Between the global pandemic hindering visits to the hair salon and a seismic shift in the culture, many women are contemplating transitioning to gray hair instead of concealing it. “The lockdown definitely helped encourage women,” says Jack Martin, the go-to colorist for seamless gray hair transitions, of silver strands being idolized rather than stigmatized. “Usually once a woman sees a little gray, they head straight to the salon. But while quarantining at home, they grew it out and it gave them a chance to realize how beautiful their natural roots are.”
While beauty ideals are evolving, the fact remains that the cultural obsession with youth means that many women find themselves considering the social implications of going gray, rather than just their own volition. “Sometimes women are nervous of this transformation,” admits Martin, whose most famous silver-haired clients include Jane Fonda and Andie Macdowell. “It’s a big, new thing and they might be going against people around them with people saying, ‘Are you crazy? Why do you want to look old?’” As Macdowell told Vogue earlier this year, that was the case for her while navigating her acting career in Hollywood in her early 60s. But it didn’t stop her from joining the burgeoning gray-hair movement—and as the excitement around her salt-and-pepper strands indicates, trusting her intuition and embracing the natural aging process of her hair has paid dividends.
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“At first, I was so cautious because I didn’t want anybody to be upset [...] but then once I did it, it was just so clear to me that my instincts were right because I’ve never felt more powerful,” explained Macdowell of going gray. “I feel more honest. I feel like I’m not pretending. I feel like I’m embracing right where I am. I feel really comfortable. And in a lot of ways, I think it’s more striking on my face. I just feel like it suits me.”
Clients and colorists alike are enjoying this sea change. “To let go and fully love yourself naturally is one of the most freeing feelings ever,” says celebrity colorist Matt Rez. “Listen, I’m a hair colorist and I make my living by battling nature’s work all day, but what I love most about my job is finding ways to enhance what’s there already. That’s what looks best by nature’s plan.”
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If you’re considering transitioning to gray hair with the help of a pro colorist, here’s everything you need to know before your salon visit, from what process and maintenance to capturing that Anne Bancroft brand of silver fox with a few well-placed “glamour streaks.”
You’ll Need to Let Your Roots Grow Out
“I require my clients to grow their roots about 3 to 4 inches,” explains Martin, adding that a temporary root concealer is an easy and convenient way to cover them up in the interim. “This is because I want to see the pattern of their gray clearly so we can mimic it and match it to a tee.” Ahead of the initial appointment, the pro also encourages strengthening hair and repairing existing damage with deep conditioning treatments, like the K18 Leave-In Molecular Repair Hair Mask. “The hair will be stronger and healthier, so we'll end up with a more successful transformation,” he says.
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It’s Going to Be an Hours-Long, If Not Months-Long Process
Depending on the thickness of the color or length of the hair, one of Martin’s gray hair transformations can take anywhere from six to 14 hours. In terms of technique, it’s all based on the pattern of the roots and how light or dark a client’s hair is. “When there is a chunk of silver or white, I foil towards that section of the roots all the way down,” explains Martin. “When there is a dark chunk, I follow that section. It’s all about foil placement.” In other instances, he will bleach all the previously colored hair completely without touching the roots, sometimes even using a color extractor to remove some of the artificial color before going in to minimize damage. “I bleach it to the color of the inside of a banana, which is almost like white, a little pale yellow white, and then I tone the whole hair,” he explains. “So then you have roots that have salt and pepper, and white hair three quarters of the way down. It gives me a full view of the light and dark areas so that I can go in with a lowlight and match those areas. I already created the salt, and now I want to create the pepper.”
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For a slower transition over time, you can also lighten your base over multiple sessions. “Every four to six weeks, your colorist can take the formula lighter by a quarter to half a level, which is a process that can take up to a year or more,” explains Rez. “As the previously darker hair towards the ends of the hair length fades, a gloss to battle brass of the faded ends will help make this process easier on the eye.” During this time, complementary highlights can also be woven into the gray to add dimension and vibrancy.
“Glamour Streaks” Will Be Your Best Friend
When a client is well into transitioning to gray hair, Martin will introduce the idea of adding in more “glamour streaks” around the face a la Bancroft or Susan Sontag. “They’re beautiful silver, face-framing pieces that make the color more impactful and brighten the face,” he explains. “It’s very easy to maintain and instead of the client having to come every few weeks, she can come every three to four months to touch it up.”
Maintaining Color In-Between Visits Is Essential
On average, returning silver-haired clients, even if they’ve grown out their gray naturally, need to come back to the salon at least every three to four months for trims and toning/glossing treatments, which are used to counteract unwanted yellow or orange tones on bleached hair. “They can bring a dulled out and or a yellowed out gray color back to life in five to 15 minutes...I kid you not. Whether you are fully white, did the slow transition with lightening of base formula, or someone who did the full on switch in a days sitting—a gloss can make the all-over look of your hair next level,” says Rez, adding that your colorist can also cool off or warm up your entire look depending on your preference.
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To further protect color in between appointments, Martin recommends that his clients eliminate hot tools, avoid sun and chlorine exposure as it turns the hair more brassy, and shampoo only once a week, which will cause hair color to fade faster. And much like you have to do with blonde hair, silver hair of all shades should be cleansed with a purple-toned shampoo that fights brassiness and color-corrects to restore its cooler, more neutral hue. Both Martin and Rez are fans of Redken’s Color Extend Range, which has both purple and silver-specific shampoos. Martin also recommends Schwarzkopf’s Goodbye Yellow and Fanola’s No Yellow formulas. Deep conditioning treatments specifically designed for colored hair are also essential, and you may want to consider a purple-toned formula like Better Not Younger's Silver Lining mask.
Style Your New Gray With Care and Confidence Is Key
Heat styling should be kept to a minimum to preserve the integrity of the hair. But if you do use heat, be sure to use a heat protectant like Martin’s go-to Redken’s Play It Safe, and be sure to keep the temperature at no more than 350 degrees. As hair ages, it can be duller and more wiry, so he recommends using smoothing serums, creams, and sprays with moisturizing ingredients on the mids to ends. “When the hair becomes wiry, it means that it’s not getting enough moisture,” explains Martin. “So if you’re using enough moisture, it will become more hydrated and manageable.” For maximum hold, the go-to hairspray in his salon is ColorProof’s AllAround Color Protect Working formula. “It smells like cinnamon, so you feel festive and at the same time it holds the hair but it doesn’t make it stiff or dirty, so it’s still moveable and manageable,” he says. In negotiating the shape and length of your hair, remember that gray hair doesn’t need to be cropped. “There’s this old-fashioned idea that when you go gray, you need to go short and I’m totally against that,” says Martin. “If you have healthy, beautiful long hair, you can absolutely keep it long, but just try to do a bit more layering, framing around the face.”
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