Lowlights in Gray Hair: The Secret to Natural-Looking Gray Transition

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When gray hair starts to show, our first thought is to conceal it with hair dye.

The problem is, in a few weeks, you’ll see those bright strands peaking from your roots again. 

And worse, there’s now a noticeable growth line because of the solid color that you’ve previously used.

An old woman in a black long sleeve with gray hair is looking away from the camera.

If you’re tired of going to the salon or coloring your hair so frequently just to hide those pesky strands, maybe it’s time to finally realize that those silver strands aren’t pesky at all.

Gray hair can be chic and beautiful. How?

The answer is lowlights in gray hair.

This coloring technique is a great way to soften your silver strands and make them blend with the rest of your hair.

Continue reading to learn how lowlights can help you with transitioning into a grayhead.

Highlights vs Lowlights in Gray Hair

If you want to start embracing your natural white or gray hair, you may consider gray blending. It’s a way of not fully masking your silver strands.

The method uses highlights and lowlights to create a multitonal dimension that helps blend the natural gray strands beautifully.

However, you don’t always need to get both coloring techniques. You can just opt to have either highlights or lowlights.

Which Is Better: Highlights or Lowlights?

The two are applied in a similar manner where small sections of hair are isolated and dyed, but they have their differences.

Highlights are done using bleach or hair lightener first, followed by the hair dye, whereas lowlights use a dark shade to color the strands.

When it comes to highlighting, you don’t lighten the gray strands. Instead, you highlight the strands that surround the grays.

Because of this, the placement of your highlights may be limited, especially if you have very little natural dark hair left.

But in lowlighting gray hair, you can dye even the stray silver strands as well.

As for the overall process, highlights take longer to do and need more maintenance compared to lowlights.

Ultimately, we prefer lowlights for gray hair.

Why You Should Try Natural Gray Hair with Lowlights

Let us convince you further why lowlights in gray hair are ideal when it comes to gray blending.

Whether you finally want to go gray or you just need to camouflage your white strands, you can benefit from lowlights in gray hair.

Fuller-Looking Hair

When you dye your gray locks with a singular color, your hair may appear flat. If you don’t want that, try lowlights.

Dark lowlights in gray hair provide a natural-looking contrast to your silver strands. This gives your tresses full-bodied dimension.

Smooth Transition

For someone who used to cover all grays with dark hair dye, it can be difficult to wait for the grays to fully grow out.

Furthermore, the demarcation line that divides the new grays and the previous hair color isn’t pleasing to the eye. It’s like you have a reversed white ombre that isn’t blended well.

So when you’ve dyed your locks black or brown, transition to gray hair with lowlights. This will blend your grays as the hair grows.

Easy Upkeep

Since lowlights are achieved with a base color that’s almost the same as your natural locks, the roots are beautifully blended with the rest of the hair.

That means fewer salon visits for you because you won’t need a follow-up coloring session as frequently as with highlights and full root color.

Less Damage

As a result of fewer coloring sessions, your hair will have more time to recover from the harm caused by chemicals from dyes and developers.

Plus, lowlights can be applied using semi-permanent or demi-permanent dyes that are less drying than bleach, which is used in highlights, or hydrogen peroxide, which is used in permanent color.

Asking for Lowlights for Graying Hair

Finally accepting your gray hair is a big step yet a slow process.

And when you plan on transitioning to gray hair with highlights and lowlights, we recommend that you consult your trusted stylist about it.

When going gray with lowlights, it’s best to have a professional help you.

A woman with gray hair is posing with her hand on her face.

You see, lowlights aren’t as easy as dyeing your hair a solid color. There are certain techniques and tools that expert colorists have mastered to achieve a beautifully blended look.

They’ll also be able to help you choose the right shade to cover natural white hair with lowlights.

Moreover, the stylist will tell you when to come back for touch-ups.

In the long run, a professional hair colorist will be able to give you excellent results with lowlights.

Blending Gray Hair with Lowlights at Home

If you like to DIY your way around things, even with your hair, then you’d be glad to know that lowlighting gray hair is possible at home.

However, you’d need a lot of time and patience.

To help you, we’ve prepared a comprehensive step-by-step guide on how to apply lowlights.

1. Choose the right shade.

Going for lowlights means picking a shade that’s similar to your natural base color or something one to two shades darker.

  • Blonde: Cool tones like light ash brown and medium blonde complement cool shades of gray without going too dark and unnatural.
  • Brunette or black hair: You can go for black lowlights in gray hair if your hair is dark brown. Or you can try something like chocolate brown for a rich blend of color.
  • Red: Gray isn’t as easy to blend with red as with other colors, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

    What you can do is add dark auburn lowlights and even use a glaze treatment after dyeing so the gray strands don’t stand out from your base color so much.

2. Determine the type of dye you’ll use.

There are four types of hair dyes:

  • Temporary
  • Semi-permanent
  • Demi-permanent
  • Permanent

When dyeing gray hair, the best option is a semi-permanent or demi-permanent dye. That’s because these dyes have a gentler formula that’s ideal for gray hair, which is naturally drier and more porous.

But that doesn’t go to say that you can’t use a permanent dye, especially if you prefer a longer-lasting color.

3. Plan out the placement.

Before you begin mixing the dye, determine what kind of lowlights you want and where you want them placed.

You can go for subtle lowlights or dramatic, chunky lowlights.

Furthermore, you can apply the lowlights on just the top part or all over your head. And if you want, you may leave out the front pieces of your hair to have a face-framing highlight.

