How to Color Gray Hair with Highlights

Written by Evelyn Davies. Hairdresser. Creative writer.

Highlights to blend gray hair? Lowlights for gray hair? Blending grey hair with highlights and lowlights? Transitioning to gray? You’re at the right blog post.

I’m a hairstylist who specifically works on gray blending and natural hair. One thing that I’ve noticed is an issue with covering or blending gray hair is permanent color. Yup that warm glow you get on your hair after the tone fades? One thing I have to say about permanent is that yes it changes your hair color permanently. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a color you want.

Woman with gray hair highlights sitting in the saloon

Highlights to cover gray hair

So, what’s the deal with the transition to gray hair with highlights?

I want to cover some color knowledge with you guys. Clearly to find this highlight to cover gray hair blog means you are doing something that isn’t working, or you’re trying to figure out what to do. So, dying hair 101 – Permanent color is something that adds tone, it penetrates deeper into the hair and changes it. In order to do this, it removes some of your natural pigments. When it does this it weakens the hair cuticle because it is more aggressive. The cuticles are scales that protect the internal part of your hair, strength bonds, keratin, etc. A lot of people try using permanent color to hide grays.

woman in the salon with highlights that cover gray hair

Covering gray hair permanently isn’t the answer

It’s a quick fix, that actually is very temporary. Let me explain why highlights are best for blending gray hair.

Once the cuticle is weakened, it’s easier to experience color fade. This is because the permanent color molecules sit under the cuticle once deposited in the hair. Once the color has faded you can be left with a warm glow. This is because some of your natural pigment has been kicked out and the ”permanent” tones have faded out. So, you can end up with cold and warm contrasts on gray hair.

Woman with highlighted hair sitting in the salon

Highlights to blend gray hair isn’t that permanent?

So, are highlights permanent? Since it stays light? And why are they better to blend gray hair? Does it fade warm too?

Yes, lighteners are permanent too. However – Bleaches do not deposit a tone, they just lift pigments out. This is why blondes need toners as a second appointment in the salon. We can lift hair super light (depending on the history) and these tones blend very well with grays. Once it’s light it is light. So even if you do have a toner that gradually fades, it’s a much better long-term solution for gray hair blending.

Highlights for gray hair… does it last longer?

Think about the way your gray hair grows – in strands. Work in highlights to work in strands with the way hair grows naturally.

The application of highlights is in a vertical stripe.  This grows out beautifully in hair. It works with the natural flow of gray hair and is less work long-term. Covering gray hair fully will leave you with obvious roots, horizontal lines, and a need to go back to the salon in 4-8 weeks. NO NO NO. Don’t get stuck in the roots trap.

pretty woman with highlighted hair in the salon

Toners over highlights for gray hair

So, you have decided to opt for the highlight option? Fab, but what toners are best too?

Well, the salon I love uses an acidic-based demi-permanent color. These systems add a tone and a translucent glaze over hair, meaning you can see different levels of lightness, but it adds a tone. What is nice about these colors is they do not lift the hair or leave behind a warm glow – unless you opt for warm tones. They gently fade lighter eliminating the risk of a harsh root line. So, ask your hairstylist about acidic demi tones.

middle-aged women with toner over highlights for gray hair

Best highlights for gray hair

Another tip I have for your highlights is to ask your hair colorist for fine gradual highlights.

Personally, I like to do this on most guests, even if they have no grays. Chunkier weaves and highlights grow out way more obvious. Unless you are lifting out permanent color and your above 50% gray naturally. So, a good colorist will blend foils with a gentle application. Instead of going full force and over-loading thick strands in the hair, try fine lights to help with the root blend.

Woman with highlights in Gays and Dolls Salon

Gray hair highlights

So, I hope I’ve covered some highlights for gray hair questions. All In all, I would recommend having a good consultation with your hairdresser.

Blending gray hair with highlights isn’t the easiest job. However, it can look naturally stunning, and gray is such a beautiful color. Asking your stylist, and picking their brain or just booking in for a consultation to chat really can help clarify the best steps for you. Remember all hair is different. We have lots of tools to achieve the looks you love so explore your gray blending options. Happy coloring.

Older woman with short gray hair blended with highlights

Disclaimer: All content on this blog is created for informational purposes only. You shouldn’t use it as a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Last Updated on March 26, 2022 by Evelyn Davies

About the author

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Our writer Evelyn Davies is a traveling hairdresser with lots of hairdressing experience from all over the world. She also writes informative hair care blogs and has extensive knowledge of the industry. Evelyn has experience working as an artistic educator in the UK along with media hairdressing and writing for magazines. She has also owned her own salon for 4 years. On top of that, she now works freelance hairdressing in Amsterdam. Interested in business, the environmental impact of hairdressing, hair-related media, and all things hair. She also loves the outdoors, surfing, hiking, travel, and well-being.

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