5 tips to go gray gracefully

Author Anne Kreamer says her decision to go gray was just the start of an overall appearance overhaul. (Photo courtesy of Anne Kreamer)

Author Anne Kreamer says her decision to go gray was just the start of an overall appearance overhaul. (Photo courtesy of Anne Kreamer)

If you’ve been coloring your gray, the thought of stopping can be scary for no other reason than imagining how you'll survive the time it takes for your natural color to emerge.

Here are expert tips on looking your best while in the gray area between dying and living as nature intended:

Embrace the experience

Letting yourself “go gray” is a process that both reflects and encourages personal change, says Anne Kreamer, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based writer who documented her 18-month experience in “Going Gray: What I Learned about Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity, and Everything Else That Matters.”

“The length of time until you get to the place where it looks right feels like an eternity,” says Kreamer, who was 49 when she stopped coloring her hair, which had begun to turn gray when she was in her 20s. “You can’t just do this overnight. You actually have to live through it in real time; that’s an important part of the journey. It’s slow and painful and calls into question every one of your insecurities and fears about getting older, about being attractive or being invisible.”

Let your hairdresser help

Kreamer says she learned there is no easy way to simply remove dye from hair. Each time you do a single-process hair color, your hair shaft absorbs it differently," she says. "If you tried to strip it out, you’d have a tortoiseshell cat effect, really horrific."

But she didn’t want to go cold turkey with her tresses. “I went to my colorist and said that I’d decided to go gray. At the time, my hair was a dark kind of mahogany. For about six months, she had to pull through some highlights to blend the shelf of gray. Then she would put a toner over it to further blend it in. I had that done two or three times, every six weeks or so during the growing-out phase.”

Highlights can help with the process, says Ceilon Aspensen, owner and manager of highly rated Salon Simpatico in Bozeman, Mont. “If they've been going darker than 50 percent gray, I recommend highlighting with bleach to a level that is roughly the same as their naturally graying hair. This works in the same way as a highlight or lowlight. As more of the darker color grows out, we space the highlight or lowlight pieces farther and farther apart. Toward the end of the final transition, we might employ some semi-permanent gloss with just a hint of light tint to blend the highlights or lowlights to the graying hair as the last bit of highlighted or lowlighted hair grows off the ends and finally disappears.”

Shorten your hair

Angie’s List member Connie L. of Chelmsford, Mass., says she had her stylist cut more than usual while she grew out her gray. “At one point, I just said to the hairdresser, ‘Cut all the color off.’ After maybe three haircuts it was done,” she says, noting she felt inspired by actress Jamie Lee Curtis’ famously gray pixie cut.

Kreamer, however, who wore her hair to her shoulders, didn’t think she could handle a doubly dramatic change in her appearance. “But I realized about half-way through that the ends of the hair get really dry and brittle in contrast to the hair growing in. About seven months in, I had 3 to 4 inches of hair cut off. That was the exciting moment, when all my hair was fresh and coming close to blending in all pewter.”

Rethink your whole look

“When I was dying, I had this idea that no one would notice the 15 pounds I put on, as long as my roots weren’t showing,” Kreamer jokes. The process of going gray became her opportunity to break out of a decades-long rut and update her hair style, makeup, wardrobe and exercise habits.

“We have this place in our life cycle where we think we looked our personal best. It might be when we were 16 or it might be 30. We lock into that image in our mind, have that hair style and that look and do nothing to update and refresh ourselves as we inevitably change,” Kreamer says. “If you make the decision to go gray, it’s important to think of the full 360-degree appearance package. You might need to change your lipstick or eye makeup or change the color of your clothing to bring out the best in your complexion. You can’t do just one thing.”

Kreamer sought the advice of an image consultant. “The colors I wear now tend to be more jewel tones, more pure, such as sapphire blues and greens.”

Consider special products

Kreamer and hair stylists who are highly rated by Angie's List members recommend trying products intended for silver or white hair. “Once or twice a week I use a kind of blue shampoo for blonde or white hair, and I use a really good conditioner,” Kreamer says.

Bab May, owner and stylist of highly rated Bab & Company Hairdesigners of Carmel, Ind., says gray hair can be drier, more coarse and may appear duller than other hair colors. “Luckily, there's an entire category of shampoos, conditioners and glazes designed to enhance luster and add hydration to naturally gray and white hair. The violet-tinged formulas neutralize yellow tones; white hair can go brassy very easily.”

