Gray Hair Color for Your Skintone

Gray hair doesn’t have to be boring or worse, old-lady looking. With the right shade it can be downright youthful!

Gray hair doesn’t mean the end of your hair color. In fact, it’s just the beginning.

From silver to white to fawn, gray hair enjoys as many subtle tones and potentially gorgeous highlights as your former brown, blonde or black locks.

So get creative. Using some basic science tips and color theory, you can find the perfect shade of gray for you.

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The first step is understanding your new natural hue. “We all have the three primary colors in our hair—red, yellow and blue,” said Kelly Van Gogh, hair colorist and founder of Kelly Van Gogh Hair Color (who also happens to have a chemistry degree from Columbia University). “That combination makes a neutral brown and those melanins—or pigments—anchor our color. When hair turns gray hair, it no longer has any pigment and is missing that brown undertone.”

Jordan Strauss/WireImageJamie Lee Curtis
Jamie Lee Curtis

When you dye gray hair, you have to put back the color that’s missing, says Van Gogh. For example, if you just add a red shade on top of gray hair, it’s going to turn a bright orange. But if you combine a neutral dye with that red, you can get a beautiful, natural-looking color.

RELATED RESEARCH: Aging Hair Bleaches Itself, Turns Gray

If you have white hair, treat it like a blank slate—literally! “Similar to adding a colored paint on top of bright white paper, the same will happen with light gray or white hair. It will come out as bright as it possibly could be, so be prepared for that,” says Van Gogh.

As with any hair color, you want to stay within two levels of where your hair color is right now—not where it was in your 20s or 30s—to avoid too much red or gold in the gray strands. “Go a little lighter than when you were younger,” said Van Gogh, “because your skintone and pigmentation lightens as you age, so it’s important to complement that.”

When it comes to gray hair, highlights are often not enough to give you a bright glow to your skin. “I do not like gray hair that’s highlighted because it looks yellow,” said Van Gogh. Instead think about enhancing with an all-over color and then layering in some brighter highlights or darker lowlights.

Erin Bogart of Sally Hershberger Downtown agrees. She says people with fair or red-undertoned  skin need to be especially careful in the colors they choose. Here are her top recommendations:

QUIZ: How Healthy Does Your Hair Look?

Gray hair color for light skintones
Opt for a creamy pale yellow or pure white gray tone to play off your skin’s natural coloring. Too much gold, however, is not flattering, so stick with a paler yellow shade.

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