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9 Expert Tips for Transitioning to Grey Hair With Highlights
Dr Meena Zareie (GMC)
Medically reviewed by
Dr Meena Zareie (GMC)
Updated on May 21, 2024

Greying is a natural part of the ageing process. Research shows that 6-23% of people have 50% grey hair at the age of 50 [1]. If you feel comfortable enough to embrace this change, transitioning to grey hair with highlights can be the best option. That is because while it can be liberating and empowering to show off your natural silver strands, it can also be difficult to do suddenly if you have dyed hair. 

Highlights and lowlights can not only help blend your grey strands easily and seamlessly but also provide your hair depth and dimension. This way, you can retain a youthful, modern look and minimise awkwardness during this transition phase. But there are a variety of highlight types and shades to choose from. Keep reading this article to discover some insight from our hair specialists for a smooth transition to grey hair with highlights, such as:

  • Why you may be greying earlier than expected
  • Tips for a seamless transition to grey hair with highlights
  • Ways to keep looking young while sporting grey hair
  • The relationship between greying and hair loss
Table of Contents

I am not old – why is my hair turning grey?

Your hair colour is determined by a substance called melanin which is produced by melanocyte cells found in your hair bulbs [2]. As time passes, these melanocytes deplete and after a certain age, less melanin is secreted with each hair growth cycle, leaving more and more of your hair under-pigmented. Since not all of your hair loses the same amount of melanin at the same time, some strands will be lighter while others will be darker, giving it a salt-and-pepper look.   

Natural ageing is the main cause of hair greying, as most people start developing canities in their 30s or 40s [3][1] However, in some cases, this process can happen much sooner, in early adulthood or even in childhood. There are several reasons why you may be greying despite a young age: 

  • Genetics – it appears that premature greying with no underlying health condition often runs in families. So if one of your parents or grandparents experienced early canities, there is a chance you may have inherited this trait. 
  • A systemic illness – conditions such as vitiligo, pernicious anaemia, Werner’s syndrome or Down’s Syndrome can lead to premature hair greying. 
  • Excessive oxidative stress – excessive sunlight is not good for your hair, as is the overuse of styling products that contain harsh chemicals. That is because they can increase oxidative stress on your hair, damaging your strands and making them grey faster. So can smoking, which also cause hair loss.  
  • Extreme stress or trauma – known as the Marie Antoinette Syndrome, your hair can suddenly fully or partially lose pigment after a severe psychological shock, trauma or physical illness [4]. You may also experience some temporary hair shedding alongside it, known as telogen effluvium.
  • Nutritional deficiencies – such as chronic protein loss and severe iron or copper deficiency, can lead to premature greying [1], just like vitamin deficiencies can cause hair loss. However, in some cases, you can reverse your grey hair with supplementation.
Woman with balayage highlights
Woman with balayage highlights [5]

Why is it better to have highlights when going grey?

Highlights are an excellent choice for seamlessly transitioning your hair to grey because they can help blend your emerging silver tones with your existing hair colour. They can also help emphasise the shades you like best and give you better control regarding the proportion of grey you’re going for. Finally, skilled use of highlights and lowlights can add a vibrant contrast to your hair, making it seem more stylish and youthful. 

Expert tips for transitioning your hair to grey with highlights

Different highlight hues on hair

1. Choose the right highlight hues for your hair shade

To get the best results in blending in your greying hair, you will need hues that are 2-3 shades lighter than your current colour but, at the same time, close to your natural hue. That is because your hair isn’t all grey at once, and the highlights will need to blend with your various coloured strands. 

So, if you have lighter hair, you may want to consider autumn tones, such as caramel, copper shimmer, honey or light ash blonde. If your hair is light blonde, you can even go for sandy or pearl highlights, which will mix well with grey strands. 

However, if you have dark hair, highlights may be a little tricky, as the contrast can be too jarring. If you are a medium brunette, some golden, chocolate or light auburn highlights may blend nicely with your colour. But if you are a dark brunette, using lowlights to achieve a daring salt-and-pepper look may serve you better. 

Woman with highlights and lowlights
Woman with highlights and lowlights [6]

2. Mix highlights with lowlights for optimal effects

While highlights are lighter than your base colour, lowlights are just the opposite: 2-3 shades darker. When trying to blend grey strands, combining these techniques can give your look depth, texture and complexity. And if your hair is a darker shade, you can strike a beautiful, uniform salt-and-pepper look by using highlights on the darker areas and lowlights to cover the greyer ones.

