How Can I Cover My Graying Hair?

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The Key to Covering Gray Hair

Kate Middleton. Max Mumby/Indigo for Getty

Covering up gray hair is a special science. Gray hair is difficult to color because it tends to be wiry and the dye doesn't soak in easily. Even the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, has gray roots that grow in and need covering up every few weeks. You can see them here in this picture when she was a couple months pregnant with her daughter and was taking a break from dyeing her roots.

In this article, I share how to color your grays, how to fix those roots and what to do if you discover you're going gray. Here are your top gray hair burning questions answered.

Will My Hair Still Be Healthy if I Color It?

People who have never colored their hair worry that coloring it will be damaging to their hair. If you're worried about hair damage, I recommend getting your hair professionally colored rather than attempting to do it yourself with a box color.

Drugstore brand semi-permanent colors can be stronger than those used in salons.

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Can I Color My Gray Hair Myself?

Your biggest hair color questions answered. Digital Vision for Getty Images

Gray hair can be tricky to cover up because gray hair tends to be stubborn and wiry. But you can color your own hair as long as you are opting for all-over color or if you are covering up your roots. In fact, coloring your grays will save you both time and money.

Some Tips:

  • Only use permanent hair dye. Semi-permanent dyes don't cover grays as effectively.
  • If you are going for highlights or aiming for a drastic color change, I don't recommend doing it on your own. Only try this if you are going for hair color that's two shades lighter or darker than your natural color.
  • If you are coloring your own hair, follow the directions on the box.

Once you decide you're a good candidate for DIY hair color, see How to Dye Your Hair.

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How to Re-Touch Roots Yourself

Vasko Miokovic Photography for Getty

If you are trying to cover up your roots which are growing in gray, you have a few options.

Here are my favorites:

  • Hair mascara. "Mascaro" was used in the 19th century by both sexes to cover the few gray strands and the technique has enjoyed a comeback in the 21st century. Check out your local drugstore for different brands or shop online. I recommend Color Wow Root Cover Up (buy it from Amazon). It comes in several shades. The color is temporary but works wonders because it won't run if it rains or snows.
  • If you have a few gray hairs along your crown, but not enough to justify all over hair color, a toothbrush and a bottle of hair color will save you. Simply dip the toothbrush into hair color purchased from the drugstore and "brush" on the gray hairs, following the directions on the box for how long to keep it on before you rinse, etc.
  • If you don't have many grays, you could also use a clean mascara wand dipped in hair color.

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Use a Paintbrush to Apply Hair Color Instead of the Bottle Nozzle

Credit: Elly Schuurman for Getty

If you are going the DIY route, consider using a paintbrush to apply hair color. In her book, "Eva Scrivo on Beauty" (buy it from Amazon), NYC stylist Eva Scrivo recommends applying hair color with a paintbrush. "Applying color with the tip of the nozzle does not have the same force or friction." Scrivo uses a brush to jab the color into the roots of the hair.

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Go Light, Not Dark, If Most of Your Hair is Gray

older woman with blonde hair. Brand X Pictures for Getty Images

If your hair is more than 50 percent gray and you want to cover up the grays, consider a light hair color such as blond instead of going dark. Gray hair as it grows out blends in with light hair, whereas it stands out like a fluorescent bulb on dark hair.

If you have less than 50 percent gray hair and you have naturally dark hair, try to stick as close to your natural dark hair as possible when coloring your hair. This means no more than two shades lighter or darker.

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Hair Shades to Avoid

Manhattan hair colorist Beth Minardi. Getty Images

Manhattan hairstylist Beth Minardi, pictured here, is over 60 and has gray hair she colors. She recommends to women coloring their hair to avoid certain shades, which can be aging.

“As I age, I’ve found that it’s important to stay away from black, ultra-golden blonde, or burgundy red. Those tones accent every line in the face,” she tells More Magazine.

Red hair can be absolutely gorgeous. But stick to coppery reds, instead, like the gorgeous color here on Minardi.

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Highlights: The Great Gray Hair Cover-Upper

Should you get foil highlights or balayage. Digital Vision for Getty

Gray hair can wash out your skin color. If your hair is less than 25 percent gray, you might consider getting highlights with a few lowlights scattered in rather than all-over color. The variation in color camouflages gray nicely. Highlights and lowlights will blend in the silver and grays and won't require as many touch-ups. All-over color in just one hue is bland, whereas a mix of high and lowlights can appear much more natural. Natural hair has many strands of color, after all.

Highlights and lowlights are definitely not DIY jobs. Get pro help for highlights.

I love balayage for highlights and prefer them over foil highlights. Read more about balayage. And get the scoop on lowlights in Hair Color: Highlights vs. Lowlights.

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Touching Up Gray Roots Like a Stylist

hair dye kit. Piranka for Getty

Minardi camouflages her own grays using a special process that she shared with More Magazine.

 “I color my gray roots sepia-brown every two to three weeks and refresh the lengths with a demi-glaze," Minardi says. "Then, three or four times a year, I highlight and lowlight. Many colorists refresh faded color by applying the same color formula roots to ends. But I find this damaging. If you are very gray, the roots need permanent dye, but the rest should just be refreshed with a demi-permanent color, which revives the tone but is easier on the hair."

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Opt for Permanent Color Over Semi-Permanent

Perfect 10 Nice 'n Easy Hair Color. Pricegrabber

Some stylists will suggest applying a semi-permanent hair color over your hair to make it blend in better, says Scrivo. "Don't do it," she says. A semi-permanent dye cannot cover gray hair and may actually stain hair. Also as the color fades it can leave a yellow tint on gray hair.

Most colorists use permanent hair color for gray hair. It offers much better coverage than semi-permanent dyes.

If you're going the DIY route, I recommend Clairol Nice 'N Easy Root Touch Up (buy it from Amazon). It is a permanent dye but is relatively low in hair-damaging ammonia. It also comes in several shades. See What's the Difference Between Semi-permanent and Permanent Hair Color.

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How Much Should You Touch Up?

Credit: Reza Estakhrian for Getty

Coloring gray hair is an investment. If you're 100 percent gray, it's best to color your hair every 3-4 weeks. If you are 50 percent gray, you can make it every five weeks. Roots will need to be touched up every eight weeks or when needed.

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Sticking With Your Gray Hair? Attitude Is Everything

gorgeous gray hair. Taxi // Getty Images

More and more women are deciding to let their gray hair go for many reasons: they have gorgeous gray coloring, they don't want the hassle and expense of covering up gray or they want to embrace life as it develops, wrinkles, gray hair, and all.

To pull off gray hair without looking frumpy, you've got to wear the right makeup, pay attention to how you dress and if you wear glasses, you must pick out frames that are trendy. Otherwise, you'll look anything but stylish.

Get the full scoop on embracing your gray hair in my new article, How to Care for Gray Hair.