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.

MORE: Gray Hair Cure – New Study is Promising!


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.”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.

Gray hair color for medium skintones You have more versatility here. Creamy white or steely gray tones in your hair are beautiful. If you’re not 100 percent gray and much of your hair is dark, go more dramatic with bright silver tones. People with red undertones in their skin shouldn’t opt for an extremely white hue as it will bring out this red even more.

Gray hair color for dark skintones If you have darker skintones, you can pull off a blond salt-and-pepper look by adding some dark lowlights with brighter white pieces around the face. Be cautious of yellow though as this shade can make your skin look drab and unhealthy.

Celebrities with gray Hair Naturally gray hair can be aging, that’s why most celebrities who go gray enhance it with some cooler or warmer tones. Think of light skin stars like Meryl Streep, Judy Dench and Helen Mirren who look fabulous with gray hair. Jamie Lee Curtis, Emmylou Harris and Stacy London can pull off a warmer gray because of their richer skintone. And Ruby Dee looks amazing with her dark gray strands combined with her dark skintone.

PHOTOS: Celebrities with Gray Hair

“Gray can be beautiful and striking,” said Bogart. “The hard thing is growing in natural gray after having colored for years. However, it is a high-fashion shade so if you have the confidence, go for it!”

MORE: Nine Prematurely Gray-Haired Goddesses