Bring Out the Best in Your Gray Hair
For a soft and shiny silver mane, give your strands the right care. A stylist offers pro tips. Plus: product options, from shampoos and conditioners to styling aids.
The key to gorgeous gray is to understand its unique properties so that you can make care and product choices, says hairstylist Aeleise Ollarvia, who’s based in Fayetteville, Georgia.
“Gray hair is [due to] the loss or absence of melanin in individual hair strands,” says Ollarvia, the cofounder of the education site Black Girl Curls. As we get older, the stem cells that produce melanin in our hair begin to disappear. And fun fact: Gray hair technically isn’t gray. “The hair is actually [translucent],” Ollarvia says. For proof, hold up a strand of your gray hair to the light.
How to Best Care for Gray Hair
Whether you cover your gray or show it off, and whether you have a few strands, salt-and-pepper or a head full of silver, here are some tips to keep in mind.
1. Hydrate, don’t moisturize
“Slathering butters, oils, leave-ins and balms on [your hair] doesn't moisturize, even if you spray water on it,” says Ollarvia. Those products have their place, but we shouldn’t depend on them to hydrate our hair, which is done with water on wash day.
2. Protect your hair from the sun
“A cute hat or scarf during beach or gardening days will do the trick,” Ollarvia says. Without protective melanin, your gray hair is more susceptible to damage and dryness caused by sun exposure.
3. Prevent your grays from looking yellow. Or blue.
“Many [people] think that heat causes yellowing to gray hair,” Ollarvia says. But often, it’s the conditions surrounding heat usage that lead to the unflattering hue, not the heat itself.
Using the wrong heat protectants, styling with heat that is too high for your hair, applying heat before cleansing and conditioning your hair thoroughly or using a heat tool that has buildup can all contribute to yellowish hair.
Another culprit to yellow-gray hair is often the minerals found in hard water. You can combat this with a clarifying shampoo.
While a purple shampoo can counter yellowness, test it first on an inconspicuous area. Porous or fine hair may pick up too much pigment, creating “that blue-haired-lady look,” she warns.
4. Time your trims at regular intervals
“Hair needs regular trims or shaping,” Ollarvia advises. She says go closer to eight weeks for relaxed or straight-natural hair and 12 to 16 weeks for curly-natural hair.
5. Enhance gray with color if you choose
“You can lowlight (add darker colors for dimension) or highlight (lift the color of the still pigmented hair) hair. Or you can choose a fashion shade.” Ollarvia says. Depending on your hair’s texture, your gray strands may be resistant to chemicals, so it’s best to leave dyeing and other treatments to the professionals. But if you choose to color your hair at home, consider demipermanent hair color. Longer lasting than semipermanent color, it adds pigment without using ammonia to remove melanin as some permanent dyes do.
6. Know your product needs
Ollarvia recommends basing your product selection on your hair's essential elements. She’s referring to unique characteristics such as texture, surface texture (your hair’s look and feel), density, porosity (how your hair absorbs and maintains moisture) and elasticity. Get your stylist’s recommendations or read reviews. Check labels for ingredients like those mentioned below.
Product Options for Silver Sisters
Color Awakening Hairbath, Innersense Organic Beauty
Containing natural ingredients including coconut, rice bran, pumpkin seed oil and avocado oils, as well as shea butter, this shampoo nourishes and cleanses your hair while adding shine and locking in moisture. $28 (innersensebeauty.com)
Hard Water Wellness® Shampoo, Malibu C
Copper or iron deposits may dull or discolor your grays. This shampoo helps prevent buildup and unwanted tones while nourishing your hair with vitamin B5 and plant proteins. $16 (malibuc.com)
Original No Yellow Purple Shampoo, Fanola
This option can gently correct the color while leaving your hair soft and shiny. $19.99 (fanola.net)
Color Radiance Daily Conditioner, Innersense Organic Beauty
Follow up your shampoo — or cowash — with a nourishing conditioner like this one. It’s made with rice bran oil and avocado oil, which can strengthen your hair, improve its elasticity and guard against frizz. $30 (innersensebeauty.com)
Pure Avocado Moisturizer, CurlMix
A moisturizer made with avocado oil, which nourishes and hydrates hair. $23 (curlmix.com)
Silk Infusion, CHI
This leave-in treatment infuses chemically treated hair with silk, wheat and soy proteins to strengthen and protect it from heat-styling. $16.92 (chi.com) [WD(5]
Mousse Def Texture Foam, the Doux
This styling foam provides definition and volume to natural curls or straightened hair without flaking. The silk protein gives plenty of shine while strengthening hair. $14.99 (thedoux.com)
Pure Flaxseed Gel, CurlMix
This styling aid contains jojoba oil to protect strands. $27 (curlmix.com)