Transitioning To Grey Hair with Highlights: A Beginner's Guide

Medically reviewed by Dr. Amy Revene M.B.B.S.
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated

There's a growing trend in the beauty world that's all about embracing the natural beauty of gray hair - with a twist!

Rather than covering up gray hair with traditional hair dye, more and more people are opting to transition to gray hair with highlights.

This approach not only allows for a graceful shift into the next phase of life but also adds depth and dimension to the hair.

In this article, we'll explore the benefits and considerations of transitioning to gray hair with highlights, as well as provide encouragement to embrace the natural beauty of gray hair and experiment with highlights.

So, whether you're just starting to see gray hair or have already embraced your natural color, read on to discover how to achieve a stunning and unique look with gray hair and highlights.

Summary

Transitioning to gray hair with highlights can be a beautiful and empowering journey. It represents a shift into the next phase of life, allowing for depth and dimension in one's hair while embracing natural beauty.

The benefits of transitioning to gray hair with highlights are numerous. It can soften the contrast between gray and colored hair, and provide versatility in styling while requiring low maintenance.

However, highlighting can cause hair damage, so it's important to seek out an experienced stylist and take steps to maintain healthy hair.

By embracing the natural beauty of gray hair and experimenting with highlights, one can achieve a confident and stylish look. gray hair can be radiant and healthy with the proper care and attention. So why not consider adding some highlights to your hair to enhance its beauty?

No matter where you are on your gray hair journey, remember that it's never too late to embrace the beauty of ageing gracefully. gray hair deserves to be celebrated every day, and with highlights, you can elevate your look while staying true to your natural self.

Benefits of highlights on gray hair

transitioning to grey hair with highlights, blending gray hair, hair dye

As we age, our hair naturally turns gray due to a decrease in melanin production. While some people choose to embrace their gray hair, others prefer to cover it up. However, constantly dying the hair can be damaging, time-consuming, and expensive.

One way to embrace your gray hair while still looking stylish and youthful is by adding highlights. Highlighting gray hair can help blend gray with your natural hair color, providing a more natural look.

It can also add depth and dimension to the hair, making it look fuller and more voluminous. In addition, highlighting gray hair can help you achieve a more gradual transition to gray hair, making the process less noticeable.

Adding highlights to gray hair has several benefits, including:

  • Enhances the natural beauty of gray hair while providing softer and lighter tones
  • Conceals as much or as little gray as desired through gray blending techniques
  • Useful for individuals with a lighter natural foundation color or those with a greater proportion of gray hair
  • Helps achieve a more balanced and blended appearance, especially for dark hair with white or silver strands
  • Provides a gradual transition to gray hair, avoiding a radical shift
  • Reduces time and money spent at the hair salon
  • Suggests blonde tints with cool base tones for an all-over gray-dyed hair to avoid an unnatural look
  • Gradually increasing highlights can result in a salt-and-pepper appearance
  • Aids in the transition to gray hair, making the new growth less noticeable
  • Adds dimension and depth to the hair, making it look fuller and more voluminous

Read this: 9 Undisputable Stylist Tips How To Keep Highlighted Hair Healthy

Choosing the right highlights

Choosing the right highlights

Choosing the right highlights can completely transform your look, adding dimension and depth to your hair. However, with so many highlighting techniques and styles available, it can be challenging to know which one is right for you.

When choosing the right highlights, it's essential to consider your skin tone, natural hair color, and the result you want to achieve.

It's also important to understand the different highlighting techniques available, including ombre, balayage, hand painting, and foils, as each method offers a unique effect.

Ombre

Ombre is a two-toned hairstyle known for its darker hair at the roots that transitions into a lighter tint at the ends. Its name comes from the French word for "shadow," as it creates a shadow-like effect on a portion of your hair.

Ombre can be personalized to suit your face, and it works for a wide range of color contrasts, including fantastic hues like blue or purple, or more traditional contrasts like dark to light blonde or rich chocolate to red.

Balayage

Balayage is a highlighting technique that translates to "sweeping" in French. It involves an expert colorist sweeping hand-painted color over your hair to create a distinctive, organic look.

Balayage gives hairdressers more freedom to modify the treatment to suit the demands of the customer. It enables you to spot-treat particular regions that could need more attention than others if a client needs additional coverage in that area.

Balayage also works well for gray coverage, as it allows you to cover a larger surface area and achieve a more natural and youthful appearance.

Hand painting

Hand painting is a freehand highlighting method that is slightly different from balayage. Each strand is individually painted with color on the top and bottom, giving the appearance of a delicate foil in an artistic, hand-painted manner.

This technique creates a natural, subtle, and beautiful result that is perfect for those who want to enhance their natural hair color.

Foils

The most common highlighting method is foils, in which sections of colored hair are wrapped in foil to cure and stand out from the rest of your hair. Although they don't look as natural, they produce a distinctive, dramatic, high-contrast aesthetic with deep dimension.

Foil highlights are often utilized for gray covering because they help to soften the surrounding hair and allow the grays to mix into the foundation color, giving a much more natural effect than coloring the grays to match the overall base color.

