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How to Blend Highlights and Lowlights for Gray Hair

Embrace your grays with a new, dimensional hair color.
October 20, 2023

Once upon a time, spotting your first gray hair meant immediately plucking it or scheduling a dye job to conceal your changing hue. Nowadays, it’s become more and more common for those who are actually going gray (and not purposefully with the help of gray hair dye), to embrace it. After all, donning gray hair, whether it’s peppered through your strands or a whole head of the silvery hue, is a gorgeous statement that has become synonymous with embracing your natural beauty. 

One of the best ways to welcome your grays is with highlights and lowlights that complement them and provide depth and contrast to your hair color. Whether it’s at home or with a trip to the salon, blending gray hair with highlights and lowlights is a great hack to evolve your signature hair color. Keep reading as we share what you need to know about highlights and lowlights for gray hair, how to blend gray hair with highlights at home and more.

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How to Get Highlights for Gray Hair

When it comes to gray hair, integrating a series of highlights can help create a mixture of natural-looking colors for a multi-dimensional ‘do. Highlights are lighter than your base and add brightness to your hair. If you have blonde or red hair, ask your stylist for light highlights in bright shades like platinum, beige blonde and ash blonde. Gray hair is similar in tone to these colors so a blending of the two will do wonders for concealing them. As for highlights to cover gray on brown hair, ask for warmer golden highlights to bring some brightness that can blend with the grays while complementing the depth in your color.

How to Get Lowlights for Gray Hair 

Lowlights are darker than your base and they help to weave dimension throughout your strands. If you have light-colored hair, ask your stylist for light brown or auburn lowlights to break up your lighter strands. This will help you transition to gray hair with lowlights while giving you a multi-tonal hair color. If you have a darker hair color, ask your stylist for a rich hue like espresso to create contrast.

What Is Gray Blending?

Gray blending means mixing your grays with the rest of your base color to create a new blended hue. For some context, gray coverage means dyeing your gray hairs to match your base so they’re completely concealed. Overall, gray blending is a great way to disguise your grays and the mix of highlights and lowlights will make your color look more seamless as it grows.

The L’Oréal Paris Men Expert One-Twist Permanent Hair Color is a hair color for men that specifically targets gray blending. The easy-to-use, mess-free formula has a brush applicator that allows you to brush the color onto your hair for seamless gray blending in as little as five minutes.

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How to Highlight Gray Hair at Home

If you’re tempted to DIY your blended color, look for an at-home highlighting kit that comes with everything you need to create perfectly placed, even highlights. We love the L’Oréal Paris Frost & Design, which includes a high-precision pull-through highlighting cap that lets you select the exact strands you want to be lightened so you can avoid messy mistakes and unwanted results. 

If you’re aiming for a lived-in hair color, like balayage, try the L’Oréal Paris Superior Preference Balayage At-Home Highlighting Kit. This kit includes an expert touch applicator to mimic the hand painted strokes of balayage highlights for easy, at-home application.

How to Do Lowlights on Gray Hair at Home 

Lowlights are ribbons of color that are darker than your base and they’re added to make your base color pop. While they’re the opposite of highlights, they have a similar effect because of the contrast they create. Lowlights are especially good for those with blonde and light brown base colors that want to camouflage their grays because lowlights are darker in tone so they won’t get brassy as time goes by. 

To DIY lowlights, pick up a hair color that’s two to three shades darker than your base. We like the L’Oréal Paris Excellence Créme Permanent Triple Care Hair Color, because it provides a rich, radiant finish on all hair colors, even stubborn grays if necessary.

2 Tips for Highlighting and Lowlighting for Gray Hair

When you're adding highlights and lowlights to your base for the sake of blending your gray hair, here are a couple of tips to consider.

1. Find the Right Highlighting Technique 

Highlights are just one way to add ribbons of lighter color to your hair. There’s also foilyage, which includes hand painted and foil highlights to create brightness and balayage which uses hand-painted techniques to create sun-kissed-looking color. If the goal is blending your grays and adding brightness, highlights or foilyage are both good choices because the foils allow for ultra-thin ribbons of color to be placed throughout the hair. If you want something that looks the most natural, with less upkeep, balayage is a great choice.

2. Go Two to Three Shades Darker or Lighter

If you’re using highlights and lowlights to blend your grays with your base color, go for colors that are two to three shades darker or lighter than your base. Keep in mind that the goal is for natural blending, not extreme highlights that completely transform your hair color.

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Should I Highlight or Lowlight My Gray Hair?

When you’re trying to mingle your grays, highlights and lowlights can add dimension while creating a blended mix of color with your silvery strands. So instead of picking one or the other, go for both. If you have a light base, like blonde or red hair, you should add darker lowlights to your hair with a few lighter highlights scattered throughout. A combination of light and dark tones will help to mix with your grays seamlessly.

If you have a darker base, like brown or black hair, you should go for caramel highlights or ash brown highlights with lowlights that are two to three shades darker than your base. Again, the goal is to create a complementary mix of colors with light and dark tones to naturally blend your grays. 

What Color Highlights Look Good With Gray Hair?

Light-colored highlights look good with gray hair because they’re the most similar in tone. With that said, here are some tips for blending gray hair with highlights and lowlights on blonde, brown and red base colors.

For Blondes

If you’re a natural blonde, spruce up your gray-strewn hair with a mix of hues. Ask your colorist to add highlights and lowlights to complement your gray hair in shades of platinum, ash and medium blonde. These natural-looking, cool tones in light to dark shades will blend beautifully with the cool, silvery tones of your grays. 

