Alexandra Engler is the Beauty Director. Previously she worked at Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com.
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June 23, 2022
Gray, silver, platinum, dusted, frosted, icy—whatever you call your white strands, we’re here to help you care for them. And for those who have embraced the icier hues, we know that these silver strands are often a point of pride. According to a recent survey done by the University of Exeter that interviewed 80 people who had transitioned to going gray, there were a myriad of reasons why they made the switch. Some cited practical reasons (struggling to keep up with hair color maintenance and appointments), while others said they felt gray hair helped them appear more serious in a professional setting. However, the most common reasons they found were authenticity—the participants felt more like their natural selves by letting the gray grow in.
So if you find yourself on that journey, you may have found that enhancing and caring for your gray hair takes some subtle differences. Including: what shampoo you select. Here’s a great place to start.
How we picked
We always select products that are clean- and -natural leaning. On top of that, we looked for ingredients to address all the unique needs of graying hair, including hydrating extracts, protecting antioxidants, thickening actives, and toning pigments.
Great hair for every budget. We looked for products that covered a wide range of prices, as well as places to purchase. This way, everyone has access to high-quality products that can care for their strands.
While gray hair has unique qualities unto itself, not everyone who embraces silver has the same overall goals. Some need extra help with frizz, while others may be looking to encourage growth. We tried to cover several bases here.
Every product on this list comes recommended by hair care professionals, real users, or editors (myself included—I have personally used most products that appear below).
Olaplex is known for their patented bond-building technology that’s able to repair and revive broken bonds in the hair. (A hair fiber lesson: your hair is made up of millions of bonds that hold together the protein keratin. These bonds are damaged or broken due to age, natural wear and tear, hot tools, and so on.). Their purple shampoo revives hair, brightens gray hair, color-corrects any brassiness, and is sulfate-free so it won’t cause dryness or irritation. It also comes highly recommended from color and hair expert Christin Brown, who says she recommends it to all her clients with graying hair: “It brightens up silver hair, so it really gives it that luminescent vibe—It feels so uplifting,” she says.
This brand is developed specifically for those who see signs of aging in their hair, be it thinning, graying, or damage. And the formulas are sophisticatedly designed to nurture those very specific needs. Take the purple shampoo, for example. It contains burdock root and bamboo, which are high in minerals and nutrients for the scalp and hair follicle—alongside antioxidant-rich hops to ease oxidative stress in the area. Finally, it’s spiked with a light violet shade to address yellowing of gray strands.
A high-quality option found at the drugstore
Contains fragrance, if you’re sensitive to that
Considerations: Vegan, Sulfate-free
Because aging or gray hair often develops a coarser texture, it may not be as vibrant as it once was. To add back that megawatt shine, reach for a glossing shampoo like this sulfate-free option. This paraben-free, vegan, and pH balanced formula can help fibers appear more vibrant with the help of argan oil. “It’s great for many [uses], especially on dry, damaged hair because its trove of fatty acids lock moisture into the hair follicle,” says Bindiya Gandhi, M.D., an American Board Family Medicine physician and mbg Collective member.
This brand is formulated by legendary colorist to the stars, Justin Anderson (whose work you’ve seen on countless celebrities, beauty influencers, and well, me). His formulas are some of the best around for color-treated hair, which is ideal for those who are looking to diffuse your gray strands with highlights. As someone who uses strategically placed blonde highlights to blend gray hair in with my naturally brunette base, dpHue is one my favorite color care brands to tone and correct. Their blonde- and gray-enhancing shampoo is loaded with violet pigments, vegan silk proteins, amino acids, and hibiscus extract for strands that truly shine.
Male pattern baldness and graying can start around the same time for many—making it important to find a product that not only leaves silver hair shiny, but can improve hair thickness in the process. This deeply cleans the scalp, without stripping the skin or hair fiber. Then it infuses it with thickening ingredients like vegetarian proteins and kelp extract.
Great for all hair color bases
Uses essential oils for fragrance, if you’re sensitive to those
A classic in the natural-leaning hair care space, Aveda always delivers with interesting blends and unique ingredients. This tinted shampoo uses a potent dose of blue malva powder, which gives the shampoo that rich indigo color. While most options for gray hair are pastel purples and light violets (because they address the yellowing of light gray hair), the blue-purple tone in this makes it an ideal blend to color-correct dark and light hair colors alike. What does this mean in practice? If you’ve only begun to gray and still have a brunette or black base, you may consider bluer-toned formulas like this.
Whether you have coarse hair naturally or it has come with time, (as we’ve noted, many people experience coarser texture in the graying process), you’ll want to switch to an ultra gentle shampoo that won’t strip your hair fiber. This uses a very light coconut-derived surfactant to clean the scalp, and is further buffered with calming lavender and hydrolyzed wheat proteins. Reviewers with naturally coarse, curly hair have noted that with regular use their hair has become “soft and silvery.”
