How to Go Gray Naturally or with Dyes

More and more women these days are transforming their locks to full gray, a dramatic look that’s trendy not only for older women – but women of all ages.

This guide takes a comprehensive look at going full gray, including ways to attain this look naturally, as well as the best steps to take if you want to undergo the dyeing process.

This guide also offers other tips, including the best styles for silver hair, as well as makeup advice to really make your hair pop.

Gray Hair Is a Growing Trend for Women of All Ages

Having gray hair has been a “thing” for the past year or more, according to Nina Myles, a 37-year veteran of the beauty industry who has been a salon owner, stylist, platform artist and educator during those years.

“It started with our younger clients and has moved into our older clients as well,” Myles said.

Some women love the idea of the silver look they are seeing in magazines, online and on celebrities; while others are simply tired of coloring their hair and are embracing their natural color.

“With model Yasmina Rossi and (the late) make-up artist turned model Cindy Joseph with their beautiful gray hair making headlines, women have begun to re-evaluate the definition of beauty,” Myles said. “More and more, women are beginning to embrace their more natural self.”

Much of the silver and grey craze started with the fading results of the washed out “candy colors” we all see around town, said Sharon Zimmer, who has 30 years of experience as a color specialist and operates a salon in Simi Valley, California.

“Those vibrant colors don’t last long, and when they fade, a lot of them look gray-like, and so it began,” Zimmer said.

Best Ways to Let Hair Go Gray Naturally

If you already have silver hair and want to grow your locks out naturally, regular trims should be a part of this process, Zimmer advised.

Depending on the length of your hair, it could take a year or more for the silver strands to completely grow out, she noted.

“Trims definitely help,” Zimmer said. “The only way to get there faster from the top is to get rid of the bottom.”

Zimmer noted that “letting it all go” is not her favorite choice, because there are options to ease this transition, such as highlights to break up the re-growth line as it comes in.

However, “if you must, I would recommend going as short as you can, and get there fast,” Zimmer advised. “For those who really own their gray as it comes in, my hats off to you. It does seem pretty liberating.”

Our hair typically grows out about a half-inch per month, so for three inches of new growth, it will take about six months, said Suzie Sakata, a hairdresser for 30 years and owner of Suzie Sakata Hair Design, Inc. in Southern California.

During this process, Sakata agreed that regular trims to gradually get rid of the old color are important to keep the hair looking healthy and well-kept.

“Depending on the natural texture of the hair, gray hair can look dry and neglected without a defined shape of a good haircut,” Sakata said.

In other advice, Sakata said styling your hair without a defined part – as well as adding well-placed highlights, especially at the crown and around the face – can also help soften the line of demarcation; along with applying a demi-permanent color in a lighter shade on the new growth to make the transition “more gradual and still flattering.”

Pros and Cons of Letting Hair Go Gray Naturally

Women who let their silver hair grow out naturally avoid the cost of maintenance involved with tinting their hair every few weeks to keep their original natural color, Sakata noted.

Natural virgin hair is also healthier, she emphasized.

“Even though the ingredients in hair color and tint have greatly improved over the years, it can still be drying and can affect the integrity of the hair,” Sakata said.

As far as the potential cons are concerned, there are very few people that can pull this off without looking unkempt, according to Zimmer.

“If your hair is already a very light blond, and that line, when it grows in, is not too shocking, then okay,” Zimmer noted. “Other than that, it’s not a good look, on anyone. In my opinion, it looks worse. Color has come so far, there’s no reason to suffer through any type of grow out stage.”

Growing it out is also a long-term commitment, and you must be okay with seeing the re-growth or two-tone hair, Myles added.

“It is not a very graceful look but it is less costly than removing it,” said Myles, noting that the only real advantage to growing out your color treated hair to natural is to save time and money.

“With the quality of the hair colors that we use as well as our chemistry knowledge, the hair stays in really great condition so that wouldn’t be a factor in that decision,” she said.

Best Steps to Go Full Gray with Dyes

There are several options when growing out hair color. For instance, adding highlights to brown locks can soften the re-growth line as the hair is growing.

“After several months, more highlights can be added to lighten up the ends as well as adding some low lights to further blend the grow-out line,” said Myles.

Zimmer noted there are a couple of processes that will get you there.

For instance, “a very heavy weave, lifted to white, and then toned with a platinum, will help break up the line as it grows back,” Zimmer said.

Additionally, bringing up your highlights to white and toning your hair to a cool shade – meaning no gold or red – will help you get an overall feel for that tone against your skin, Zimmer advised.

“You could also color melt the bottom into gray for something a little spicier and very on trend,” Zimmer said.

This is a gradual way to do it, while others want instant gratification.