You can also consider opting for babylights, which involve brushing on super-fine blonde highlights throughout your hair for a sun-kissed look. These blonde strands will brighten your light gray mane and give you an overall more youthful appearance.

For Brunettes and Black Hair

If you’re a natural brunette or have black hair, you’ll want to play around with light brown highlights and darker lowlights when blending gray hair with your base. Be wary of adding light highlights, like bright blonde tones when you have graying brown and black hair because they may read as more gray strands. Warm caramel and golden tones work and so do ashy tones, like mushroom brown and dark ash blonde.

Try shades of auburn and caramel to add some brightness and dimension that intermingles with the grays without calling too much attention to them. As for lowlights, stick with darker, rich shades like mahogany, espresso and chestnut that make your base pop.

For Redheads

If you’re a natural redhead, implement a series of lowlights and highlights in the brown and blonde range to blend your grays. Use blonde highlights for a strawberry blonde hue to seamlessly conceal grays and add some darker, auburn lowlights for the sake of depth and dimension. If you only have a few grays, try a glaze treatment so they don’t stand out from your base color quite so much.

What Is the Best Color to Blend With Gray Hair?

The best color to blend with gray hair is going to largely depend on your base color. With that said, light base colors like platinum, ash blonde and light brown mix best with gray hair. Because gray hair is similar in tone to these hues, it makes them look almost undetectable when they’re blended.

Are Balayage or Highlights Better for Gray Hair?

If you want a uniform blend of highlights and lowlights throughout your hair, go for traditional foil highlights. If you want a lived-in color that requires a bit less maintenance and naturally blends with your grays and base color, try balayage. It’s less about what works for gray hair and more about what your preference is because both techniques highlight the hair and can successfully blend grays.

How Often Should You Highlight Your Hair If You Are Covering Grays?

To maintain your highlights, it’s normal to get them touched up every eight to 12 weeks depending on how fast your hair grows and how the outgrowth looks. Balayage highlights are a bit more forgiving as they grow and their normal upkeep ranges anywhere from three to six months. 

If you like a seamless blend of grays with your highlights and base color, then you should aim to get your color touched up every two to three months to maintain the look. If you’re more relaxed about your grays and don’t mind their appearance as your hair grows, you can go every three to six months to touch up your highlights.

How to Take Care Of Gray Hair With Highlights or Lowlights

It doesn’t matter which base color you started with, or whether you opted for lowlights or highlights, the maintenance for gray hair remains the same. To keep your newly colored hair looking and feeling its best, add the below tips to your routine.

1. Use a Hair Care System for Color-Treated Hair

When it comes to maintaining the vibrancy and longevity of color-treated and gray hair, using a hair care system specifically designed for this purpose is essential. One such system that stands out is the EverPure Silver Care Shampoo and Conditioner. Formulated with advanced technology, these products are specifically crafted to cater to the needs of color-treated and gray hair. The EverPure Silver Care Shampoo gently cleanses the hair while neutralizing any unwanted brassiness or yellow tones, leaving the hair looking radiant and revitalized. Whether you have color-treated hair or gray hair, this shampoo is perfect for enhancing and preserving the silver tones, giving your hair a beautiful, luminous shine. Paired with the EverPure Silver Care Conditioner, this dynamic duo works together to nourish and hydrate the hair, providing it with the essential nutrients it needs to stay healthy and vibrant.

2. Include a Weekly Hair Treatment Into Your Routine

Gray hair has a tendency to be dry and coloring your hair makes it dry, so combining the two means your hair could be extra dry —  increasing the hydration for your strands is a must. Once a week, swap out your daily conditioner for the L'Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Signature Masque, Color Care Hair Mask to show your strands some extra love. This deep conditioning mask is formulated for all hair types, especially color-treated hair and it works to provide deep hydration while enhancing shine.

Another weekly treatment to add to your routine is an in-shower hair gloss. When you color your hair, fading is inevitable but a glossing treatment can help to keep your color vibrant, shiny and toned. The L’Oréal Paris Le Color Gloss One Step In-Shower Toning Gloss works in as little as five minutes to revive dull, lackluster color and deep condition the hair. It comes in a variety of shades, including Cool Blonde, Silver, and Smokey Bronde, so choose what best matches your base color and highlights.

3. Stay Away From Hot Tools 

As we just mentioned, gray hair tends to be drier than the rest of your hair which means it’s also more susceptible to damage from hot tools. Since you’re already embracing your naturally graying hair, why not do the same thing for your texture? Rock your natural hair with the help of a curl-enhancing leave-in, like the L’Oréal Paris Elvive Dream Lengths Curls Non-Stop Dreamy Curls Leave-in Conditioner. Apply a dime-sized amount to damp hair to define your curls, add moisture and reduce frizz without weigh down.

If you absolutely must pick up your blow dryer, be sure to coat your wet strands with heat protectant, like the L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Weightless Blow Dry Primer, Heat Protectant. This one keeps your hair smooth and protects from heat up to 450 degrees.

4. Keep Temporary Root Touch Up on Hand

Root touch up is a quick and effective way to temporarily conceal grays. We like the L’Oréal Paris Magic Root Cover Up because it has a quick application and the lightweight, non-greasy formula lasts until your next shampoo. Simply spritz some on your roots and partly through the length of your hair for the sake of blending and your color looks instantly refreshed.

Next: The Best At-Home Hair Dye for DIY Balayage

Photographer: Chaunte Vaughn

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