Simple Guide for Transitioning to Gray Hair, According to Pro Colorists
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.
“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.”
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.
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.