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How To Seamlessly Blend Grays With Highlights and Lowlights

This blending technique is easier than you might think.
  • Leann Garofolo
April 19, 2024

Once upon a time, spotting your first gray hair meant immediately plucking it or scheduling a dye job to conceal your changing hue. Nowadays, more and more people are relying on gray blending to usher in their gray hair era. This modern coloring approach intentionally merges your silvers into your base color to help camouflage your grays without the need to commit to a full-head dye job. Whether you’re seeking techniques for gray blending on dark hair or want help transitioning slate roots into silvery balayage, we’ve got the tips you need. Keep reading as we share how to blend gray hair with highlights and lowlights, how to find the right colors, and more.

What Is Gray Blending?

Gray blending is a hair coloring technique that involves blending gray hairs with your base color to help soften the contrast between shades. Typically, the process involves either highlighting your hair or adding lowlights. As a quick hair color 101, highlights are lighter than your base and help add brightness to your hair. Lowlights, on the other hand, are a touch darker and can help give your hue richness and dimension. Combining the two results in a complementary mix of light and dark tones that work with your grays by subtly infusing them into the final look. When done correctly, gray blending can help your silvery strands appear less obvious, ensure a smoother transition into gray hair, and soften a harsh line of demarcation at the root.

It’s worth noting that blending gray hair may sometimes be confused with gray coverage, but the two are not the same. The latter method completely conceals your grays by color-matching them to the rest of your hair, often with a permanent or ammonia-free hair dye. The former, meanwhile, isn’t actually meant to hide your grays. Instead, it helps them integrate throughout your mane for a natural-looking, multi-tonal effect. Think of gray blending as a way to make your silver strands background noise instead of the stars of the show.

Who Is Gray Blending Best For?

Gray blending is a great option for those who want to embrace their incoming grays without committing to a drastic hair color change. Many people gradually transition to gray hair with highlights and lowlights because it allows them to hold onto their signature shade while trying a dimensional and modern new look. And, although gray blending is suitable for all hair colors, it does come with unique advantages for dark brunette to black hair. Gray blending on dark hair can help soften the stark contrast that exists between light silver and deeper brunette or black hair—a huge bonus for those who struggle to hide prominent grays without frequent dye jobs or glosses.

Tips for Blending Gray Hair With Highlights and Lowlighng>

Blending gray hair is highly customizable and can look a bit different for everyone. Many factors can influence your final look, including what your existing base shade is and the amount of upkeep you’re willing to devote to your new color. Here’s what to keep in mind when planning out your look.

1. Choose the right technique

Different hair coloring techniques yield different results, and deciding on the best one for your mane ultimately boils down to personal preference. If you’re still unsure, examine how much gray you have in your hair and how much blending you’ll need—that can help you determine which of the following techniques are best suited for your strands:

  • Foils: Traditional foil highlights will give you a consistent blend of highlights and lowlights throughout your hair, starting at the roots. Foils can help ensure every stray gray gets covered and can help diminish a sharp line of gray root regrowth—essential if you wish to blend gray hair with dark hair.
  • Balayage: For more lived-in color that naturally blends with your grays and base color, balayage is the way to go. This hand-painted highlighting technique yields a natural-looking gradient effect and can help subtly “connect” your gray roots to the rest of your hue.
  • Foilyage: The foilyage technique is similar to balayage, except sections of hair are teased and wrapped in foils to intensify the brightness of your highlights. Consider foilyage if your goal is to blend grays with a lighter, brighter blonde.
  • Babylights: Opt for babylights if you have minimal grays around your face or around the crown of your head. This technique involves brushing super-fine streaks of color onto the topmost layer of hair to illuminate your hue and make grays less noticeable. These lightened strands can also help brighten your gray mane and give it an overall more youthful-looking appearance.

2. Consider your base color

For gray blending, you’ll typically want to opt for highlights or lowlights that fall within two levels of your base shade. The goal is to create a natural blend—not add extreme highlights that completely transform your hair color.

