Ask the Edit: On Grey Hair Coverage

Feb 19, 2019

I spotted my first noticeable grey hair at 31.  It was like a flashing neon sign, “You are getting old!!!”  I just remember feeling like I was too young for this, and if this is what the emotional stress of my job was doing to me, it was time to quit.

So many women are confident about going grey.  No panic about roots.  No dysmorphia.  Just greying with grace.  Someday that will be me, but for right now, it’s not.

I work in a field where it’s already hard to be a woman, and as unfair as it is, it’s harder to be an aging woman.  Kyle is younger than I am, and I’m just not ready for that to be visually obvious.  And I don’t have enough grey to look good grey.  So I’ll re-evaluate when I’ve tipped over to “grey enough to be grey instead of aging.”

But in the interim, I color.  When I can’t get to my color appointment, I use OTC products to touch up.  So let’s get to today’s reader question.

Dear Abra,

While I’m definitely starting to get more and more gray hairs (let’s say somewhere between 20 and 50 that I can see), I’m not ready to make a decision about coloring my hair or not. Depending on how I part my hair, it’s easy to hide most of the gray. Any advice for temporary solutions to make those few grays peaking through look dirty blonde/light brown?

Thanks! – Alex

Your first option is a color-depositing shampoo.  I use Madison Reed Tune Up, a shampoo specifically for brunettes.  It deposits a little bit of color to revive your brunette, and smooth out greys.  For blondes, I asked around, and the overwhelming favorite was Redken Color Extend Blondage.

Aveda also offers a whole line of color-enhancing conditioners.  Word to the wise though, they are not for every day use, as my mother discovered when using the Clove Conditioner every day for a year turned her hair green.  Yes, green.

Beyond shampoo and conditioner, if your issue is just at the roots, there are plenty of root coverage options.  I use this Madison Reed root powder for a quick touch up.  For deeper help, I use their Root Reboot to get two more weeks of coverage.

I used to use the Rita Hazan Root Concealer Touch-Up Spray.  It can be a little messy, but it is very effective.

Do you have grey?  Do you cover it?  And what do you do in the in-between?  See you in the comments.

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  1. Crystal says:

    I support whatever hair decisions women want to make. So far I only have a gray streak (which runs in my family), which I’ve grown to love and adamantly refuse to color. Once I start going gray throughout, I’ll have to reassess — I’m not sure how I’ll feel about coloring considering I love my dark hair but am also not interested in how expensive, time-consuming, and generally high-maintenance hair coloring can be.

  2. anna says:

    I’m getting to the point where I can’t just pluck out the random gray, and they’re becoming more and more visible. I’m intrigued to try the color depositing shampoo. I’ve also thought about color glazes. I really like my natural hair color (minus the grays) and don’t really want to start paying for salon coloring on the reg.

  3. TheLOOP says:

    I got a couple of sections of grey hair after each of my pregnancies. One near the temples and one section at the very back. Most women in my family began to get gray hair in their 40s and even now in their 60s and 70s, are still coloring it black or deep brown. I don’t want to use hair color for that long as I am not sure what the long term impact might be, so I decided to give henna a try. I use it every 3 months or so and it gives a brownish sheen to my grays so they blend in better with my black hair. I also like that it conditions my hair and I get amazing volume for a few weeks afterward. The application is messy but you can also get it done professionally. I will likely phase out the henna once I hit mid-50s.

  4. Liz says:

    Anyone have suggestions for redheads? I’ve got about a dozen pure white hairs – not noticeable when my hair is down, but I feel like it’s a neon sign when I pull my hair back.

    I’m hesitant to try the color depositing shampoos/conditioners for blonde or brunette because I know coloring agents sometime have unexpected reactions with red hair – so far my solution has been to just only wear my hair down when I want to look good, but that’s only going to last me so long.

    • MB says:

      Readhead (Auburn) with white hair here. I’ve had luck with John Frieda color refreshing gloss in “warm reds.” It helps blend plus boosts the color a little, slightly. It’s available at online retailers for under $15.

  5. Emily says:

    I’m dark brunette, and have a strong white streak on the left front side of my hairline, and interspersed grey throughout. I leave the streak and cover the rest of it. I love the streak – it makes me feel dramatic and people ask about it a lot. Plus I have dark eyes and skin, so it contrasts well. Also, I’m lucky that I have good enough skin that I don’t think it makes me look too much older.