Woman using toner after getting highlights

3. Use a toner after getting your highlights

Whether you opt for highlights, lowlights or both, a toner is always a nice finish. That is because it helps counter any unwanted brassy, gold or orange tones while at the same time enhancing your desired tone and making your hair more radiant. And you don’t need to worry about hair shedding, as it’s a hair loss myth that toner damages your hair. As long as you’re not using it excessively and following your stylist’s instructions, it should be safe for your hair health.

Woman wearing babylights

4. Babylights can be a good choice for darker hair

If you have a darker hair shade, heavy highlights can look unnatural and create a too-dramatic contrast. That is when you should consider getting babylights. This technique involves creating thin, subtle, lighter-coloured strands which give you a sun-kissed appearance. They are much more airy than regular highlights, and if you don’t have a large amount of grey hair, they can help it blend in better.

Using babylights to frame your face can also give your hair an overall lighter appearance. Opting for a balayage can also yield good results, producing fine, airy, discreet highlights.  

Woman with Herringbone highlights
Woman with Herringbone highlights [7]

5. Herringbone highlights will compliment your blond hair

If you have light or pale blond hair, the Herringbone highlight technique can work for you like a charm. It involves applying an even lighter (e.g. ash or platinum) colour in a diagonal, overlapping pattern. This seamlessly blends in your greying strands with the highlights and creates an appearance of depth and dimension.

While brunettes and redheads can also enjoy this technique, if left to a seasoned professional, it works significantly better for blondes, as the colour contrast is naturally lower. 

Woman getting root smudging

6. Root smudging can help blend in your grey hair

The first thing you need to do when you’ve decided to transition to grey hair is to stop dying your roots as they grow in. But even with creative use of highlights, this can lead to a visible colour difference between the dyed length of hair and its roots.

When this happens, your stylist can use a shade that is in between that of your natural and dyed hair and apply it to soften the transition line, camouflaging hue differences. They will add this colour close to your roots and to approximately a quarter inch of hair length, then use their fingers to smudge the colour, blending it with the existing dye.    

Woman with a short hairstyle

7. Shorter hairstyles can offer better and faster results

If you’re not very keen on long hairstyles, cutting your hair shorter while transitioning can help reduce the time it takes to go full grey. That is because the surface of a different colour than your hair roots is reduced, and you can keep trimming the ends as your hair grows until full replacement is achieved.

This helps reduce the contrast between your previously dyed hair and your natural, greying colour and allows you to try youthful, easy-to-maintain hairstyles, such as pixie cuts or layered bobs.

While long hairstyles can age you (especially when wearing a midline parting), shorter ones can be fresher and more fun. Here are some great short hairstyles for women that you can choose from.

Woman using purple shampoo

8. Using blue or purple shampoo can tone your hair at home

Blue and purple shampoos are very similar in that they are used to counter unsightly hair discolourations, such as yellowing for grey or blonde hair and brassy-orange for darker shades such as brunette.

The difference stems from the fact that the purple shampoo works best on grey or blonde hair to remove the yellowing, while the blue formula helps remove the brass from darker hair shades. Many hairstylists use these shampoos to prepare the hair before toning, but you can also use them at home between appointments, as needed.

Woman with healthy, beautiful grey hair

9. Remember that healthy hair is youthful and beautiful 

The most important thing you can do for your locks while transitioning to grey hair with highlights is to keep them healthy and well cared for. Hair dye can cause hair loss and damage strands, giving you dry, brittle hair. Even semi-permanent dye can be damaging. So, after getting highlights, it is a good idea to keep your strands well-moisturised and protected from the sun to avoid hair breakage. Avoiding heat styling can also help, as fixing heat-damaged hair can be difficult. 

Moreover, as your hair greys progressively, it will likely become coarser, more rigid and more difficult to style. However, using essential oils for hair growth (e.g. rosemary oil for hair growth, pumpkin seed oil for hair or black seed oil for hair) can nourish it, keep it soft and shiny and even help treat certain types of alopecia

What colour hair transitions best to grey hair?

Lighter hair shades – such as blond, caramel, auburn or soft, chocolate brown, are normally easier to transition to grey, as the contrast is not as pronounced as darker hues. However, you can also get an elegant salt-and-pepper look with black or deep brunette hair, with some creative use of highlights and lowlights.   

What is the fastest way to transition to grey hair?

The fastest way to make this transition naturally is to cut your hair as short as possible. This is a quick and easy way to remove the previous hair dye and allow your hair to regrow in its natural colour. 