“In that case, a full head bleach to white, and toned will get you there,” Zimmer said. “This may take more than one process, so be prepared with time and money. Once you get there though, it should be trims and conditioners to keep up.”

In Myles’ experience, “we use a dye remover several times.”

She noted that this is designed to remove the dye, but it is not a bleach, so it’s gentle on the hair.

“Depending on the depth of color, this process could be done once or multiple times,” Myles explained.

Protein treatments are done in between all stages to maintain the integrity of the hair. The next step is to bleach out all the remaining pigment.

“Again this could be once or multiple times,” Myles noted. “Once the hair is light enough the gray or silver tone can be applied. In order to keep the hair in the best condition possible, this process may be done over several days or weeks with treatments in between.”

Pros and Cons of Going Full Gray with Dyes

Perhaps the biggest benefit of going full silver with dyes is that the results are quicker than letting your silver hair grow out naturally. As far as potential cons are concerned, it costs money and could damage your hair if not performed by a trained professional.

It’s also important to know ahead of time that removing your current color to prepare for the silver is a commitment, Myles said.

“Your hair will go through several colors before we achieve the desired end result,” Myles explained. “You can’t do it all in one day due to extreme damage and possible breakage.”

As the stages of removal are happening, you will see an array of warm colors from orange to yellow to pale yellow prior to the finished tone, Myles added.

“It’s more costly but it is a much quicker way to achieve the gray look,” Myles said.

The darker your hair is, the more involved it is to transform your hair to the desired shade, Zimmer noted.

“There can be no trace of yellow to achieve this look so really consult with to your stylist to determine which process is best for you,” Zimmer said.

Zimmer further warned that bleaching does damage the hair, “but color and conditioners have come a long way since grandma’s fanciful rinse.”

“If your hair is in good condition, you’ll be fine,” Zimmer said.

However, “if you have very thin hair, I wouldn’t recommend this, and never, I repeat never, try this at home,” Zimmer warned. “This is much more than a regular one-step process. Save the integrity of your hair and your money. It costs as much as three times to do a color correction. It’s just not worth it.”

Cost of Going Full Gray with Dyes

The money factor depends on the length of your hair, and how many visits it takes to get the silver just right, according to Zimmer, who noted in her experience, it typically costs between $150 and $350.

Myles said the cost will be associated with several factors, including natural hair versus previously colored hair.

“It is much harder to successfully remove the previous color so the process will take longer, possibly several days,” Myles explained.

It also depends on the length and thickness of your hair.

“The longer and thicker the hair, the more product we have to use and it will take more time to apply,” Myles noted.

Your hair’s condition is also a factor.

“When the hair is strong and healthy with special protective additives we can do more processes at one time or day,” Myles said. “If the hair is porous or delicate, even with the protective additives, it may take several days or weeks to achieve the goal as this hair type will require many reconditioning, multiple times in between sessions.”

It is because of these variables that most stylists charge per hour, she said.

“All across the country I’m seeing prices that range from $50 an hour to $100 an hour and up,” Myles said. “Best case scenario, a light natural blond simply needs toner or one process color; she might pay $150 to $300 and up.”

A client with black box dye will take many, many sessions over the course of weeks or months.

“This client might pay $1,000 and up,” Myles said. “The wide range in pricing is determined by location, average market prices or the experience of the stylist.”

Best Ways to Care for Silver Hair

Whether you’re letting your silver hair grow out naturally, or adding dyes to get immediate silver results, it’s important to maintain your overall hair health.

Myles recommends using a shampoo and conditioner with added protein and moisture to protect the hair.

“Each client’s hair is evaluated for strength and elasticity and the appropriate products are recommended based on their needs,” Myles noted.

Additionally, taking supplements that support hair growth will definitely help speed up the growing out process, Myles advised.

“There are many types of supplements available so careful research is important,” warned Myles, adding that some brands use fillers and binders or ingredients that are cheaper, so you’re not getting enough of the actual supplement to make much of a difference.

“Our salon happens to carry Hair Skin and Nails from the It Works brand,” Myles said. “There are no binders or fillers and all ingredients are natural. Reading all labels can help you make your best choice.”

In Zimmer’s experience, when a client is complaining about thinning hair or hair that seems to be growing slower than they like, she recommends a B Complex vitamin with Biotin.

“They’ve gotten great results,” Zimmer said.

Sakata generally recommends biotin for those with thinning hair, as well as a healthy diet including smart protein choices for hair growth in general.

“And plenty of sleep – our bodies heal and regenerate while we are asleep,” Sakata advised.

Maintaining healthy hair with professional products is always important, Sakata added.

“There are more and more pigmented shampoos and treatments available that target the tone of lightened as well as grey hair and they help you to avoid a yellow or brassy cast,” Sakata explained. “I love the No Yellow and No Orange shampoos by Fanola; and Blonde Me shampoo and conditioner by Kevin Murphy.”

