What do you do when you see your first gray hair? Do you pluck it? Ignore it? Discreetly adjust your part—the way you might surreptitiously slide a chair over a slender imperfection in a rug? And when the gray starts coming in fast and furious: Do you dye, highlight, or throw up your hands and recklessly let it happen in a fit of gray abandon?
Since many people by the age of 50 have started to go gray, a quick glance around at the midlifers you know will tell you that in an effort to preserve a youthful look, most are choosing to dye. But a growing number of women—courageous, rebellious, or just exhausted by the tedium of coloring—are going brazenly, vividly gray.
Because we here at O take great pleasure in helping women look as terrific as possible, we found a handful who had decided to let their gray (or silver or white or salt-and-pepper) come in naturally (though one weaves blonde through her gray; another, black); they all needed some guidance about amping up their color and style. So we brought in a squad of experts on gray matters: for color, Rita Hazan, of the Rita Hazan Salon in New York City; for cut, Juan Carlos Maciques, who works with Rita; for makeup (because gray demands special attention to color on the face), Lisa Garner, a New York City makeup artist; and for brows (because brows can go gray too), Eliza Petrescu, from New York City's Exhale Spa. See the eight glamorously gray transformations.
Might that brazen route be right for you? "Gray or white hair tends to look best with pink, olive, and dark complexions," says Lisa Chiccine, a stylist and owner of the Lisa Chiccine Salon in New York City. "If you're sallow or very pale, you'll probably look washed-out and should consider highlights or lowlights," she says. Brown hair that looks mousy as the gray comes in can be brightened and enriched by weaving in highlights and lowlights of honey, tortoiseshell, or mahogany. Another good option if you're just starting to go gray is to use a vegetable dye or a semipermanent glaze. Both will stain a lot of the gray, and when the color starts to fade, you won't have a root line, says Chiccine. If your gray comes in wiry, it's because it's dry, so use a weekly deep conditioner (such as Aveda Damage Remedy Intensive Restructuring Treatment or Philip Kingsley Elasticizer) to moisturize and calm it down. To counteract any yellow tones, get a violet-based gloss at the salon every six to eight weeks; it coats the hair and gives it shine, says Mikael Padilla, celebrity colorist for Wella Professionals in Los Angeles.
Gray demands more color, more wattage...
Go easy with the powder When you've gone gray, or white, or salt-and-pepper, your skin can look washed-out and dull. So use a luminizing, moisturizing foundation, and apply powder only where you absolutely need it, says New York City makeup artist Mally Roncal.
Wear blush It makes every complexion more vibrant, says Roncal. If you're fair skinned, choose a light English rose; medium or olive, choose a bright peony; and if you're dark complexioned, choose a rich, candy pink. Sweep the blush onto the apples of your cheeks for an instantly brightening effect.
Line your lips As you mature, lips lose their natural contour. Restore it by tracing your lips with a nude lip liner before applying gloss or lipstick.
Pick a rich lipcolor Try juicy-looking lipcolors in pink, berry, peach, or apricot tones. (Avoid nudes and browns—they can look muddy.) Choose a color a few shades more intense than your natural lip tone.
Brighten up your eyes Sweep a wash of linen-colored shadow onto your lids (this pale color reflects more light than a dark, smoky one), thicken the lashline with a stroke of liner, curl your lashes, and apply two coats of mascara. If your lashes are sparse, use a lash primer before mascara; the primer conditions and coats the lashes, making them look thicker, says Lisa Garner (the New York City makeup artist who did the makeup for this story). If black mascara looks harsh, try a brown or navy. Drag the wand outward and upward at the same time—your eyes will appear wider, and you'll look more awake.
Forget basic black The stark contrast between jet black eyeliner and gray hair is more jarring than dramatic. So choose liners in softer, lava-like shades such as bronze and deep plum, says New York City makeup artist Trish McEvoy.
Pay attention to your brows Fill in sparse brows with a pencil. If you're fair and your brows are light, choose a light to medium taupe shade; if you're olive or dark complexioned, and your brows are dark, try a deep, cool brown. For silver or salt-and-pepper brows, use a blue-gray pencil, says Eliza Petrescu, eyebrow expert at the Exhale Spa in New York City. And since brows lose their "tails" as you age, extend them in wispy strokes toward your temples.