In our society, today, making the choice to allow for your natural gray to grow in can be a bold and intimidating one. In this piece, I’ll look at how you can transition to gray hair with lowlights.
The thing is, we are trained to hide any signs of aging once we hit adulthood, with this pressure specifically placed on women.
With the overwhelmingly vast array of anti-aging, anti-wrinkle, and face lifting skin care creams, to intensive skincare regimens and more invasive medical procedures; if you’re anything like me, the last thing you want to have to deal with is heading into a salon every two weeks to hide your natural hair growth.
Growing in your natural gray, especially if you have been trying to cover it can be a daunting task that seems to require a lifetime of practising patience.
The good news? There is a way to allow your gray to grow in and look much more natural as it does so.
This is by blending lowlights into your hair, which can cause minimum damage, and allow a more relaxed approach to the upkeep of your hair.
Why does our hair turn gray?
There are many factors that contribute to the graying of our hair. These include:
The most basic explanation of why our hair loses its color and turns gray, is that as we get older, the cells responsible for the color pigments in our hair gradually die.
When there are fewer of these pigment cells, then there is less melanin in our hair strands.
This causes them to have less color and become more transparent.
That transparency appears gray or white.
Genetics play a huge role.
Depending on your parents’ hair growth patterns and their graying, as well as that of aunts, uncles, and grandparents it is reasonable to compare your gray growth to theirs as it very well could be similar.
Another factor you often hear about is stress.
While stress itself does not directly cause the graying of hair, it does tend to lead to gray hair by making your natural hair loss faster than it would be under less stressful times.
When your hair is falling out faster, your body goes through its hair growth cycle more quickly.
With each cycle, there are fewer pigment cells, as they gradually die off.
And so with each hair growth cycle, there is less melanin in your hair strands.
It’s by this indirect means that stress leads to you growing in gray hair faster than you normally would.
Having gray hair grow in at an early age, when it is not typical for your family may be an indicator of a medical issue.
These issues could include a lack of vitamin B12, a thyroid condition, or in very rare cases – a type of tumor.
If you feel as if your gray growth is unusual, or has an abnormal growth pattern, it is best to play it safe and mention it to your doctor.
What are lowlights?
Lowlights are strands of hair that are colored one or two shades darker than your natural hair color, and are woven throughout the rest of your hair.
They give your hair more dimension and contrast to your hair.
Highlights are different from lowlights because they are lighter than your natural hair color instead of darker.
You may have also heard of the term “balayage” which is a technique used to hand paint on highlights, in order to get a more natural result when highlighting; instead of ending up with more stripey highlights.
Lowlights add dimension and depth to the overall look.
When there is no contrast to your hair, it gives it a flat look.
However, with lowlights, it is a subtle way to avoid unwanted tones and improve your hair’s overall appearance.
Lowlights are ideal for individuals that don’t want to frequent the salon.
When it is combined with gray hair, the result can be glamorous, chic, and flattering.
Lowlights are also handy for adding playfulness and depth to your gray hair.
How to transition to gray hair with lowlights
Using lowlights is a perfect way to grow in your gray hair.
They are low maintenance, a more gentle process to put your hair through and look very natural blending with your gray growth.
Lowlights are low maintenance because they can be more subtle, and they are a darker color than your natural hair.
Darker colors do not require any lightening agents and only need minimal preparation.
You essentially are just depositing color so you do not need to worry about an intensive process.
Also, you can allow new growth to grow in longer than you would with a highlighting treatment, before you need to head back to the salon or store for a touch-up.
Lowlights are also less damaging for similar reasons.
Lightening your hair forces your hair cuticles to open so that a bleaching agent can infiltrate your strand and dissolve the hair pigment.
Open cuticles can be difficult to close again, and once they are open, your hair is much more prone to damage and breakage.
Also, it is harder to trap moisture into lightened hair, so bleached hair is often more dry and more brittle.
What kind of dye should you use, and how does it affect your hair?
When you are adding lowlights to your graying hair, it is recommended that you use a semi-permanent hair dye.
Gray hair is already pretty dry and coarse, so you do not want to do anything to it that will cause the hair cuticles to open any further.
Semi-permanent dyes usually do not use a developer, or it uses only a volume 10 developer which does not have any lifting power.
Semi-permanent hair works well, because it fades out very gradually making it much more natural.