Best Styles for Women with Gray Hair

As far as hairstyles are concerned, it’s really a matter of personal preference and what you feel looks best on you.

In Zimmer’s opinion, “if you’re a woman of a certain age, and you’re going to go for it, have a cut that compliments it.”

Zimmer tends to like classic bobs and pixy cuts, and everything in-between on gray hair.

If you’re not sure about the best hairstyle for your silver hair, trying on different silver wigs will give you a good sense of how it will look.

“At the salon I’m in, The Best Little Hair House, we have an extensive collection of Godiva wigs, in all different lengths and colors,” Zimmer said. “Some people come in and try them on because they want to have fun and change it up.”

According to Myles, a good stylist will take in account several things when suggesting a particular haircut – no matter what the hair color is. At her salon, during a service consultation, she looks at the hair texture, thickness and growth patterns; as well as the client’s lifestyle and styling abilities.

She also looks at the client’s personal sense of style, such as classic, natural, dramatic, avant-garde or athletic.

Myles also considers the client’s face and head shape; and noted that your haircut should compliment you not call attention to shape issues such as:

  • A heavy jawline
  • A flat crown
  • A high forehead
  • A short thick neck
  • A big nose
  • A low hairline

“These are common things that our clients bring up when telling us what they don’t like about themselves,” Myles said.

She noted that many women that have silver hair often feel that they should wear short hair, “and that was the norm for many years.”

The main styles you would see would be either a classic cut like a wedge or bob.

“Sometimes depending on the age, the client would wear a short curly style thanks to the boom of the Permanent Wave,” Myles said. “Sometimes the women would take the opportunity to step out of their comfort zone and wear funky, spiky fun styles. Now with so many older silver models gracing magazines and the internet, we have seen a growing trend for longer styles both smooth and curly.”

Makeup Tips for Women with Gray Hair

When it comes to makeup that best complements their silver hair, “have fun with it – be bold,” advised Nick Marshall, a professional makeup artist for more than 16 years.

“Bring out the crayon box; it’s more fun to try things step-by-step and add more each time than to not try any makeup at all,” he advised.

To select a base or foundation, check your neck and chest area, and also look at your forehead.

“This will give you an indicator on what color to match up with,” said Marshall, who currently works for Aveda as a makeup educator.

In a class he teaches on aging skin, he asks students to describe what they think aging skin looks like, and one of the main answers is “dry.” Therefore, it’s helpful to use a base color that contains hydrating properties, he noted.

When it comes to eyeshadow, silver hair is on the spectrum of neutral, “so any color is going to suit them,” Marshall said.

However, “I personally don’t think that women that have that type of hair should wear blues or bright purples on the eye, as it looks quite dated,” he said. “But it depends on how much and the eye application.”

Other ways to make the eyes pop is the use of eyeliner, which he said is a great way to define any eye, noting that warmer neutral tones compliment the eyes more than blues or greens.

Eyelashes can also make the eyes appear more dramatic.

“And if you have very thin lashes or short lashes, they are a great way to boost confidence in the eye area,” Marshall said. 

For those who like to use blush, it “is always a tricky one,” because you don’t want the application to look like windburn, he noted.

“So warmer tones are always good, from peach to caramel,” Marshall recommended. “This gives lift to the face while making the skin brighter.”

For lips, “bold and bright colors always look best.”

“Don’t go for the more skin tone nude colors, as this will always wash you out,” he said, adding that bright reds are great for the fall; while bold rose and purple colors are ideal for spring.

“I love a bright lip on any woman who has gray hair,” Marshall added. “Just look at Miranda Priestly from Devil Wears Prada – a great example.”

The Bottom Line

Myles started seeing her own grey hair in her 20s, “but was never ready to give up the fight.”

“Just recently, in my mid-50s, I decided to go natural,” she said. “I get a lot of compliments, but I’m still deciding if it’s a keeper. It’s always the voice in the back of our minds struggling to be okay with how we are and worried that it might make us look old. Currently, I’m working on being okay just how I am.”

Sakata said she admires a woman who embraces her natural hair color at every stage, especially when she’s grey or silver.

“It exudes confidence as well as a graceful elegance that sets them apart from everyone else,” Sakata emphasized.

Zimmer is an advocate for women feeling great inside and out.

“We’re in a day and age where anything goes,” Zimmer said. “When you’re rocking a more dramatic look remember, a woman's hair is her crown – adjust your strut accordingly.”

Alicia Doyle

Alicia Doyle is an award-winning journalist who has covered a wide range of topics about beauty, cosmetic surgery, and procedures. With an affinity for human-interest stories, she has written hundreds of articles about inspirational people and organizations that have a positive impact on people’s lives.

How to Go Gray Naturally or with Dyes