Getting Highlights for Gray Hair is All About These 3 Techniques

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The decision to go gray is a personal decision. It’s not for everyone, but for those who embrace grays, it can be so empowering. Despite what some people might think, committing to gray hair doesn’t necessarily mean you have to accept your new color as is. There are many ways to blend, accentuate, and alter the look of naturally gray hair with subtle highlighting (and low-light) techniques. You just need to know what to ask for when it comes time to sit in the salon chair and get some highlights for your gorgeous gray hair.

First, it’s important to turn to an expert colorist who has experience with gray hair, as lifting and blending artificial color can be tricky (but certainly not impossible) according to master colorist Sharon Dorram of Sharon Dorram Color at the Sally Hershberger Salon. “There can be challenges when it comes to coloring and highlighting gray hair. It’s important to work with a qualified colorist who understands that your hair texture, as well as the amount of gray you have , will affect the end result,” she says. Chase Kusero, co-founder of IGK Hair Care, agrees, adding that “gray hair is more resilient and usually requires extra processing time.”

It is also important to remember that highlights are not intended to cover gray hair – just blend and accent it, and it’s wise to have an overall color goal in mind that includes highlighting some grays. Richy Kandasamy, expert colorist and member of the R+Co collective, says understanding the end result will help you and your colorist choose the best technique to use. “To ensure the most natural, low-maintenance gray experience, it’s important to have a thorough consultation so you and your colorist are on the same page,” he says. “Be sure to explain your commitment to upkeep and lifestyle, as this can help determine the best approach to coloring technique as well as what color product your stylist will use to fade your gray hair.”

Now, without further ado, here are three expert-recommended highlighting techniques for gray hair.

The facial frame technique for gray hair

According to expert colorist and Matrix Brand Ambassador George Papanikolas, this technique is best suited to people who are naturally blonde or dark blonde, as “the highlights won’t cover the gray, but the lighter highlights can help blend and diffuse the gray. , especially for lighter hair.

Since most people tend to show natural gray hair at the temples, Papanikolas says face-framing highlights can easily blend the grays with the color so there’s no dividing line. hard. They can also help soften regrowth, which could potentially extend the time between salon appointments. (Who doesn’t love low-maintenance colors?)

If you have darker hair, Papanikolas does not recommend this technique as it may end up looking somewhat harsh or unnatural. “On darker levels, you won’t get any coverage, and super blonde highlights at the roots can look harsh and don’t work as well,” he says.

Still, if you decide to go this route, there are a few things to keep in mind. The first thing is that these framing highlights should be used to accent your color — don’t cover it. The second thing is that it’s best to do them about every three months to maintain the soft, blended effect – more frequently could damage your hair (remember that highlights involve bleaching your hair). As Papanikolas explains, “The biggest problem with using highlights instead of gray blanket is that chances are you’ll come more often than every three months and you can easily start to overtreating the hair.You are also more likely to become too blonde, which can look harsh, especially if you are naturally brunette.

The High-Low technique for gray hair

Expert colorist and Matrix brand ambassador Rachel Bodt is a fan of the high-low technique for blending grays, which uses a mixture of highlights and lowlights (highlights are small sections of lighter color, while lowlights are small sections of darker color) to achieve a natural result. The combination of the two tones adds depth and dimension to the hair. “It’s about adding ups and downs so there’s no strong dividing line,” says Bodt. Kusero agrees that this technique is best for anyone going gray and wanting lots of visual dimension in their hair. “The combination of highlights and lowlights allows you to have great hair color while embracing your gray.”

As for which tones will turn out to be the most flattering, it’s hard to say. “It all depends on skin tone as well as what you want the gray to do,” she says. “If you want it to be highlighted, you’ll go for cooler tones; if you want it more melted, you will add golden or beige tones. Be sure to do a pre-appointment consultation with your colorist if you need help determining which way to go – cool tones to accentuate or warm tones to blend.

And one more thing – make sure you only stick to strengths and weaknesses. If you commit to using an all-over color, you won’t enhance your natural gray tones at all – you’ll effectively cover them. “Make sure they don’t do a single process or basic break [a process that completely lightens natural hair color and regrowth] because it will wash out all of your natural color,” says Bodt.

The salt and pepper technique for gray hair

This technique is similar to the high-low technique in that it involves skillful highlighting and low lighting. This time, however, it’s all about softening the look of gray hair for a super blended result. As such, this technique is ideal for anyone looking for a blended and natural result, whether you were previously naturally blonde or brunette.

As Dorram explains, “If you’re looking to soften the look of your gray hair, but don’t want to commit to all-over color, you can keep the maintenance down by ‘camouflaging’ the gray. At Sharon Dorram Color at Sally Hershberger, we do this by highlighting the “pepper” in your salt and pepper locks and/or painting the “salt” in with low light. »

The technique is essentially a form of color correction – by toning down the sharp silvery strands and brightening the “pepper” darker ones, you get a more even color. “A skilled colorist will play with highlight and low-light techniques to achieve the desired look,” says Dorram. “If you’re mostly gray, we’ll focus primarily on lowlights. Lowlights works to tone down the impact of gray and visually pull the years back. On the other hand, if you have more dark or “pepper” highlights in your hair you will probably need more strands than strands.

Once again, the consultation prior to the appointment is essential. Dorram recommends being clear with your colorist about what look you’re going for and even bringing in images for a visual representation of your goal. “To make sure you get the result you’re looking for, it’s always helpful to bring inspirational photos to share with your colorist,” she says. “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

How to Choose the Most Flattering Gray Tones

When deciding which highlights and low tones you want to end up with, Kusero says it’s important to pay attention to your other characteristics, namely your eye color and skin tone. For anyone with cool skin and blue eyes, he recommends keeping your highlights and lights cool as well, as it will complement your other features. Along the same lines, people with warmer skin tones and those of us with brown eyes might consider going a bit warmer, complementing their gray with golden beige tones for best results. Again, this is something your colorist can help you with if you need advice.

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How to care for and maintain gray hair

Minimize environmental stressors

According to Dorram, taking care of gray hair means cutting out alcohol-based hair products. “[These] can strip the color and make it brassy,” she says. “Also avoid exposure to sunlight and chlorine; they can also make your color look brassy. To avoid sun exposure, you can use UV-blocking hair products, or go back to basics and wear a hat if you know you’ll be outside for a long time.

Invest in toning products

Speaking of copper tone, every expert recommends investing in a purple color correcting product to neutralize unwanted warm tones (this is important even if you chose warmer gray tones during your appointment, because the hair grays may appear more yellow over time). As Kusero says, “purple toning products are great for neutralizing any unwanted brass [tones].”

Pile on humidity

Finally, opt for plenty of moisturizing hair products to keep your colored hair healthy. “Grey hair needs moisture,” says Kusero. This is because as the hair loses its pigment and turns gray over time, the scalp produces less oil and the hair cuticle changes. “Less oil and the change in texture can leave gray hair more prone to dryness and needing more moisturizing and smoothing products,” he says. “I recommend nourishing and hydrating products that hair can drink while controlling frizz.”

Shop for expert-recommended products for gray hair with highlights

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