Also, it only deposits color onto your hair, and the dye coats the outside of each strand without causing any chemical changes.
Instead, the color molecules basically “latch” onto your existing pigmentation in your hair.
On the other hand, anything using higher than a volume 10 developer will lighten your hair which can be damaging.
When your hair is lightened, it undergoes a chemical reaction called oxidation.
For this to happen, an alkaline agent opens your hair cuticles, then a bleaching agent infiltrates the strands and oxidizes so it dissolves the color pigment.
Picking the right color to suit you
When a professional colorist chooses hair colors to recommend to their clients, they take a variety of factors into consideration.
These include your current or future haircut and style, your natural hair color, your base (darkest) color, the shade of gray growing in, your eye color, skin tone, face shape, hair texture, dryness, hair type, and thickness.
A good hairstylist will work to bring out the qualities that define you.
We are going to look at a few of these a bit more in-depth.
Choosing a color that compliments your skin tone is important so you do not end up looking too flushed or washed out.
Individuals have one of three types of skin tones, warm, cool, or neutral.
So, how can you tell which skin tone you have?
Go stand out in natural sunlight, and look at the veins on the inside of your wrist.
Bluish-purple veins indicate a cool skin tone.
Another way you can check this is by draping a white sheet over your shoulders and looking in a mirror.
If you see blue and pink undertones pop out, then you are cool-toned.
Silver jewelry also compliments cool skin tones much better than gold jewelry.
In this case, you want to stick with cooler tones.
Look for words such as “ash,” “platinum,” or “champagne”.
True reds may also be a good choice for you.
If your veins appear green-blue in natural light, or you see yellow or orange tones in your skin when pinned against a white sheet then you most likely have a warm skin tone.
With a warm skin tone, gold jewelry will compliment you best, and you want to look for hair dye that mentions “golden,” “bronze,” or “copper”.
If you have trouble telling what color your veins are, or you can see both green, blue, and purple, then you have a neutral skin tone, and can generally get away with any tone.
Face shape and haircut
An experienced stylist knows how to combine, tones and colors with a haircut to best compliment your features.
There are different hairstyles that complement certain face shapes, while others might emphasize features that you would rather tone down.
Strategically placing lowlights and maybe even some highlights can help bring out flattering features while toning down others you may not want to bring attention to.
Communication with your hairstylist is key.
Let them know what you like, don’t like, about any bad experiences you have had, and what processes you have previously put your hair through.
These are important because your hairstylist can approach your hair with a solid plan that will cause the minimum amount of damage to your hair.
How to lowlight your gray hair
In this section, we’ll look at hair preparation, applying the lowlights, styling the hair, as well as monitoring the results.
You’ll need to do the following before lowlighting your hair:
Choose color shade
Choose a shade that is darker than your current hair color.
You can go one or two shades darker but not too dark to prevent your hair from looking unnatural and streaky.
Not just this, darker pieces tend to overshadow your gray.
However, you can opt for a dark-brown shade if your hair is brownish-gray.
You can either apply the lowlight over any part of your hair or focus on specific parts.
For a better frame, you can leave a few strands untouched at the front of your face to give it a delicate appearance.
Preheat your hair
If you have coarse hair, preheat it with a 10-volume hair developer.
Apply the developer to dry and unwashed hair and wait for about ten minutes.
Rinse it out and dry your hair with a towel.
Cover your work station
Protect your workstation with newspaper and drape a towel or hairdresser’s cape over your shoulder to protect your skin and clothing from the dye.
You should also look for disposable plastic or latex gloves to protect your hands.
Prepare aluminum foil
Cut aluminum foil to about 10.16 cm or 4-inches in width and twice as long as your hair.
Fold the top and narrow the edge down by about 1.17 centimeters to prevent it from scraping your scalp.
Mix your dye
Prepare a plastic bottle and mix your dye and developer.
Shake the bottle and mix the contents for a consistent texture.
Applying the lowlights
Follow the following instructions when applying the lowlights:
Clip a part of your hair
Look for a rat-tail comb and use it to separate the different parts of your top hair from the bottom.
The number of lowlights you want to apply will determine how much thickness you leave at the bottom layer.
Then, grab a thin part of your hair and weave the comb through it.
You can use a foiling comb with a metal tail for this or a regular rat-tail comb.
Take 2-inch hair out of the bottom layer, push your comb through the section, and weave it.
