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How to Cover That Littttttle Bit of Gray Hair

By Amalah

Dear Amalah,

I’m a long time reader sometimes de-lurker. (I got hooked way back when you were in Washingtonian and the Smackdown was on Amalah on Wednesdays.) I have a fairly basic question about hair coloring. My hair is auburn now with a bit of gray mixed in, and that’s the problem. I’d like to get rid of the gray, but how do I do that while retaining the color and lowlights that I naturally have? Is this a color and highlight situation or just one of those options? I’ve done semi-permanent color (Paul Mitchell PM Shines ($45 for cut and color at the Paul Mitchell School in Tysons!), and it was nice, but didn’t do a terrific job of hiding the gray.

Thanks so much, and keep up the great work on Amalah and here!

Another Amy

Permanent highlights are the way to go! The only way to go! (Other than aging and going gray naturally and gracefully blah blah blah, whatever, the minute I spot a gray hair I’m coloring right the hell over that sucker, so you will get no judgment from me, missy.)

Semi-permanent color does NOT, as you found, cover gray very effectively. I think it’s best for when you want to experiment with color without commitment, but otherwise it’s a waste of money. *grumbling over the absolutely AWESOME dark blond lowlights I got at the salon a few months ago WITHOUT being told they were only semi-permanent, and now I’m left with only very blond highlights because I’ve had no time to go back and demand the same thing, only MAKE IT LAST THIS TIME, GOD*
A lot of the monochromatic at-home boxed dyes aren’t really great at covering gray either, although some of the darker blond shades work rather well. Auburn, however, is notoriously difficult to get right from at-home coloring. But regardless! Since you only have a little gray and don’t want to change any of your multi-tonal high- and lowlights at all, permanent (and professionally done) highlights are your best option.

If you don’t have a regular, trusted stylist, make sure when you book your appointment that you specifically mention you want highlights to cover gray hair — you want someone who knows what they’re doing, who will study your head and arrange the foils in the right distance/thickness/frequency to maximize gray coverage without adding a ton of unnecessary dye or leave you with anything “chunky” or “streaky” looking. My highlights and lowlights, for example, often involve two or three shades, and only a dozen or so actual hairs per foil. It’s deadly dull and time-consuming, and I’m fully aware of the inherent stupidness of paying good cash money to color my hair so IT LOOKS LIKE IT HASN’T BEEN COLORED, but I’ve long since resigned myself to the fact that my dishwater blond hair needs a little oomph. So I give it oomph. I am only human!

Will highlights cover up every single solitary gray hair on your head? Unless you go with full highlights and lowlights on every single solitary strand (which kind of defeats the purpose of retaining your natural tones), probably not. But they will cover most of them, and I’m super-partial to the natural, youthful look of highlights and lowlights over single-process color (which will also require much more upkeep and frequent touch-ups). You can always add more color at your next appointment, if you think too much gray was left uncolored.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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