“Keeping it shiny and smooth is the biggest challenge, especially for women who have a lot of texture in their hair,” says Aspensen, the Montana hair stylist. “For those, I recommend products like Paul Mitchell's Super Skinny series.”

Next: Tips for hiring the right stylist.

More Like This

5 reasons to color your gray hair


Kelli Huntley after her gray was colored at highly rated Bab & Company in Carmel, Ind. (Photo by Katie Jacewicz)
Kelli Huntley after her gray was colored at highly rated Bab & Company in Carmel, Ind. (Photo by Katie Jacewicz)

A poll of more than 500 Angie’s List members uncovered reasons for coloring gray hair: don’t like how it looks, too young to be gray, if I don’t I’ll face discrimination, my significant other dislikes it.


My hair is now turning a silver color, my natural color was dark brown. I am 67 and retired. Ready to start something new. I always had a henna rinse put in and then to coloring my hair in my late 30's. I have an olive skin color. What colors would I need to change to ? Also, moisturizer ,eye brow pencil. Mascara,and lip gloss is all I use for make up. All hints would be much appreciated. Thank You, Mary

I'm 52 years old I've been dying my hair since my teens, I want to go grey gracefully but to scared. My grey comes out on my temples, hair line, and on the roots where you divide your hair, when the grey starts growing out it looks like I'm loosing my hair or bald, I would like to blend in a color with my grey won't have to dye my hair every 2 weeks and let my grey grow out, any ideas

I am 29 years old. I started getting sporadic grey hairs when I was approximately 15 years old. I think I lucked out since my grandmother tells me that she was completely grey by then. I started out highlighting my hair when I was younger (and my mom paid for it). But when I got older, got married, and had babies, it seemed cheaper to just color it myself at home. I've always had a nice rich brown color and as soon as I would see that grey growing in, especially right at my hairline, I would color it. I felt like I was being overly critical of myself and didn't like how self conscious I was feeling about my pre-mature maturity. Not to mention I knew the damage I was doing to my hair. So about 2-3 months ago I had a conversation with my husband about it. He said he didn't care what I wanted to do with my hair, as long as I was happy with it. The next conversation was with the hairdresser that cuts my whole family's hair. She agreed that starting with some highlights so I wouldn't have that dramatic line of grey in my very dark brown colored hair would help me work through the transition. She said that whenever I felt it was needed I should come back and have more highlights blended in until I was comfortable with the length of new hair growth. My plan is to have it grow until the new hair length is about chin/neck level and get a new bob-style haircut. And then no more color or highlighting at all. Making the decision has been kind of liberating and has prompted me to make better decisions for myself in every facet of life. Now all I have to do is make it through this transition without relapsing ;)

When I was in my early twenties ( after second of four kids ) i delivered, along with her, two white stripes at my temples. Quite a surprise since my natural hair color was dark brown like my mothers. My dad was the one who started graying with these same famous " highlights" . Given that my friends were paying good money for what i woke up to , I enjoyed them. That is until they started spreading from one side to the other. My husband, who has always loved long grey/white hair ( his grandma's hung to her buns when not wrapped up ) encouraged me to "let it go" cultural pun intended. lol. I told him there where several things I had inherited besides this early tendency toward snow white ( emphasis on white ) . A receding hair line for one .While I was willing at my age to except a new hairline or white hair; this dynamic duo was not my idea of dynamic and there for, not an option! So began my breaking rule #1 of the hairdressers code; never do your own hair. As life got more complicated, duh, two more kids, etc., i had a choice... drugs or chemicals. ha ha! I had one close call with insanity,( I hear you, " What? Only one!? ), After finding a new product under the label of 'color removal' , I decided to jump of the proverbial bridge. You know, the one my friends were to afraid to jump off. ;-). By now time was at a premium, eye sight starting to fail. suffice is to say , I took the label at its word within the context of my own desire to not have," color hair" on my to do list. i proceeded without caution but with every intent of embracing my natural color at the end of this expedition.Instead I remembered the importance of the small print. when what was revealed from under my head towel was a vision of Lucile Ball. I'll never forget the look on the mail man's face when , having forgotten what my hair looked like as i could not get in to see and old friend still practicing the art of hair color, I answered the door to sign for something! ;-0 I gave in and gave up. i went back to doing chemicals and factored the time in as "my time". Hey, at least i was saving money for soccer camps, music lessons, pet food, vet bills, future braces, and BBQ steaks ( which it seems my Hubby prefers more than white hair! ) Now ,as my last child is leaving the nest ( no helpers left), I have matured in so many ways. I still don't have the time, don't care what others think, still have demands on resources, i am ready to give up this chemical ritual.They say that it's the long term memories we have total recall of but for the white hair of me, i could not come up with a plan to implement toward my goal of going Oh'natural. ( I'd like to come face to face with 'they" before this life is over). Then I remembered," Hey, what about that thing called 'the internet'?! So here I am , having found enough information and encouragement to risk it all ( all things brown that is. lol ). Thank yo for all of your stories of your travels from one color to the one you were made for. ;-) Hmmm? I wonder how many shades i could have concocted in the time it took me to write this? No , no, no. I will not go back! ;-)