As hair experiences aging, not only can it lose pigment—it can lose density: Hair thinning is an all-too-common complaint that often coincides with graying. So if improving hair fullness and growth is on the top of your list of goals, look for formulas with science-backed thickening ingredients. Vegamour has a cult-following for their hair growth serums, and this blend infuses those same ingredients into a sulfate-free cleanser. Notably, you’ll see the brand’s proprietary vegan silk protein that helps restore hair fullness and antioxidant-rich plant extracts to help combat oxidative stress at the scalp (which can contribute to thinning).
1% For The Planet members
Considerations: Cruelty-free, Vegan, Sulfate-free
It’s important to understand what makes frizz in order to know how to minimize it. Frizz is caused by raised cuticles on the outermost layer of the hair fiber. Because they are raised, they trigger friction with the other hair fibers—resulting in hair that just doesn’t want to smooth down. And because of the texture changes that happen with graying hair, frizz is often more common. You can minimize it by using products that encourage the cuticle to lay flat. This creamy shampoo uses several conditioning agents that help smooth down the surface of the hair fiber, like an olive oil extract.
While many items here have natural components, this formula clocks in at 98% naturally-derived ingredients. The three main botanicals to highlight are the baobab oil for its silky texture and high antioxidant content, quinoa extract for keratin support, and purple rice, which can tone gray strands. Plus, the entire collection is crafted by New York City based stylist Sam Brocato, whom I have visited for hair treatments (i.e. the visionary behind the brand is beauty-editor approved!).
Does gray hair need special shampoo?
We’ve alluded to many unique needs of gray hair throughout the roundup, but let’s break it down further. In short, yes gray hair often requires appropriate products–shampoo included. This is true of any change in hair color or style: If all of a sudden you dyed your hair red, black, or pastel pink, it’d likely require a new arsenal of topicals. Or if you went from long to short, you’d probably rethink your go-to formulas. All hair has unique needs and products to suit them.
But back to gray hair specifically: The first reason is that lighter hair hues (ahem, silver hair), can appear dull or brassy thanks to pollution, topicals, heat damage, and other stressors that can alter lighter shades.“Gray hair grabs what’s in the atmosphere, so it can turn yellow very quickly,” says Brown. I should note that these things also affect other hair colors, but they just are more noticeable on gray hair. To correct these subtle hue changes, professionals often recommend toning products—such as purple or blue shampoos.
The second is that the fiber’s texture often changes, becoming more coarse and dry. As Brown explains to us, the pigment loss of the hair causes it to become more wiry. To address these changes, you should look for products that have conditioning agents (like botanical oils), gentle surfactants, and strengthening extracts (like proteins or amino acids).
Finally, gray strands typically come with age (not always, but it’s more common), so you may want to address other sides of maturing hair. To do this you can look for ingredients that address hair density (if thinning is an issue) as well as antioxidants. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals and oxidative stress, which contribute to premature hair aging.
What happens if you use purple shampoo on gray hair?
You’ll notice that many of the products that made the list are purple shampoos. Toning shampoos have been long-time colorist favorites, which have now entered the at-home beauty zeitgeist. And while they’re typically recommended for color-treated hair, they’re excellent options for those with naturally gray strands.
“We use toners to enhance dull tones or cancel unwanted tones,” says hairstylist Natasha Speth. “When we are canceling unwanted tones, we refer to our faithful color wheel to select the proper tones. We would use complementary colors to cancel out unwanted tones.” The basics of at-home toning are using violet for yellow, green for red, or blue for orange.
And since gray hair is more likely to turn yellow or brassy, folks should use purple and blue shampoos to correct these undertones. If you want more advice on using purple shampoo, check out our guide to the product.
But a quick word of warning for all newbies: if this is your first time using purple shampoo, start with once a week or two weeks—using your other sulfate-free shampoo during the other washes—and build up as needed. If you go overboard, you can stain your hair purple. (Don’t worry, it doesn’t last.) Ultimately how often you use it will be up to your needs, but start slowly until you find your ideal schedule.
How to transition to gray hair
If you’ve been covering up your grays with color, and are looking to make the switch we’ve highlighted the top tips you need to know about transitioning to gray. But know up front: It’s going to be a process. “To avoid jeopardizing the health of the hair, you need a long-term plan,” says celebrity colorist Abby Haliti. “This may take a few salon visits, but it is so worth it when you have the results you desired in the end and didn’t risk the health of your hair.”
mbg review process
At mbg, high standards are earned—and there are no shortcuts. Our beauty editors stay up to date on the latest ingredient research and innovation. It’s a dynamic, continuously evolving space, and it’s important we look into the science so we can make informed choices about which formulas earn our stamp of approval (figuratively speaking).
Our high standards also come from testing products—many, many products. Our editors and writers rigorously test and research the products featured in our roundups to offer you the best, most informed recommendations. When we write reviews, you can trust we spend quality time with the formulas: We don’t simply rave about products we’ve slathered on the back of our hand. We endorse products we’ve tried and loved.
Learn more about our testing process and clean beauty standards here.
All hair is unique and requires its own special arsenal of care products—gray hair included. If you’re new to rocking your natural icy tone or a long-time silver siren, you may be interested in finding a quality shampoo to enhance your hue. Shampoos are an excellent place to start.