“Jet-black hair is something most women come by naturally only as children or teenagers,” says Aveda’s Black, “and it’s probably best not to try to re-create that because it can look harsh against aging skin, emphasizing fine lines or uneven tone. But if your complexion is dark or olive, and your hair is getting dull, mousy or gray, you can certainly deepen your color, as long as the hue you choose is pretty warm.” (Think dark chocolate versus black licorice.) To achieve this warming trend, you can opt for either highlights or a single-process dye—just avoid anything too inky. “Even for Asian women who have very dark hair, I recommend highlights,” says L’Oréal’s Lavoy. “We stay within two shades of their natural base. You don’t want to go too solid or bold.” One fringe benefit of darker color: It smooths the cuticle, reducing frizz and enhancing shine. “Going darker makes coarse and curly hair more manageable and silky,” Thomson-DiPalma says. “Some of my clients go slightly darker more for the texture change than the color.”
Smoother cuticles and less frizz can also mean fewer maintenance challenges. “Once you get dark color into the hair, it stays there,” says -Lavoy. “Even if it fades a little on the ends, that just makes it look more natural.” What does need attention: the roots. “If your hair has become more than 50 percent gray or white,” says Black, “there’s this endless cycle of having to get your roots done.” That may mean it’s time to move toward a more multidimensional look as opposed to monochromatic, which will eliminate the obvious regrowth.
One caveat: Don’t go darker unless you plan to stay there a while. “It’s hard to get dark pigment out,” says Lavoy. “You’re better off waiting for it to grow or weaving in highlights to break up the darkness, rather than attempting an allover change.” In other words, going very dark is not for doubters.
If you have the guts—and a naturally gorgeous head of silvery gray hair—you might choose to work it rather than work against it with a new shade. “I believe that silver is nature’s way of lightening and brightening you,” says Lavoy. “It can actually be very flattering.”
The key, of course, is keeping your hair that sparkling shade of silver rather than a dull shade of pewter, which is easy enough to do: “Switch to a blue or violet shampoo and conditioner,” says Lavoy. “It really does the trick.” Most pros swear by Clairol Shimmer Lights Shampoo ($9; ballbeauty.com). For even more oomph: “Go to the salon and get a nice, soft toner to neutralize the yellow and add glossy shine,” says Black. “It looks incredible—especially when it’s all blown out and beautiful. But if you let yourself go silver, you have to really take care of the tone of your hair, and it will look fierce. Otherwise, it can look like you’ve just let yourself go.”
You also have to be careful about which products you style that fierce hair with: “Buildup from stylers will dull the hair and make it look yellow,” says Black. “Avoid products with silicone and use a clarifying shampoo once a week to remove any styling residue.” No matter what your hair type used to be, silver (or white) hair tends to be more brittle and wiry. “So make sure you’re using moisturizing shampoos and conditioners,” says Black.
“You may also need something like a deep conditioner once a week to soften it up.” Try Pantene Pro-V Highlighting Expressions Shampoo and Conditioner ($6 each; drugstores). And be vigilant about updating your cut. “As you get older, what can happen is that you keep the same look you had 20 (or 40 years) ago, and it looks horrid,” says Black. “If you let yourself gray naturally, it’s especially important to keep your haircut current. That way you don’t have to fear looking old-fashioned. Instead, your silver will look modern and up to date.”