Be careful with the process but keep the comb close to the scalp.
Separate the woven hair
Pull the comb upward to separate the bottom layer of the section from the top.
Then, take the foil you prepared earlier, slide it in between the layers, and anchor the foil against your scalp.
Make sure that the hair covers a significant part of the foil but not the entire foil.
If you must, move the foil and adjust it as you desire.
Brush the dye unto the hair section
Remove the comb and let the upper hair section fall against the foil.
Then, use a hair dye brush and apply dye to your hair.
Next, fold the bottom part of the foil and cover the part of your hair that you have dyed.
Fold the foil edge as well and cover the dyed part completely.
Repeat the process until you are satisfied with the result.
You can use as many lowlights as you want.
Rinse your hair
After applying the lowlight, wait for 40 minutes and remove the foil pieces.
Rinse your hair with cool water and wash it with a color-safe conditioner.
After this, dry and style your hair in any form.
Do note, though, that gray hair may have different processing styles.
Hence, it will help if you contact your stylist for recommendations on how long you should let the dye sit in your hair.
Styling your hair
The following are some suggestions when it comes to styling your hair:
Blend your lowlight with some highlights
It is possible for some parts of your hair to still have some natural color even after the application.
No need to worry; you can correct this by adding some highlights to brighten your hair.
You can apply highlights the same way you applied your lowlight.
For a blonde, apply lowlights and highlights from pearl to medium blonde.
Add some darker browns like espresso instead of highlights if you have a darker brown color.
Avoid heat styling appliances
There is no better time to rock your natural hair texture than now 🙂
Hence, don’t use a styling method that requires heat as it can damage your hair.
If you must, apply a heat protectant to protect your hair from adverse effects.
Monitor the result
The human hair grows to about 1 ½ inch every month.
Hence, the consistency of your color will fade after a while.
You can touch up the coloring depending on how well you did the dye job and how fast your hair grows.
You can wait for about six weeks before touching-up the hair.
If you want, you should wait until about 60% of the root comes out gray before applying the color treatment.
Maintenance for lowlights and gray hair
The good news is: If you are looking to limit your trips to the salon, and less time and money on upkeep and touch-ups, then lowlights are the perfect option for you.
As mentioned above, depositing color onto your hair causes the least amount of damage to your hair, and a darker color will not have the same obstacles to overcome with maintenance as a lighter color does.
However, your natural gray color can be a little more care-intensive, as gray color can go wrong if it is not properly taken care of.
Use the right shampoo
You will want to regularly wash your hair with a blue or purple-toned shampoo, which will usually be labeled specifically as a silver shampoo.
This will also mute any orange or yellow brassy tones that may in throughout your gray hair.
Some highly reviewed silver shampoos to look into are Redken Color Extend Graydiant Purple Shampoo, Matrix Total Results, and Jhirmack Silver Brightening Ageless Purple Shampoo.
Also, when you are not using a silver shampoo, you will want to use a sulfate-free shampoo so you do not strip the color out of your hair.
I would recommend using a color depositing shampoo and conditioner to help with the longevity of your lowlights.
Keracolor Clenditioner Depositing Color Conditioner is a good option that comes in a variety of colors.
To care for your lowlights, you will want to look into a hair gloss, preferably one that has blue tones.
Hair gloss will help to minimize any unwanted tones throughout your lowlights, as well as give them some vibrancy and life.
John Freida offers an affordable hair gloss.
Protect against heat, UV rays
If your lowlights have been applied using a semi-permanent dye, you will want to avoid or protect against heat styling, direct sunlight, and UV rays.
All of these will shorten the life of your color.
Use lukewarm water
You also want to wash with lukewarm water and be gentle, as you may scrub out the color.
You should hold off from washing your hair for 72 hours after you get your color done, to allow the dye to “lock-in”.
More and more women and men are embracing their natural gray growth and for good reason.
No one wants to spend all their free time in a salon, or wasting time and money on endless products for dyeing and maintaining dyed hair.
I am a firm believer that while colors are fun to play with, your natural hair color is going to flatter you the best, even if you need to give it a little TLC.
Graying is a natural process for everyone and there is no shame in letting it shine through.
If you are looking to grow out your hair and show off your natural silver, then lowlights are a great, cost-effective, and low maintenance option for you to do so!
You can try and transition to gray hair with lowlights and let us know how it goes!