Transitioning To Grey Hair with Highlights: A Simplified Guide

Medically reviewedby Dr. Amy Revene M.B.B.S.
WrittenbyLuat Duong
Last updated

Aging gracefully by transitioning to grey hair is a journey many are embracing.

As we mature, the decision to let natural silver strands shine through or enhance them with highlights is a personal choice.

This article explores expert techniques for blending gray hair with strategically placed highlights, creating a vibrant, multi-tonal look.

How do you transition to gray hair?

Here are 5 simple steps to transition to gray hair:

  1. Grow out your grays gradually by not coloring your hair as new growth comes in
  2. Get highlights or lowlights close to your natural gray shade to blend the transition
  3. Cut your hair shorter to remove more of the colored lengths and let the grays show through faster
  4. Use blue or violet shampoos and conditioners to neutralize yellow/brassy tones
  5. Embrace your grays confidently - greying is a natural process that can look chic

Grow out your grays gradually

This approach allows for a seamless transition to your gray hair. As your roots grow out, the contrast between your grays and the previously colored hair will become less stark. This method requires patience, as it can take several months for the full gray to emerge. To maintain a polished look during the grow-out phase, consider using root touch-up powders or sprays to camouflage the regrowth between salon visits.

Get highlights or lowlights

By adding highlights or lowlights in shades similar to your natural gray, you can create a more blended and multidimensional look as your grays grow in.

This technique is particularly effective for those with blonde hair or lighter shades, as it helps with gray blending in a way that looks natural and intentional.

The colorist can strategically place the highlights or lowlights to complement your specific hair color and gray pattern.

Cut your hair shorter

Chopping off your colored ends can accelerate the process of embracing your grays. A shorter hairstyle will immediately reveal more of your natural gray growth, allowing you to transition faster. This approach is ideal for those who want a more dramatic and immediate change. However, keep in mind that shorter haircuts may require more frequent trims to maintain the desired shape as your grays grow in.

Use blue or purple shampoo and conditioner combos

As gray hair grows in, it can sometimes take on an unwanted yellow or brassy cast. Blue, purple or violet-tinted shampoos and conditioners can help counteract these warm tones by depositing cool pigments onto the hair. These products work by neutralizing the brassy hues, leaving your grays looking fresh and bright. It's essential to follow the instructions carefully to avoid over-toning and achieve the desired results.

Embrace your grays confidently

Going gray is a natural part of the aging process, and there's no reason to feel self-conscious about it. Embrace your grays with confidence and wear them as a badge of honor. Gray hair color can be incredibly chic and stylish when paired with the right haircut, styling products, and attitude. Don't let societal pressures or outdated beauty standards dictate how you feel about your grays. Rock them with pride and let your natural beauty shine through.

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How long does it take to transition to going grey?

The process of going completely grey typically takes 10-20 years. It sometimes begins in the late 20s to mid-30s with the gray root appearing gradually. By age 50, 50% of people have at least 50% grey. The transition is completed for most by age 60.

Why should you transition to gray hair with highlights?

As we age, our hair turns to natural gray hair due to a decrease in melanin production.

While some people choose to embrace their natural gray hair, others prefer to cover it up with dyed hair.

However, hair dye can be damaging, time-consuming, and expensive.

Adding highlights is an excellent way to embrace your grays while maintaining a stylish, youthful appearance.

Gray blending highlights with your natural hair color for a seamless look, add depth and volume, and allow for a gradual, less noticeable transition to your new hair color.

Adding highlights to gray hair has several benefits, including:

  • Enhances the natural beauty of gray hair with softer, lighter tones
  • Conceals or blends grays as desired through blending techniques
  • Helps achieve a balanced, blended appearance for those with dark hair and white/silver strands
  • Allows for a gradual transition to gray hair, avoiding a drastic shift
  • Reduces time and money spent at the hair salon
  • Creates a natural-looking salt-and-pepper effect with gradually increasing highlights
  • Adds dimension and volume, making hair look fuller

How to choose the right highlights for gray hair?

When it comes to using hair color, there are various options available to suit your preferences and hair type.

Whether you opt for permanent hair color, semi-permanent dye, or hair gloss, it's essential to consider your base color and desired outcome.

If you have brown hair and want to go for a darker shade or add blonde highlights, a permanent hair dye might be the way to go.

However, for those with red hair or those looking for a temporary change, trying a semi-permanent dye could be a better choice.

For those with thick hair or curly hair, it's crucial to select products that cater to your specific hair needs and provide nourishment to prevent damage.

To choose the right highlights color for your gray hair:

  • Go 2-3 shades lighter than your natural shade
  • Use ash or beige tones
  • Place highlights around the face
  • Ask your stylist for balayage highlights
  • Consider glosses or toners after highlighting

Go 2-3 shades lighter than your natural color

Going 2-3 shades lighter than your natural hair color when adding highlights creates a subtle, blended look with your gray hair. Using your exact natural tone can make the highlights appear dull against the gray strands.

Use ash or beige tones

Ash and beige tones are ideal highlight colors for gray blending. Cooler ash tones in particular help counteract any unwanted brassiness or orange tones that can show up against the gray.

