A Colorist’s Five Tips on How to Stop Gray Hair

BY: Liz Juranek |May 31, 2016

According to Shelly Wilson, co-owner of Nomobo Salon, the average woman starts to go gray in her 30s. (Ughhhhh.) She’s seen women grappling with this since she was a kid hanging out in her mom’s salon, and now helps them herself as an educator for Color Me by Kevin Murphy. Armed with this expertise, Shelly gave us some advice on the ins and outs of how to stop gray hair.

Just say no to boxed hair dye.

Because it’s cheaper and faster than a salon visit, drugstore hair color is always tempting. But most boxed color is permanent, and women with 20% or less gray hair can use demi-permanent color instead, Shelly said.

"It's a lot easier to alter demi-permanent color," she said. "You always have to treat the new growth differently than how you treat the ends of the hair, [and] have a professional look at it and see what needs to be permanent and what needs to be demi-permanent color. The ends of the hair are more fragile, of course; they suck in color differently than new growth.

"With permanent color, the molecules … penetrate into the cortex of the hair, oxidize, and expand, permanently coloring white hair [with] lasting results. It's a more intense process."

But consider saying yes to highlights.

"Balayage or highlighting are always nice to incorporate some dimension into the hair," Shelly said. And because hair thins over time—women aren't exempt—highlights "create movement that hair may lack within its density." Plus, they’re low-maintenance. You only need a touchup every second or third salon visit, and having a little bit of outgrowth with highlights is now fashionable.

"Overall, I think the trend is going to ‘sombre’—soft ombre," she said. Women open to a more natural look are also turning to gray blending, a technique popular with men who didn't "want to necessarily look like they fully colored their hair."

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In fact, enhancing your natural color is always age-appropriate.

Unless you're going for a deliberately funky look, such as pink hair, "people look best enhancing their natural color," Shelly said. "The older you get, the more white you have. Depending on their natural color, women choose to go lighter, to go blonder, so they don’t have as much of a regrowth line."

But lifestyle should be considered as well: your age, your skin tone, and how often you want to visit the salon. Women who want to keep their naturally dark hair will have to visit more often for touchups. "The more gray there is, there's more of a line of demarcation, which means more maintenance," she said.

And cutting back on shampoo will help a lot.

Hair loses moisture as it ages, just like skin does. "You don't need to be shampooing your hair on a daily basis," Shelly said, who recommended graying women switch to a moisture-rich shampoo. When you cut back on shampooing, "eventually your body will stop producing too much oil."

Plus, less washing leads to less color fade, and healthy, shiny hair looks better. "Coloring your hair is not necessarily damaging, but you're changing the pH level. It's always good to replenish what you’re taking out of the hair … so when it goes through a chemical service, it's able to withstand that."

Read more about two The Guide writers' Great No-Shampoo Experiment.

You should still see your stylist if you decide to go back to gray.

If you're done with coloring, don't just quit cold turkey. (Unless you're into your hair being two disparate colors at once.) For a more natural transition, talk to your stylist. There’s a lot they can do, from starting a regimen of color remover to blending outgrowth with highlights to chopping off all your colored hair into a pixie.

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