4. Prepare your hair.

Your hair should be in its best condition for the dye to work effectively. Your hair prep depends on the type of dye you’re going to use.

  • Semi-permanent dyes: If you’re using a semi-permanent dye, you need to make sure that your hair isn’t oily and doesn’t have buildup since direct dyes won’t adhere well to dirty and oily strands.

    Wash your hair with a clarifying shampoo the night before you do your lowlights.
  • Demi-permanent and permanent dyes: Differing from the preparation above, you’d want slightly oily hair when using a demi-permanent or permanent dye.

    Shampoo one to two days before you color so your hair isn’t grimy but has just enough natural oils. The oil will serve as a protective coating for your scalp and strands against dryness.

5. Get your things and space ready.

When you color your hair at home, you have to make sure that you have everything you need:

  • Gloves
  • Hair dye
  • Plastic bowl
  • Tinting brush
  • Old towels or newspapers
  • Rattail comb or foiling comb
  • Hair clip for sectioning (if you’re using foils)
  • Highlighting foils or highlighting cap with hook

If you’re using foils for lowlighting your gray hair, cut the foil down to about 4 inches wide. The foil should be longer than the length of your hair, specifically half-the-length of-your-hair longer.

Once the supplies are all ready, protect your clothes and the surfaces. Cover your counter and the floor with newspaper, and drape an old towel over your shoulders.

Then put on gloves.

Lastly, if you’re using a permanent dye, start mixing the color cream and developer in the bowl.

As for semi-permanent dye, just pour the product into the bowl.

6. Apply the dye to your hair.

There are two ways to apply lowlights in gray hair: using foils (more precise and customized) and using a highlighting cap (easier).

You can use whichever you feel is more convenient and will give you better results. But we’ve included steps for both ways.

Using foils

  1. Start at the bottom part of your hair by separating the top part using a clip. The thickness of the bottom layer depends on how many lowlights you want.
  2. Then grab a thin section of hair from the bottom section and weave the sharp end of the rattail comb in and out of it near the scalp.
  3. Separate the woven hair and place a foil underneath. 
  4. Apply the dye all over the small pieces of hair using the tinting brush.
  5. Afterward, fold the foil to cover the hair.
  6. Continue to dye the rest of your hair (or just the parts you want) in a similar manner.

Using a highlighting cap

  1. First, part your hair down the middle and smooth it down.
  2. Next, put on the highlighting cap and then use its hook to pull small sections of hair through the holes.
  3. Once you’ve pulled all the sections you want to lowlight, paint the dye onto the strands with the tinting brush.
  4. Wait for the dye to process.

Let the dye sit in your hair for about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the product instructions.

7. Rinse your hair.

After the processing time, remove the foil pieces or cap.

Rinse your hair with cool water and shampoo, then use a color-safe conditioner to moisturize your hair.

Quick Tip

You can safely shampoo your hair after getting lowlights created with semi-permanent, demi-permanent, and permanent hair color.

However, if you used a temporary hair color, do not rinse your hair with shampoo.

How to Maintain Lowlights on Gray Hair

As we’ve mentioned, lowlights are low maintenance and won’t require as many trips to the salon for touch-ups as highlights and full color.

But that doesn’t mean you can just go and live your life without a care about your lowlights in gray hair.

You still need to have an at-home care system for your color-treated hair so your lowlights can last from six to 12 weeks.

Here are some tips on how to maintain lowlights on gray hair.

  • Use a color-safe, sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner when you wash your lowlights.
  • Get rid of unwanted yellow tones using purple shampoo and conditioner for gray hair once a month. Do not use purple shampoo too often.
  • Keep your hair hydrated with weekly hair treatments.
  • Avoid heat styling to keep the color for longer.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much do lowlights cost?

On average, lowlights may cost between $60 to $150, depending on several factors:

  • The salon
  • Your stylist
  • Your hair’s thickness and length

If you want to save money, you can try doing lowlights at home, which would cost you around $20 to $50 on supplies.

How long do lowlights in gray hair last?

When properly maintained, lowlights in gray hair typically last from four to eight weeks when the semi-permanent dye is used, and six to 12 weeks for permanent dye.

Are lowlights damaging?

Lowlights cause less damage to hair than highlights and are no more damaging than other types of dyeing processes.

However, since you’re still using chemicals for this coloring technique, you may still experience little changes in your hair structure.

Transition to Gray Hair With Lowlights Now

When you’re ready to leave the dye behind, use lowlights to blend your grays with the rest of your hair.

A smiling older woman in a blue long sleeve with gray hair standing in front of light gray background

Lowlights are the opposite of highlights and can give you a softer and more natural look.

Ask your stylist for this color service or apply lowlights to your hair at home.

No matter how you get it done, the most important thing is that you’re comfortable and confident as you transition to fully silver locks.

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  • Rachelle Velasco

    Rachelle, is a sought-after freelance hair and makeup artist, shines particularly in the world of hair color. From subtle ombres and balayages to vibrant hues and intricate root work, she crafts unique styles tailored to individual preferences. Beyond her artistic talents, Rachelle also holds a Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education, showcasing her diverse skill set and dedication to learning.

  • Jessica Hoelscher

    With thirteen years in cosmetology, Jessica Hoelscher is a seasoned stylist recognized for her modern techniques. A graduate of Paul Mitchell the School in St. Louis, her expertise has been showcased on Fox Two News and in People Magazine. Self-employed at Salon Lofts, her work has graced TV screens, styling for renowned events and Ole Miss cheerleaders.

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