Published in Best Health Canada