When choosing the right highlighting technique, it's essential to consider your skin's undertone. Which hues of gray you should take into consideration will depend on whether you have cool or warm undertones.

Checking the color of the veins inside your wrist is the simplest way to reveal your undertone. You have cold undertones if they are bluish; warm undertones if they are green.

Of course, it's also possible to have a neutral undertone by combining the two. Darker colors of gray tend to spotlight lighter skin tones, whereas lighter shades of gray tend to brighten darker complexion tones. Those with olive skin tones can look fantastic in almost any color.

Read this: 17 Best & Effective Hair Growth Oils To Achieve Your Hair Goals

Color palettes that work well with gray hair 

Brunette and black hair

If you are a natural brunette or have black hair, experiment with light brown highlights and darker lowlights when merging gray hair with your base.

As your brown or black hair is beginning to turn gray, you should be cautious about adding light highlights because they could be mistaken for more gray hair.

Ashy tones like mushroom brown and dark ash blonde also work, as do warm caramel and golden tones. To add some brightness and complexity that blends with the grays without drawing too much attention to them, use hues of auburn and caramel.

Go with darker, richer hues for your lowlights to make your base stand out, such as mahogany, espresso, and chestnut.

Redheads

Use a sequence of lowlights and highlights in the brown and blonde range if you have red hair naturally to integrate your grays.

To subtly hide grays, use strawberry blonde highlights on blonde hair, and for depth and character, add darker red lowlights. Use a glazing technique if you only have a few grays, so they won't stand out as much from your base color.

Blondes

If you have naturally blonde hair, use a variety of colors to liven up your gray hair. To match your gray hair, ask your colorist to add highlights and lowlights in platinum, ash, and medium blonde tones.

Your grays' cold, silvery tones will merge flawlessly with these cool, natural-looking tones in light to dark tints. 

You might also think about choosing "baby lights," which entail brushing on incredibly tiny blonde highlights all over your hair to give it a sun-kissed appearance.

This blonde hair will make your light gray mane pop and make you look younger in general. It is important to keep your blonde hair healthy in order to retain the highlights.

Preparing for the transition

dark brown

Preparing for the transition to gray hair with highlights involves some careful consideration and planning. To achieve a smooth and successful transition, it is recommended to add some lowlights to the hair to blend the darker base with natural gray strands.

This also reduces damage to the hair, requires less maintenance, and improves the transition between the two colors. During the transition, it is important to allow the roots to extend by 3 to 4 inches, and a temporary root concealer can help hide them.

Before the initial consultation, it is also advisable to use deep conditioning treatments to strengthen and repair the hair.

Collaborating with a skilled colorist is also essential in choosing the best technique for highlighting gray hair, depending on the desired style, the current amount of gray hair, and coverage preferences.

Whether covering every gray hair or integrating silvery strands and roots, avoiding chunky highlights is crucial to achieving a natural and seamless look.

How to maintain healthy hair during the transition

The full transition to gray hair procedure will probably take several sessions, although it might not take as long if highlights and lowlights are utilized to help cover the color of the grow-out and blend in those gray roots.

Depending on the length of your hair, the change could take anything from a few months to a year. When compared to monthly hair coloring, a few highlighting appointments a year to add a few boosting streaks of blonde require less upkeep and cost less.

Also, since some of your hair will be left natural, those lovely blonde portions will put a lot less strain on your overall hairstyle.

Even if gray has naturally filled in, returning silver-haired clients typically need to visit the salon every three to four months for cuts and toning/glossing treatments, which are used to cover up undesired yellow or orange tones on bleached hair.

Maintaining healthy hair during the transition to gray hair is essential, and using the right hair care routine can make all the difference. The Scandinavian Biolabs Hair Growth Routine is a 3-step hair growth routine that has been expertly developed to help reduce hair thinning, support the growth of new hair, and maintain strong and vital hair.

natural gray color, brown hair

The products contain multiple plant growth factors that have been developed through stem cell technology, which help nurture hair follicles and enhance hair growth. The clinically tested Bio-Pilixin Serum is a standout product, with results showing in just 150 days.

It helps to reduce hair thinning and encourage new growth, and it's safe for everyday use. With 93% of users satisfied with the results after 150 days, the Scandinavian Biolabs Hair Growth Routine is a must-try for anyone looking to maintain healthy hair during the transition to gray hair.

Additionally, avoid using hot tools between sessions, stay out of the sun and chlorine to prevent brassy hair, and only shampoo once a week to prevent hair color from fading too quickly.

Silver hair of all colors should be washed with a purple-toned shampoo that fights brassiness and color-corrects to reclaim its cooler, more neutral hue, just like you would with blonde hair.

Read this: Does Washing Hair Everyday Cause Hair Loss?

Hair Growth Routine | For Women
Hair Growth Routine | For Women
Formulated to combat thinning hair & visible scalp

How to maintain the color and texture after the transition

gray hair grow

After the transition to gray hair, it's important to maintain the color and texture of your hair. One recommendation for those with highlights to cover the gray is to use violet-based shampoos like Matrix Total Results to balance out any unwanted yellow tones and give the hair a more even tone.