I am 48 and color my hair dark natural blond but under that is completely silver and I like to let it just go silver but I'm scared of the change I have always had a vision of myself having long silver hair when I get to retirement age ....So reading how other women have made the step is empowering and helpful and this change ...thank you!

Thanks for your comment! As a person who uses temporary color to dye gray at the temples and crown, I envy you your total silver! I love how silver looks, but I'm not crazy about salt and pepper. At least not yet ....   :)

My natural color is very dark, almost black hair. Very pale skin. Black eyebrows and lashes. I am 53. I have 3 daughters, the last of which graduates high school next spring. I had been coloring since my early 40s. Always wanted it to look natural, just a dark brown until I found Feria # 32, Midnight Ruby. Natural looking in darker indoor lighting but with a little light bouncing off it would look Purple black. Of course my kids and their friends thought it was the coolest. And I would get compliments WEEKLY from strangers, young and old. But as I got more gray, it would fade faster and look more red than purple. My husband kept bugging me that if I wanted to stop coloring it, he'd be just fine with it. But I didn't want to deal with the growing out. Ugg! Plus I had the idea I would wait until after graduation next year. But this is what I did. I started coloring with a #2, 24 washings color close to my own color. Some cheap Clairol brand I think. As it would fade, I could tell where the old reddish line of color was. When it faded enough to not look good, I'd just do it again. Then one day I just stopped, let it fade with each washing. It's very salt and pepper now. The kids and my husband thinks it's pretty and I'm kinda glad I'm like the first of my friends to go for it. I am the trailblazer! And I never once felt embarrassed in public because it was never obvious that I was growing it out. Very graceful and probably cost me less than $40 total once I started the temporary color.

Thanks for posting this. I had this idea a couple of days ago and I was hoping someone else out there tried it first. I just realized I can't keep coloring forever. And I don't want to. Thanks again for your post.

I LOVE this idea! I am 45 and I am very gray, but have covered my "gray babies" since I was about 28. I have got a lot of flack about going gray because I look so young. However, recently, I just feel the need to be more genuine and that includes letting my hair be what it is. This process makes SO much sense! I am also going to highlight to help in the transition. I am so glad I read your post! Thank you!

The assessments were spot on of the changes that should be made once one's hair begins graying. I bought the hair colors that said especially 'for gray hair' and I saw no difference in the ones used before. I tried to buy Loreal but if 2 stores didn't have my color, I would buy Clairol foam. I had been washing my hair everyday, and these do not last on gray very long, 2-3 weeks. The rest of my hair blended well, and I waited to color again until my hair felt repaired. But then I found John Frieda. Oh, my....even the color part one made my hair feel wonderful. The conditioner had such a silkiness, I tried to make it last as long as I could. The John Frieda covered gray better, and (because I tried to shampoo it less, also) the color lasted longer. I was very pleased; I wait until I find John Frieda products. Back to the one article. I have changed to more solid softer cool colors, jewel toned. I had my hair cut shorter, and then shorter each time I went to get it cut, and now it sits on my shoulders. It can easily be made fun or professional. Great article! I have tried highlights, and that is great, until I am hot, and I still pull my hair back. A whole ring of gray 'coming out' is what frames my face, after the first few weeks after coloring. I don't work nor have a significant other, but my three daughters are the fashion experts, in our family, They are sweet, and take me shopping, or go for me. I love them much, they are Jesus to me. for their care. There is no threat, but I am glad to please them, and look nice.

Add comment


What is Angie's List?

Angie’s List is the trusted site where more than 3 million households go to get ratings and reviews on everything from home repair to health care. Stop guessing when it comes to hiring! Check Angie’s List to find out who does the best work in town.

Local Discounts

Daily deals up to 70% off popular home improvement projects from top-rated contractors on Angie’s List!