How to Transition to Gray Hair with Lowlights, According to a Stylist

If you’re newly graying or in the midst of transitioning to silver, you might want to consider lowlights. Often combined with highlights, this coloring technique can ease the transition so that your grays are nicely blended into the rest of your hair as they grow in. With the help of a pro stylist and hair colorist, we’ll take you through the process ahead (and offer some celeb examples for you to consider bringing to your appointment).

Meet the Expert:

  • Shelley Gregory is a Mane Addicts Artist based in Las Vegas.

We Ask a Stylist: How Do You Get the Frizz Out of Gray Hair?

What Are Lowlights?

Lowlights are the opposite of highlights. It sounds obvious, but to understand lowlights, it’s helpful to also understand highlights. As Gregory explains, “instead of lightening up sections of hair as you do with highlights, with lowlights, you add darker pieces to deliver more depth and dimension throughout.”

“With lowlights, your stylist uses a semi- or demi-permanent color that only slightly opens the hair cuticle to temporarily deposit pigment or color in the hair,” she says. “When highlighting gray hair, a bleach or high ammonia color product is used to open up the cuticle and remove the natural color pigments that are currently in the hair to make it lighter.”

How Do You Decide When to Get Highlights vs. Lowlights in Gray Hair?

“It mainly boils down to personal preference,” says Gregory, adding that “some people are way more self-conscious about their gray than others and those clients usually want full coverage color rather than simply getting lowlights.”

But what if you don’t want to go with a single color throughout? In this case, Gregory shares that “using lowlights to blend grays is most ideal for someone with less than 40 percent of gray hair and who has a darker base color that’s a level five or darker.” (Level 5 is a light brown, and the shades get darker as the levels go down. Level 1, which is the darkest level on the color chart that Gregory is referring to, is black.)

For darker blondes to lighter blondes and those with white or platinum hair, it’s better to get highlights to blend in your grays. “And for clients who are just starting to get grays, have very little gray or don’t mind having some grays peek out, getting both highlights and lowlights is a great option,” she adds.

How to Talk to Your Stylist About Transitioning to Gray Hair with Lowlights

Gregory recommends asking about the upkeep of transitioning, which includes how often you’ll need to come to the salon, what haircare will look like for you at home and what your ultimate end goal is for your hair in the future.

How to Maintain Lowlights on Gray Hair

“Lowlights done using a semi- or demi-permanent color can last between six to 12 weeks depending on how dark you lowlight your hair,” says Gregory. On that note, for the most natural-looking blending, it’s best not to go darker than two to three shades of your base color. The closer you stick to your base color, the easier your maintenance will be as well.

And since we’re talking about maintenance, to keep your grays in primo condition, at-home care is extremely important. Use a gentle shampoo and a nourishing conditioner regularly and swap in a purple, blue or violet-tinged shampoo occasionally to fend off brassiness. And since gray hairs tend to be drier and more porous, using a weekly moisturizing treatment and smoothing cream or oil when you style it can help with frizz and boost shine.

how-to-transition-to-gray-hair-with-lowlights jane fonda: a photo of celebrity jane fonda
Steve Granitz/Getty Images

Gregory points to Jane Fonda as the ultimate queen for gray hair—and we can see why. Look at the subtle lowlights she has dispersed throughout her silver, which keeps the overall tone from falling flat.

how-to-transition-to-gray-hair-with-lowlights-andie macdowell: a photo of celebrity andie macdowell
Taylor Hill/Getty Images

Exhibit B: See Andie MacDowell with her beautifully blended highlights and lowlights.

how-to-transition-to-gray-hair-with-lowlights-salma hayek: a photo of celebrity salma hayek
Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

Other factors to consider when coloring your hair? Your skin tone and natural base color. Talk to your stylist about how light or dark you’re willing to go, so you end up with a shade that you’re happy with maintaining.

how-to-transition-to-gray-hair-with-lowlights-jennifer aniston: a photo of celebrity jennifer aniston
Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images

ICYMI: Herringbone highlights are the secret to going gray seamlessly for many celebs like Jennifer Aniston. Named after herringbone flooring because of the blend of tones and patterns used, various shades of warm and cool tones are weaved in to integrate the grays with the rest of your hair, so you have a more natural-looking grow out.

how-to-transition-to-gray-hair-with-lowlights-sarah jessica parker: a photo of celebrity sarah jessica parker
Mega/Getty Images

Remember: The goal is to blend your grays, not completely cover them, meaning you will likely still see some grays, they'll just look softer and better integrated into the rest of your hair.

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