However, if you are looking for an instant solution and don’t want to give up your longer locks, you can always dye your hair grey or silver and allow it to mix with your naturally grey strands as the roots begin to grow. Your hairstylist can help you blend shade differences to make this transition smoother.  

Woman with grey hair

Will I look older if I let my hair go grey?

The way you will look sporting grey hair depends on various factors, such as the hairstyle you choose, your facial features, your personal sense of style and fashion choices, and your overall vibe. Some people look more mature with grey hair, while others retain their fresh, youthful appearance. 

Men are often more advantaged than women when it comes to greying, as their tendency to grow silver temple hair gives them a seasoned, experienced, yet highly attractive look. There is even a specific term coined to describe desirable greying men –  “silver fox”. This is why they are more likely than women to let their hair grey naturally. However, this doesn’t mean that women with grey hair can’t also be sexy, youthful and appealing. 

Woman with grey hair not looking old

How to wear grey hair without looking old

There are several things you can do to maintain your youthful appearance after transitioning to grey hair: 

  • Choose the right hairstyle for you – fresh, funky styles such as pixie cuts, layered, asymmetrical styles, or wavy Fonda cuts can make you look young and vibrant. However, you may want to avoid more classic, matronly styles such as tight, neat buns, single braids, perms or thick, blunt bangs, as they can make you look older.
  • Dress for the age you feel – matching your hairstyle with a trendy outfit, accessorising well and wearing brighter colours can take years off your look. At the same time, wearing extra-long or large clothing in straight lines and drab colours can have the opposite effect.  
  • Take good care of your skin and hair – good skin and hair care routines can do wonders for your appearance. Shiny, volumised locks and a soft, glowing complexion can make anyone look younger. When it comes to both your skin and hair, remember that moisturisers are your best friends. If your locks are damaged and brittle, you may want to try some of the best shampoos for dry hair. Also, don’t forget to use sunscreen on your face and protect your hair with a large-brim hat before going out in the hot sun to avoid summer hair loss
Woman who stopped colouring her grey hair

When should you stop colouring your hair and go grey?

The only valid answer to this question is whenever you feel fully comfortable doing so. While different stylists make recommendations based on your proportion of grey hair, embracing your silver strands can happen as early or as late as you like. Some women never colour their hair and wear their greys proudly, while others enjoy vibrant hair colours well into their senior years.

How long does it take to transition to grey hair fully?

The amount of time it takes to fully transition to grey hair naturally depends on your genes, lifestyle, expectations, and previous hair styling choices. It can take shorter strands significantly less time to make this transition than longer strands, which is why you may want to get a haircut if you’d like to see results sooner. However, all things considered, you can expect to grow out your naturally grey hair for 1-2 years before you get a satisfactory outcome. 

Woman with thinning grey hair

Why is my greying hair thinning?

Greying in itself should not make your hair fall out more or make it thinner. In fact, the opposite is true: research shows that white or grey strands have a significantly higher growth rate, thickness and shaft length than pigmented hair [1]. However, hair greying and thinning are often produced by the same factor: ageing.

As you advance in age, you become more predisposed to conditions that cause hair loss, such as male-pattern baldness or female-pattern baldness. In fact, 85% of men and 50% of women experience hair loss by the age of 50 [8][9].

Moreover, hormonal changes due to menopause can also cause hair loss. While there are proven ways to hide and regrow thinning hair, the best thing you can do is to book a consultation with a trichologist (a hair doctor) for the first signs of hair thinning and balding.  

They will examine you and perform specific diagnostic trichology tests (such as a hair pull test or blood tests for hair loss) to determine why your hair may be falling out. If they find a hair loss condition, such as androgenetic alopecia, telogen effluvium or alopecia areata, they will recommend the most appropriate treatment for you. This may include medication, such as Minoxidil or therapies, such as PRP hair treatments.

Or, if your hair loss is advanced and you are a suitable candidate, you can even get a hair transplant. The advantage of hair restoration surgery is that it takes a few hours to get and a lifetime to enjoy, as hair transplants are permanent. If this procedure is something you may be interested in, check out our before and after hair transplant gallery to see our results.

9 Expert Tips for Transitioning to Grey Hair With Highlights, Wimpole Clinic

Dr Meena Zareie (GMC)
Medically reviewed by Dr Meena Zareie (GMC)Updated on May 21, 2024
The Wimpole Clinic offers FUE Hair, Beard & Eyebrow Transplants & Trichology.
Talk to a specialist ☎ 020 7935 1861.

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