    Because this is such a strong part of my “look” lol, I dress around it – for example, I don’t often wear creams or browns (they aren’t my colors anyway). It does bother me when the other grey roots grow out because the contrast isn’t as striking, and I was considering some coverup strategies – so thanks for that!

  6. Rachel C says:

    Oh, gray hair. ????????‍♀️ I’ve had a noticeable amount of gray hair since about 9th grade. With my almost black brown hair, it’s even more noticeable. For the longest time,I just embraced it because it looked like the most unique, expensive highlight job ever imagined. Then I started working, and stress took its toll, and by age 30, I had patches of gray. I love the shiny, silver gray my hair is; however, I no longer felt comfortable with the amount I had. So I started dying to cover it. (The dying started around the time I got adult braces, which may have to do with no longer being comfortable with grays. Nothing felt comfortable or attractive as a 30 year old stuck in braces.) Four years later, I’m still dying, and in braces, but I’ve noticed I have a lot more gray when it gets close to time for a touch up. I’m not manic about hiding every last gray, but it does make me feel good to have a fresh dye job. My mom has never dyed her hair, and I do envy the fact that she never had to make the decision to “go gray.” At some point I will, because I like gray hair on women and I’m not embarrassed to have them. I’m just not sure I want to be half gray at 34.

  7. Em says:

    I’ve been going gray since sixteen. I dyed my hair for almost ten years (ages 24-33), but recently gave up. It’s so time consuming and I (usually) like the silvery tones in my hair. I’m not ruling out that I may start dyeing it again someday, but for now I’m letting it grow out (much to my hairdresser’s dismay, ha!).

  8. J says:

    Highlights have been a great intermediate step for me. My highlights are strategically placed to cover the greys. Even as they grow out, the presence of highlights has a camouflaging effect – my greys were super noticeable in my dark brown hair, but now they sort of blend with my highlights so I do it only 3-4 times a year.

  9. A says:

    My grey is (blessedly) coming in white like my paternal grandmother’s. I just leave it – my light brown (dirty blonde) hair mostly blends in so to me at least it sort of looks like some of my natural highlights; my younger sister makes it a point to catalogue every grey hair for me when I see her. As a working mom to a very active toddler, I don’t have enough time or care enough to do anything about my greys, and given I also barely wear makeup (a 30 second application of powder foundation does it for me), only cut my hair quarterly, refuse heels and only wear comfortable machine-washable clothes these days as well, keeping the grey fits in better with my overall approach to my looks.

  10. Allison says:

    Try a drug store semi-permenant color a shade or two lighter than your natural hair. Cheap, easy, no change to your non-gray hair, no roots and the grays blend right in. Just make sure to pick a cool or brass free color if you don’t have redish highlights already.

  11. Mo says:

    Trying to reply to Liz but reply doesn’t seem to be working? I’m also a redhead but don’t have a solution yet. Mine are concentrated by my part so I’ve been trimming them close to the scalp but that isn’t going to work forever. I don’t want to become a slave to dye-jobs and I love my color so I’m at a loss!

  12. Meredith Armuth says:

    I’ve noticed significantly more grey hairs..age, pregnancy, stress…who knows…and just this year started coloring my hair. I’m a brunette with curly hair. My stylist added some subtle highlights and did a color gloss/glaze. She did the highlights away from the roots so they’ll grow out more naturally and the gloss/glaze because I wasn’t ready to commit to full color. The glaze is not perfect but it does turn my greys into a more golden color. It washes out after about 6 weeks. I’m able to stretch it to 8 because I only wash my hair 1-2x per week and I’ll do the Bumble & Bumble Color Gloss if I notice it fading out before my next appointment. I wasn’t ready to commit to going to the salon every few weeks to touch up roots so this has been a good way to dip my toe into grey coverage.

