Gray hair: An expert’s guide to caring for and styling gray hair

Along with the multitude of changes our body goes through as we age, the transition to natural gray hair can feel the most nerve-wracking—leaving many of us struggling to embrace the inevitable silver strands. Perhaps you’ve decided against dyes or your usual routine is just no longer cutting it and you’re looking for the best way to care for your changing strands. Whatever your motivation, you can use our guide; we’ve enlisted two hair-care experts to help share their top tips.

For starters, it might be helpful to understand how natural gray hair differs. “​​With age, hair loses density, shine, and pigment, and the oil glands in the scalp produce less sebum,” says Ph.D. scientist, certified hair practitioner, and biotech/pharmaceutical patent attorney Dr. Gaby Longsworth. On the color of gray hair, Longsworth emphasizes that it’s not white, but transparent like glass because it has lost its melanin, a natural protectant against ultraviolet radiation. “Gray hair lacks this natural protective mechanism making it more sensitive to the sun’s rays, which results in the oxidation of hair proteins,” she notes. “That is why white and gray hair is more likely to oxidize, looking yellow and tarnished.” 

That said, the reduction of sebum production can result in hair that feels coarse, wiry, and dry—especially for curly texture, according to Longsworth. Thus, Nina Rubel, creative director and head of color at Rob Peetoom Salon in Williamsburg, explains that one may have to alter their styling and maintenance routines accordingly. Read on to discover the essential steps to make sure your natural grays are as healthy as ever.

Remove buildup with a clarifying shampoo

“To keep gray hair healthy, only use gentle clarifying shampoos and avoid sulfates which are especially drying for gray and curly hair,” says Longsworth. “Using a charcoal, ACV detox type product weekly or biweekly, also keeps silvers as white as possible—and keeps the scalp healthy.” Formulated with chelating agents, apple cider vinegar, and hydrolyzed keratin, Oua’s Detox Shampoo is just the ticket to slough away dirt and oil while conditioning hair. Otherwise, Rubel recommends rotating between L’Oréal Professionnel Metal Detox Shampoo and traditional cleansers for a deep clean. 

L’Oréal Professionnel – Shampoing Professionnel Crème Lavante Anti-Métal

Cleanse with care

When you aren’t using a clarifying formula, your daily shampoo should enhance the look and feel of your mane. “The absence of pigment in gray hair can cause hair to turn yellow due to product build-up, metals and minerals in our water, heat styling, sun exposure, and other external factors,” notes Rubel; so, investing in purple shampoos or products to prevent brassiness is key. Of Longworth’s picks, there’s Davines’s color-enhancing purple shampoo crafted specifically for platinum and cool blonde tones, or Klorane’s neutralizing shampoo enriched with organic centaury to counteract copper and yellow tones. 

Davines- alchemic silver shampoo

Klorane – shampoing déjaunissant a la centaurée bio cheveux gris, blonds

Prioritize moisturizing treatments

Per usual, after cleansing, comes conditioning. Remember: “Gray hair needs more moisture than non-gray hair,” according to Longsworth. Aside from the conditioners corresponding to your chosen shampoo, a hydrating mask can be a thoughtful addition. Briogeo’s mask is always a good idea, known to revive dry, damaged hair after just a few uses. Prefer a clean formula? Enter Innersense’s option infused with shea butter, flax seed, quinoa, coconut, and tamanu oils to quench thirsty strands without weighing them down. 

Briogeo Don’t Despair, Repair! – masque revitalisant en profondeur

Innersense – hydrating hair mask

Select a reparative leave-in

“Because gray hair is more susceptible to damage, making sure we are strengthening and protecting the hair is imperative,” Rubel explains. “Repair masks such as K18 are a great way to reverse prior damage while protecting the hair from future stress and wear and tear.” Aside from the oft-talked-about K18 treatment, Augustinus Bader’s formula is powered by the brand’s acclaimed TCF8 complex alongside supercharged superfoods and antioxidants to promote shiny, thick, hydrated strands. 

K18 HAIR -leave-in molecular repair hair mask

AUGUSTINUS BADER- the leave-in hair treatment traitement capillaire sans rinçage

Keep a Balanced Scalp

For pigmented and gray hair types alike, healthy hair starts at the scalp! New York City-based trichologist Bridgette Hill previously told Vogue hair serums were helpful to “provide moisture, protection, and/or styling benefits for scalp or hair fiber.” Of the best, Dr. Barbara Sturm’s works to minimize dryness, oiliness, and inflammation of the hair fibers. On the other hand, Kérastase’s option uses a blend of ceramides, conditioning agents, and green tea extracts to soften hair and reduce breakage.

Kérastase – initialiste sérum capillaire

Dr. Barbara Sturm – balancing scalp serum

Promote hair growth and strengthening

Similarly, a product dedicated to strengthening and subsequently growing your hair won’t hurt. Longsworth is partial to Mielle’s acclaimed oil, which boasts an impressive cocktail of castor oil, rosemary, peppermint, biotin, and tea tree oils. Then there’s Oribe’s treatment serum enriched with chia seed, bamboo, plant-based protein, and hyaluronic acid to not only fortify strands but protect against heat up to 450 degrees. 

Mielle – organics rosemary mint scalp & hair strengthening oil

Oribe – hair alchemy fortifying treatment serum

Pair hot tools with a heat protectant

“When gray hair is overworked with hot tools, it can become dull and turn a yellowish tone due to the heat so proper protection is a must,” Rubel advises. While some of your chosen hair products may already have heat-protecting qualities, a standalone spray could be useful. Both Kenra and Bumble and Bumble’s formulas safeguard against heat up to 450 degrees.

Kenra – thermal styling spray 19

Bumble and bumble – spray protecteur thermique heat shield

Switch up your stylers

Don’t be frustrated if the stylers you once held close no longer work for you. Longsworth is partial to Miribel’s lightweight gel for soft weightless hold; not to mention it moisturizes simultaneously through conditioning ingredients like aloe vera, flaxseed extract, and vitamin E. Or perhaps your hair feels flat. Amp up the volume with Paul Mitchell’s volumizing liquid, which counts Maye Musk as a fan, or Shu Uemura’s mousse endorsed by Rubel. For any other styling needs, Living Proof’s spray delivers versatile benefits from instant volume to undone texture. 

Paul Mitchell – clean beauty volumizing liquid

SHU UEMURA ART OF HAIR- mousse volumisante luxe

LIVING PROOF – spray coiffant de finition

Lock in moisture

As a final step, a drop of hair oil can remedy dry, brittle strands by locking in moisture. Delicately slather on Davines OI Oil to add shine and softness to wet or dry hair without weighing it down, especially if hair is feeling extra coarse. Bread Beauty Supply’s elixir is a solid choice, too, powered by Kakadu plum for unmatched shine and hydration. 

Bread- beauty supply hair-oil everyday gloss

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