Going gray is more than a color change. Along with that loss of melanin at the follicular level is a decreased production of sebum, which means your gray hair isn’t getting as much natural nourishment as your original hair color was. So when your strands turn silver, they also change structurally and become more brittle and coarser.
As a result, gray hair also tends to be more porous. We all have different porosity to begin with—people with greater hair porosity are more susceptible to humidity and dry air, since their cuticles don’t shield and preserve the strands’ moisture levels as well. Gray hair, in general, can absorb water and oils much more easily, but it can also lose them just as quickly. That means it may more frequently experience frizzing, breaking and splitting.
Because of all of this, going gray requires a slight change to your haircare regimen. On the one hand, you need to address this structural change in the hair. But you may also want to play up the silver aspect of your new locks, preventing them from going dull or yellow. Luckily, the best products for protecting gray hair and making it look its best don’t need to be used every day for maximum impact.
Here are the kinds of products people with gray hair need—for those who are embracing the grays, that is—and the best ones in each category. While some of these products will brighten your grays, others will simply make your porous hair far more cooperative and healthy.
Products for Toning
Just as people with platinum- and blonde-dyed hair have to “tone” their hair each week, so do people with gray hair. That’s because there are plenty of environmental factors that can threaten the hue of your hair, and render it more yellow or brassy. (The long list includes everything from the minerals in your water to the pollution in the air, as well as sun exposure, pool water, salt water and product buildup.)
That’s where a purple shampoo and conditioner come in. (It might also be called silver/platinum/blonde/gray hair shampoo, but the purple refers to the color of the product itself.) You don’t want to use these purple products daily—weekly is probably the best, and some people only prefer to use one or the other. If you overdo it, then you start to have the opposite problem: you get a reddish, purplish color in your hair. But with restrained use, the pigments in these products help offset the yellowing tones that dull your shine.
You typically want to let these products sit for a minute or two. Read the instructions carefully, and start conservatively. Even if you only use one purple product on your toning day, I think it’s good to have one of each—a shampoo and conditioner—since the demands of your hair on that day (cleansing or nourishment) may change from one week to the next.
Silver/Gray Toning Shampoo
Pantene Silver Expressions Purple Shampoo and Toner
Davines Alchemic Conditioner
Products for Nourishment and Hydration
Due to the drier, more brittle nature of gray hair, you have to work overtime to pump hydration into the strands. It’s important to incorporate at least one moisture treatment into your regimen each week. These are often done in the shower, or as soon as you emerge, while hair is wet, but there are some that you can leave in overnight. In any case, these weekly treatments are like a conditioner session on steroids, and will give your hair some serious suppleness, strength and bounce. To avoid overdoing it on the conditioner, though, so stick with a standard-fare smoothing conditioner on most days; a purple toning conditioner (if not the purple shampoo) once a week; and a deeper nourishing treatment once a week. Look for nourishing ingredients for hair and scalp, from Vitamin E and hyaluronic acid to fatty acids and proteins.
Restorative Hair Mask
Kérastase Chronologiste Mask for Dull and Brittle Hair
Deep Conditioning Treatment
Rene Furterer Karité Nutri Intense Nourishing Mask
Products for Cuticle Support
With regular daily conditioning, you can reinforce the cuticles and boost their ability to trap in moisture. This starts with a smoothing conditioner in your hair care regimen, and works its way into styling products like leave-in conditioners and hair oils. Any styling product that promises heat protection (from blow dryers and summer temps and humidity alike) is essentially closing off that cuticle and preventing dehydration, frizzing, breaking and such. So, pick those leave-ins and oils that boost radiance and deliver nutrients to the hair while also playing some serious defense.
Drybar Liquid Glass Smoothing Conditioner
Anti-Humidity Leave-In Conditioner
OUAI Detangling and Frizz Fighting Leave-In Conditioner
Reparative Hair Oil
Olaplex No.7 Bonding Oil
Products for Boosted Brilliance
Last but not least is the superficial stuff: These products ensure that your gray hairs sparkle like silver. You want to avoid mattifying products for this reason—whereas before you might have preferred them, at risk of your hair looking oily and greasy. Now, your hair needs that extra nourishment and that shine support. Suddenly, a traditional pomade (with pro-silver pigments) is might have a welcome spot in your arsenal, in addition to texturizing sprays that add shine.