Place highlights around the face

Strategically placing highlights around the face helps brighten up your complexion and facial features. It also camouflages gray roots as they grow in between touch-ups.

Ask your stylist for balayage highlights

Balayage is a highlighting technique that creates a very soft, natural-looking blend of colors. It avoids the stark regrowth line of traditional foil highlights, making it an ideal option for gray hair.

Consider glosses or toners after highlighting

Using a toning gloss or glossing treatment after your highlights can enhance and deepen the tone you chose while adding shine and luster to the hair.

What color works well with gray hair color?

Here are some color recommendations that can look great with greying hair:

  • Jewel tones
  • Warmer reds, corals, and pinks
  • Plums, wines, and burgundies
  • Navy blues and deep forest greens
  • Soft pastels
  • Metallics

Jewel Tones

Jewel tones like rich purples, sapphire blues, and emerald greens create a luxurious, regal look when paired with gray or white hair colour. The bold vibrancy of these colors makes the silver tones really pop. Jewel tones have an inherent richness that gives gray hair a sophisticated, polished vibe rather than washed out. These colors are also quite flattering for most skin tones, adding warmth and radiance.

Warm Reds, Corals and Pinks

Shades of red, from true reds to corals and pinks, provide a beautiful contrast against cool grays and whites. The warmth of these hues adds instant vibrancy and youthfulness. Opt for richer, blue-based reds rather than orangey tones which can look harsh. Pink is surprisingly complementary to gray, as long as it's not too bright or bubblegum-toned. These red-based shades bring a flattering flush to the complexion.

Plums, Wines and Burgundies

The lush, moody tones of plums, wines and burgundies are extremely sophisticated when styled with gray and white hair color. These deep reddish purples and reds have an inherent coolness that blends seamlessly with ashy or blue-toned grays. The richness of the colors prevents grays from looking drab or dull. These shades also tend to be very flattering against most skin tones, warming up complexions beautifully.

Navy Blues and Forest Greens

Navy blues and forest greens make for striking color combinations with ash gray hair. These saturated, almost neutral tones have enough depth to define the lighter hair shades. Navy has a slight tinge of black so it creates gorgeous contrast. Forest greens blend well with the cooler undertones of grays without being too bright or jarring. Both colors appear quite polished and classy.

Soft Pastels

Soft, dusty pastel shades like pale pinks, blues and lavenders provide a romantic, feminine complement to gray and white hair. The muted tones add a delicate touch while still allowing the dimension of the grays and whites to show through. Pastels give a pretty, youthful glow that brightens up the complexion. Take care that the pastel hues aren't too whimsical or saccharine in tone.


Shimmery metallics like silvers, pewters and platinum are beautiful, tonal matches for gray and white hair. Playing off the lustrous, ashy tones, these colors create a modern, edgy vibe. The coolness of the metallics prevents gray from appearing drab or flat. They add depth and dimension for a multi-tonal, multi-dimensional look that's chic and fashion-forward. Shine and luster makes the tones pop glamorously.


Ultimately, the decision to color your hair, whether blonde, brown, or any other shade, should be based on personal preference and the advice of a trusted stylist who can guide you through the process.

We recommend checking out the Instagram content of your favorite celebrities to see how they transitioned. They usually have a personal hair stylist, so it'd be like you are taking advice from their stylist!


Is it better to have highlights when going gray?

Having highlights can be a good option when transitioning to gray hair because it can help blend the new growth and make the process less noticeable.

How do salons transition to gray hair?

Salons use various techniques when transitioning to gray hair, such as adding highlights and lowlights, using toners and glosses, and gradually lightening the hair color.

What do highlights do to gray hair?

Highlights can add dimension and contrast to gray hair, making it look more vibrant and youthful.

Is it better to go lighter or darker to cover gray hair?

It depends on the individual's skin tone and personal preference. Some people prefer to go lighter to create a softer, more natural look, while others prefer to go darker for a more dramatic effect. A consultation with a stylist can help determine the best option for each individual.

How often do I need to touch up my gray hair highlights?

The frequency of touch-ups depends on the individual's hair growth rate and the contrast between the natural color and the highlights. Generally, highlights need to be touched up every 6-8 weeks to maintain the desired look.

Can I dye my hair after getting highlights to cover the gray completely?

Yes, it is possible to dye the hair after getting highlights, but it's important to consult with a professional stylist to avoid damaging the hair or compromising the integrity of the highlights. It's also important to consider that dyeing the hair may require more maintenance than highlights and may need to be touched up more frequently.

Will highlights damage my hair?

Highlights done correctly should not cause significant damage to the hair. However, frequent highlighting or using harsh chemicals can lead to breakage and dryness. It's important to use high-quality hair care products and avoid excessive heat styling to maintain healthy hair.

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Luat Duong

Luat Duong is a Copenhagen-based writer and content strategist specializing in hair loss and health. His work has been featured in MyHealthGuide, The Right Hairstyles, and Woman's Era. He is a graduate of Vaasa University. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.