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  • amandamcgerald

Understanding Hair Color: That Silver Sparkle

Updated: Feb 20

"With each strand, I grow more powerful."

Woman with beautiful long silver and grey hair dancing

Silver, Grey, Sparkle, Wizard Hair, Natural High Light, Salt n Pepper... whatever you want to call it... it is beautiful!

So What is Gray Hair...

Our hair gets its color from melanin, which is the pigment that gives color to our hair, skin, and eyes. Melanin for our hair is made by cells called melanocytes located at the base of the hair follicle. When melanin is produced the "color" transfers to the hair as it grows out of the follicle. As we age, the number and activity of melanocytes decrease, resulting in less melanin being produced and less pigment being transferred to the hair. There are two types of melanin that determine hair color: eumelanin, which produces brown or black hair, and pheomelanin, which produces red or blonde hair. Gray hair is a result of the gradual loss of melanin. As we age, our hair follicles produce less melanin, leading to a reduction in color and the appearance of gray or white hair.

Why do we go gray...

The exact mechanisms behind this process are not fully understood, but it is believed to be influenced by both genetic and other environmental factors. For example, stress, nutritional deficiencies, and exposure to certain chemicals or toxins may accelerate the loss of melanin and lead to premature graying.

We are not alone in this transformation though. Ever notice how our pets get grayer as they get older? Many animals also experience a loss of melanin as they age, leading to gray or white hair or fur. Man's best friend, right?

Some Young, Some Old, and Some In Between

For some people, gray hair may begin to appear as early as their 20s, while others may not notice gray hair until their 40s or later. Premature graying of hair can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, stress, nutritional deficiencies, autoimmune disorders, or other health concerns.



In some cases, premature graying can be inherited. Studies have shown that premature graying tends to run in families, and several genes have been identified that may play a role in the process, such as the IRF4 gene. This gene is involved in the regulation of melanin production.

Other genetic factors that can contribute to premature graying include inherited disorders that affect melanin production, such as vitiligo and albinism.


caution symbol - yellow triangle with exclamation point in the middle

Stress can also contribute to premature graying, as it can cause oxidative stress that damages the cells that produce melanin. When the body is under stress, it triggers the release of stress hormones, including cortisol. High levels of cortisol can interfere with the functioning of the melanocytes in the hair follicles. When the melanocytes are disrupted by stress hormones, they may produce less pigment or stop producing pigment altogether resulting in hair that appears gray or white.

hair growth cycle showing stages

Stress can also affect the hair growth cycle. The anagen phase, which is the active growth phase of the hair follicle, can be shortened by stress hormones. This can lead to hair that appears thinner or falls out more easily.

Nutritional Deficiencies

A healthy diet effects your entire body. Fueling your body properly is a form of preventative health care, so getting those vital nutrients is essential for a healthy sense of wellbeing. Depriving your body of certain vitamins and minerals slows down your energy levels and puts you at risk. Deficiencies in vitamins B12 and D, as well as copper, iron, and zinc, can also affect melanin production and contribute to premature graying.

An apple, stethescope, and heart plate of seeds, onion, tomato, and potato


While gray hair is often associated with aging, it can also be caused by medical conditions or certain medications. For example, autoimmune disorders, such as alopecia areata and vitiligo, can also lead to premature graying by attacking the cells that produce melanin. Additionally, certain medical conditions, such as thyroid disorders and some types of anemia, can contribute to premature graying. Lifestyle factors, such as smoking and exposure to certain chemicals and pollutants, have also been linked to premature graying. If you are experiencing sudden or widespread graying of hair or other concerning symptoms, it's always best to consult with a healthcare professional.

Coloring Gray Hair...

Transitioning to Gray...

woman before and after going natural grey

I say the majority of what I do now is transition women who have gray and natural dark, to a lighter base, so the gray isn’t as obvious. Not so much “going gray". The transition to getting your hair to your natural silver takes some time, so patience is definitely necessary. You are essentially changing your hair dark hair to light hair in order to catch up with your natural growth.

I invite you to read my article about dark to light color transformation to learn more about the processes involved.

A bulleted summary would be:

  • Patience and planning are essential

  • Multiple sessions may be required

  • Hair health and vibrancy is a priority

The gorgeous example you see above took almost 2 years to complete. If you are ready to accept the natural change, Fringe Hair Studio is here for you all the way. If you want to keep your born given color (or other), we are here for that as well.

Covering Gray

As a master hair colorist, I understand that coloring gray hair can be a unique and rewarding challenge. Gray hair tends to be coarser and more resistant to color, so it's important to have the right tools and techniques to achieve the desired result, meaning that adjustments to your formula will be necessary.

With gray hair being courser, it is important to choose a formula that is specifically designed for gray coverage, as these formulas often contain higher levels of pigment and are better able to penetrate the hair shaft.

Next, the hair color would be applied using a combination of techniques, such as a single process color on the roots and/or all-over color, along with foils for highlights or lowlights for your desired result. Essentially similar steps to what you would already be used to from before you started going gray. Processing times can sometimes take a little longer depending on the coarseness of the gray or silver hairs. Then everything is rinsed out as usual, but may require a little extra conditioning. I always recommend a conditioning treatment at the bowl for extra nourishment.

With proper care and maintenance, your newly colored hair can look beautiful and vibrant for weeks or even months to come, depending on how fast your hair grows.

Silver Maintenance

Maintaining colored gray hair and natural gray hair requires some different approaches. Here are some tips for maintaining both:

Maintaining Colored Gray Hair:

  1. Use sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner formulated for colored hair to help prevent fading. One recommendation I have would be the amika vault color-lock collection.

  2. Avoid using hot water when washing colored hair as it can strip the color. Instead, use lukewarm or cool water.

  3. Limit your use of heat styling tools as high heat can cause color to fade more quickly. If you must use heat styling tools, use a heat protectant spray.

  4. Protect your hair from UV rays by wearing a hat or using a leave-in conditioner with UV protection when spending time outdoors.

  5. Get regular touch-ups to maintain the vibrancy of your color.

Maintaining Natural Gray Hair:

  1. Use a purple or blue toning shampoo to counteract any yellow or brassy tones in your hair.

  2. Use a deep conditioning treatment once a week to keep your hair moisturized and healthy.

  3. Consider using a gloss or shine spray to enhance the shine of your gray hair.

  4. Protect your hair from UV rays by wearing a hat or using a leave-in conditioner with UV protection when spending time outdoors.

  5. Get regular trims to keep your hair healthy and prevent split ends.

With the right care and maintenance, your gray hair can look beautiful and healthy. Whether you have colored gray hair or natural gray hair, it's important to take good care of your hair to keep it looking its best. Be gentle when brushing and styling your hair, and avoid using harsh chemical treatments that can damage your hair. Most importantly don't forget that...

You Are Beautiful!

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