  • Blonde hair: People with blonde hair typically have an easier time transitioning to gray hair with highlights since the two shades are similar in tone. Cool-leaning colors in light to dark shades like platinum, ash, beige, and medium blonde are especially well-suited for gray blending.
  • Brunette to black hair: Gray blending for dark hair can be a bit trickier since there’s a significant contrast between the grays and your base color. As such, you’ll want to be strategic about your technique—going too cool or light with your highlights may make it look as though you have dark hair with gray highlights. Warm caramels, golden tones, and dark ashy colors (like mushroom brown) can help add dimension to your hair and intermingle with the grays without calling too much attention to them. As for lowlights, stick with darker, rich shades like mahogany, espresso, and chestnut to make your base pop.
  • Red hair: If you’re a natural redhead, multi-dimensional lowlights and highlights can help blend your grays for a natural-looking end result. Consider opting for strawberry blonde highlights to camouflage your grays and add some darker auburn or copper lowlights for the sake of depth and dimension.

3. Think about upkeep

You can allow your highlights and lowlights to grow out naturally (that’s the purpose of gray blending, after all), or you can adhere to a touch-up schedule to keep your look fresh. Pick whichever suits your routine and makes you feel the most beautiful—there’s no hard-and-fast rule for embracing your grays.

Foils usually require touch-ups every 8-12 weeks, depending on how fast your hair grows. If you like a seamless blend of grays with your highlights and base color, then aim to get your color touched up every two to three months to maintain the look. For balayage and foilyage highlights, the touch-up period is a little more lax—you’ll want to plan for a coloring session every 3-6 months.

How To Highlight and Lowlight Gray Hair

Gray blending can be done at home, so long as you have the right products on hand.

For the highlights, you’ll need an at-home coloring kit, such as L’Oréal Paris Frost & Design. A high-precision pull-through highlighting cap lets you select the exact strands you want to lighten so you can avoid messy mistakes and unwanted results. If you’re aiming for a more lived-in balayage, try the L’Oréal Paris Superior Preference Balayage At-Home Highlighting Kit. The salon-inspired kit comes with an expert touch applicator to help you create perfectly blended, multidimensional highlights at home. Also included is a Pro Toning Mask enriched with dye to help blend your roots for a natural-looking effect.

How To Maintain Gray Hair With Highlights and 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, follow these tips.

1. Use a haircare system for color-treated hair

A haircare system specifically designed to maintain the vibrancy and longevity of color-treated and gray hair can keep your mane in prime condition. We’re partial to the L’Oréal Paris EverPure Silver Care Shampoo and Conditioner, a dynamic duo that helps maintain gray hair, providing it with the essential nutrients it needs to stay healthy and vibrant. The nourishing shampoo gently cleanses gray and silver hair without stripping moisture, while the enriching conditioner helps strands appear bright and healthy-looking.

2. Add weekly masks into your routine

Natural gray hairs tend to be stiffer and coarser than their pigmented counterparts—and adding dye into the mix can increase the likelihood of strands becoming dry and brittle. Applying a deep conditioning treatment can help restore much-needed hydration and softness to your color-treated tresses. Once a week, show your hair some extra love by swapping out your daily conditioner for the L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate Free Simply Clean Elastic Fiber Masque. The deep conditioning mask features a unique cream-to-fiber formula that envelops color-treated hair in essential moisture for renewed softness and shine.

Another weekly treatment to consider adding to your lineup is an in-shower hair gloss to help 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 enhance hair color and tone, boost shine, and deeply condition in just one step. It comes in 15 shades, including Cool Blonde, Silver, and Smokey Bronde, so you can choose the one that best matches your base color and highlights.

3. Limit hot tool use

As mentioned above, gray hair tends to be drier than the rest of your hair—and heat damage can compound that dryness. Since you’re already embracing your naturally graying hair, why not do the same for your texture? Try a heatless style to give straight hair body and volume, or apply L’Oréal Paris Elvive Dream Lengths Curls Leave-in Conditioner to damp hair after showering to help define natural curls and waves.

If you absolutely must pick up your hot tools, be sure to prep your damp strands with a heat protectant, like the L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Blow Dry Primer for 48 HR Frizz Control. This one helps keep your hair frizz-free and protects it from heat up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s also a good idea to turn your tools to the lowest setting to minimize your hair’s exposure to potentially damaging high temperatures.

4. Try a temporary root touch-up

A root touch-up is a quick and effective way to temporarily conceal incoming grays between dye sessions. We like the L’Oréal Paris Magic Root Cover Up for its quick application and its lightweight formula that lasts until your next shampoo. Simply spritz some on your roots and comb throughout your lengths to blend and your color will look instantly refreshed.

Men are often left out of gray blending hair conversation, but they have options, too. Enter: L’Oréal Paris Men Expert One-Twist Permanent Hair Color, 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 that lasts up to six weeks.

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