10 Ways to Make Your Gray Hair Soft and Shiny, According to Stylists
Switch up your routine if you're going for glossy grays.
Deciding to go gray can be an empowering experience. So long, expensive salon colorings, root touch-up kits, and dye-induced damage. In their place, you've got gorgeous natural locks and a streamlined maintenance schedule. But what's the best way to keep your gray hair soft and shiny?
If you think you can simply keep up your previous haircare regimen, think again. Gray hair requires its own unique routine to keep it looking its best. We asked hairstylists to share their favorite pro tips for achieving glossy gray strands. Read on to find out how they recommend caring for your gray hair, so your natural hair color can shine.
How to Make Gray Hair Soft and Shiny
1. Use a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner.
Gray hair requires a different shampoo and conditioner than fully pigmented strands. While you may have once chosen products based on your hair's unique needs—for example, volume or anti-frizz—you'll likely want to switch to something that can add moisture.
"Gray hair tends to lose its ability to stay hydrated as the hair follicle produces less sebum as we age, resulting in dryer, more coarse feeling texture," says Gregory Patterson, celebrity hairstylist and DIY expert for Sally Beauty. Because of that, "moisturizing and softening shampoos and conditioners are always recommended."
2. And a color-correcting shampoo.
Hair goes gray when it's lost its pigment. And when it loses pigment, it's easy for it to become discolored.
"Think of a white T-shirt: the more you wear it, the less crisp and clean it becomes," says Brandie Devillier, platform educator at the Aveda Arts & Sciences Institute. "The same thing happens to our gray hair—pollution, hard water, and even too much sun can cause it to become lackluster." To reverse that, use a color-correcting shampoo a few times a week.
The best one to look for is purple. Because it's the opposite of yellow on the color wheel, it can "help to keep gray hair from yellowing and enable white hair to remain white and vibrant," says Cindy Marcus, a professional hairstylist and editor-in-chief of Latest Hairstyles. A purple conditioner can also aid this process; be sure to follow the directions on the bottle.
3. Add in a cool water rinse.
While turning that shower knob to cold might be a shock at first, it's helpful in keeping those grays smooth and shiny.
The cold water works because it seals the cuticles of each hair strand, "creating a smoother hair surface that maximizes light reflection and boosts shine," explains Nikki Corzine, owner of The Canyon Salon. On the flip side, hot water actually lifts the cuticles and makes your hair appear duller.
4. Add a gloss.
A hair gloss is a hush-hush pro secret for achieving salon-fresh strands. "Think of this as the clear top coat to your manicure or the lip gloss to your lipstick," says Patterson. "It adds an extra dose of pop."
Fortunately, you can apply a gloss at home, too. Patterson notes there's minimal room for error because it's clear. The ion Color Brilliance Clear "00" Demi-permanent Creme Hair Color is one of his favorites for DIYers.
5. Wash less often.
Gray hair tends to be drier and more brittle than fully pigmented strands, and a frequent wash schedule can exacerbate the issue.
"Our hair needs the natural oils our scalp produces…. to look shiny and healthy," says Marcus. "Washing too much can strip your hair of these essential oils."
Most people with gray hair can get away with washing their hair once or twice a week; if your hair is thin or fine, Marcus advises washing it at most every other day.
6. Nurture your scalp.
A healthy scalp means healthy tresses. "Hair grows from the hair follicle out, so nurturing your scalp and roots is just as important as the hair that you see," says Patterson.
One of his favorite types of products is a scalp scrub. "This helps your skin cells turn over and helps to keep your scalp skin loose (we want this!)," he says. "I love the ion Healthy Scalp Scrub—it's a perfect balance of exfoliation and hydration."
His other favorite type of product is scalp oil. "As we age, we produce less sebum, or oil, which is where hair gets protection and hydration naturally," he explains. "So, as we lose it, we have to replace it for hair to maintain its 'youthful' glow and texture."
He suggests massaging a few drops of oil into your scalp each day. In the morning, use a natural bristle brush to move the product through your mid-lengths and the ends of the hair to mimic the natural protection of scalp sebum, he suggests.
7. Clean your brushes and hair tools.
"Dirty brushes and hot tools can transfer product and environmental debris to your hair strands, which will cause your gray to look dingy and dull," she says.
Here's how Maccaro recommends doing it: "Remove all hair from your brushes with a comb, shampoo, and lay on a towel to air dry. Clean your hot tools (curly irons, flat irons, and blowdryers) with alcohol to remove dirt and debris. Do not clean your hot tools when hot!"
8. Stay hydrated and eat plenty of fruits and veggies.
For soft, shiny grays, watch what you put into your body, not just what you put on your hair, says Caleb Backe of Maple Holistics.
"Be sure to stay hydrated and ensure that your body gets enough water," he tells Best Life. "Hydration is key in hair care, so it's important to drink enough water to keep your hair healthy and shiny."
As for what you eat, "Maintain a balanced diet that contains fruits and vegetables that are high in antioxidants," he recommends. "Examples of these foods are berries, red wine, cinnamon, avocado, and fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Antioxidants will help to neutralize the negative effects of the cells responsible for maintaining the pigments found in your hair."
9. Limit heat styling.
Using tools like straighteners, blow dryers, or curling irons shouldn't be an everyday occurrence, especially when you have gray hair.
Gray hair has no melanin, meaning it lacks natural protection against environmental factors and styling damage, and using heat only makes it worse.
"Using these tools frequently can strip grey hair of its limited natural oils, leading to dullness and a loss of shine," says Susie Geda, co-owner at Bibo Salon.
Too much heat can also fry your hair strands, leaving them dry and prone to breakage. In addition to cutting back on the heat, Geda recommends using a heat-protectant spray or serum specifically formulated for grey or white hair.
10. Avoid chlorine.
Chlorine isn't great for any hair type, but especially gray hair since it's more brittle. Chlorine exacerbates this problem by removing the proteins that keep follicles healthy, which makes your strands drier. It can also make the color more brassy.
Krysta Biancone, co-founder of Amari Salon & Spa and hair stylist at Hair by Krysta, says if you swim regularly, consider wearing a swim cap or applying a protective hair product to prevent chlorine from discoloring or damaging your gray hair.
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