  13. Jennifer says:

    When I first starting going too gray to pluck them out (without resulting bald spots!), I used Natural Instincts, a demi-permanent color. I have dark brown hair and used the closest match to my hair color which turned the grays blond. I liked it that the grays turned out more like highlights than one shade of all-over color. It was also inexpensive and lasted longer than the 28 days on the box. The con was that rinsing the color out could be messy, but I had a stand-up shower with a door, so there was little risk of hair color getting all over the bathroom. When I moved and went back to a regular bath/shower combo with a shower curtain, I started going to a school (Paul Mitchell) for their demi-permanent color, which gave me similar results to box color (blond highlights and color that lasted more than a month). PM has different levels of stylists and I preferred going to the more advanced ones who worked faster. Pro is that a school is less expensive than a regular salon; con is that stylists eventually graduate so I always had a different one. I’ve moved again, am now nowhere near a school, and as I’ve aged, I need to color more often. I’ve economized by coloring every 2 months and getting a haircut every other trip. I have a simple style (mostly blunt cut with a few layers) and I can competently trim my bangs myself. I resent the cost and the time, but it gets too noticeable and washes me out if I let it go too long ☹

  14. Jill says:

    I have medium dark brown hair, and the wiry grays stand out, especially at my part. I also wash my hair daily, and that’s hard on dye. I alternate between doing it at home and going to the salon. Sometimes the salon is worth it just to avoid the mess at home. I’ve learned the hard way to clear out the bathroom rug and put a garbage bag on the floor and rinse thoroughly (got dye on my pillow once). I like the Olio (sp?) brand because it smells better than others. I don’t have enough gray to give my hair over to it and have it look okay.

  15. Shelley says:

    I’m trying to reply about redheads too and it’s not working. Anyways, I use this at home every few weeks to color my grays and it works well

    It’s super moisturizing and cruelty free. I’d still love to find a good color depositing shampoo though.

  16. LIz says:

    I found my first grey hair at 16 (thanks genetics). After college I started using OTC color and I’m pretty sure my inexperience with it caused a good amount of damage to my hair. I’m now 30 and probably 40% grey. It’s concentrated around my natural part and around my temples. I wanted to graduate from the boxed color at CVS but still don’t feel comfortable shelling out $$$ for monthly salon visits. I tried Madison Reed a few months ago and was pleased with the results. At Abra’s recommendation I ordered their root powder so I’m excited for it to arrive. The question I’m facing now is at what point to I accept the greys what what they are and let them grow? I don’t want to be 80 (God-willing I live that long) and obsessing over my greys like I do now.

    • Shannon says:

      Same boat. I started going grey at 13 years old. By my mid-30’s, my hair was so stark silver around my face that the color didn’t hold more than 2 weeks. When I decided to embrace the grey trend, I purchased silver hair mascara to extend my roots so I didn’t look crazy. I used brown hair mascara to cover the roots on occasion too. It worked like a charm.

  17. AnonyNonny says:

    I have mouse brown hair that I’ve been coloring medium blonde for decades. I have more and more gray hair coming in. They actually work with the color and look like highlights. I’ve always stated that once the gray out numbers the brown I’m going to be happy to stop coloring. Every time I let my hair grow out a bit to check I’m disappointed that there’s not enough gray.

  18. Megan says:

    I started greying in college and spent most of my 20s using box dye because 1) I couldn’t afford getting it done 2) I was getting comments from friends like “you’re too cute to be a cat lady” or from an old COS “is it just the end of the quarter or are you just letting it go.”

    As I advanced in my career, I found my grey helped me gain buy in from clients (what’s worse than being a woman in politics, is being a young woman) and made me look closer to my actual age.

    Now at 36, owning my own business and helping raise my partner’s 14 year old (from past posts we use partner)- I feel it’s a validator of it’s own. Plus now it’s in style, I get so many complements from 20 somethings, “I love your highlights” my response “thanks it’s just mother nature.”

  19. Lindsey says:

    I started going gray in college and started coloring my hair mid-20s before my wedding. Now, at 36, I’m about 80% gray…the other 20 is in the back, too, of course. I go every 5-6 weeks for all over color as my hair grows so fast that after 2 weeks, you can start to see my white roots (at least I can). It’s literally a line – brown to white. No thanks. In between colorings, I use either the Bumble and Bumble colored hair powder in brown or the Rita Hazan spray. The Rita has better coverage, and lasts sometimes for a couple of non-wash days, but the B&B sprays wider and isn’t as harsh/dark sometimes. If you rub your head, it can be messy, but I’ve found they work really pretty well. But, they’re expensive. I just yesterday ordered the new L’Oreal root cover spray – much less expensive – so I’m interested to see how that works. I do love the look of a woman with beautiful gray/silver hair, but I’m for sure not ready for that…maybe 20+ more years…

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