Using a purple system can help cancel out brassy tones and keep the color as vibrant as possible. To preserve the silver, gray, or platinum look achieved by your stylist, it's also recommended to apply a heat protectant before using hot tools like a blow dryer or curling wand.

Products like the Scandinavian Biolabs Hair Protection Oil can help protect hair from UV radiation and high tool heat, two major causes of color fading.

As your hair loses melanin and natural pigment, the texture can become more wiry, dry, and coarse. Using conditioning hair products like Scandinavian Biolabs Hair Recovery Conditioner can help replenish moisture in the hair and make it easier to manage.

It's also recommended to use color-preserving shampoos and conditioners like the Kenra Color Maintenance Shampoo and the RUSK Sensories Brilliance Color Protection Leave-In Conditioner to keep highlights looking vibrant.

In addition to salon-grade products, there are also natural ways to strengthen your hair at home. It's advised to use lukewarm water when washing dyed hair to prevent premature fading. With these tips and tactics, maintaining your new gray hair highlights will be a breeze.

Read this: 10 Tips On How To Take Care Of Dyed Hair?

Hair Recovery Conditioner | For Women
Hair Recovery Conditioner | For Women
Aims to improve smoothness & durability while helping to reduce breakage

Hair Protection Oil
Hair Protection Oil
A blend of natural oils to help provide moisture & protection to hair

Styling techniques for gray hair with highlights

Here are some styling techniques for gray hair with highlights:

  • Limit the use of heat styling and use a heat protectant when necessary. Keep the temperature below 350 degrees.
  • Use natural methods to straighten your hair at home.
  • Use hydrating hair serums, lotions, and sprays on the middle to ends of your hair to combat dullness and add moisture.
  • Avoid wiry hair by ensuring that your hair is adequately moisturized.
  • Don't feel like you have to chop your hair short just because it's gray. Long, healthy hair can still look great with a few added layers to frame your face.
  • If you have thin hair, look for hairstyles that complement your hair type.

The do's and don'ts of transitioning to gray hair with highlights

Transitioning to gray hair with highlights can be an exciting and empowering process, but it also requires some care and attention. Here are some do's and don'ts to keep in mind:

Do's:

  • Be patient: The process of transitioning to gray hair with highlights can take time, so be patient and embrace the journey.
  • Consult with a professional: Talk to a hairstylist who has experience with gray hair transitions and ask for their advice on the best way to approach the process.
  • Choose the right shades: Select highlights that complement your natural gray hair color and skin tone. Cool-toned highlights, such as silver or platinum, work well with gray hair.
  • Use quality hair products: Invest in high-quality hair care products, such as shampoos and conditioners designed for color-treated hair. This will help your highlights last longer and keep your hair looking healthy.
  • Keep your hair hydrated: gray hair can be prone to dryness, so use a deep conditioning treatment regularly to keep it hydrated and healthy.

Hair Hydration Mask +
Hair Hydration Mask +
A super-nourishing mask to help bring lifeless and damaged hair back to life

Don'ts:

  • Don't rush the process: Trying to speed up the process of transitioning to gray hair can damage your hair and lead to breakage. Take your time and let your hair grow out naturally.
  • Don't overdo the highlights: Adding too many highlights can make your hair look unnatural and damage them. It's best to start with a few highlights and gradually add more over time.
  • Don't use harsh chemicals: Avoid using harsh chemicals, such as bleach or strong hair dyes, which can damage your hair and make it brittle.
  • Don't forget to protect your hair from the sun: gray hair is more prone to sun damage, so make sure to protect it from the sun's harmful rays by wearing a hat or using a hair product with SPF.
  • Don't neglect your roots: As your hair grows out, it's important to touch up your roots regularly to maintain a natural-looking transition to gray hair.

Conclusion

Transitioning to gray hair with highlights can be a beautiful and empowering journey. It represents a shift into the next phase of life, allowing for depth and dimension in one's hair while embracing natural beauty.

The benefits of transitioning to gray hair with highlights are numerous. It can soften the contrast between gray and colored hair, and provide versatility in styling while requiring low maintenance.

However, highlighting can cause hair damage, so it's important to seek out an experienced stylist and take steps to maintain healthy hair.

By embracing the natural beauty of gray hair and experimenting with highlights, one can achieve a confident and stylish look. gray hair can be radiant and healthy with the proper care and attention. So why not consider adding some highlights to your hair to enhance its beauty?

No matter where you are on your gray hair journey, remember that it's never too late to embrace the beauty of ageing gracefully. gray hair deserves to be celebrated every day, and with highlights, you can elevate your look while staying true to your natural self.

FAQs

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 hair 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.

References:

  1. https://www.thehealthyjournal.com/faq/can-grey-hair-be-highlighted
  2. https://www.instyle.com/hair/hair-color/highlights-for-gray-hair
  3. https://blog.wella.com/us/how-to-cover-gray-hair-with-highlights

Read more:

Dr Amy Revene M.B.B.S. graduated from the University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. She is currently working as a General Physician at New Hope Medical Center. Amy has a passion for research and offers her expertise and opinions to help people in their quest to lead healthy, happy lives.