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How to Cover Grey in Long Hair

VirginiaLynne is a 50-something mom of 5 who seeks creative ways to stay healthy and look her best. She loves sharing her tips and ideas.

Ways to Cover Grey in Long Hair

I'm 55, and the grey hairs are coming in a lot faster than I can pluck them out. I've already written about my solutions for coloring grey eyebrows. Now my quest is for ways to cover the grey in my long hair. After researching and polling some of my friends, I've found that these are the most common choices for coloring grey:

  • Color the grey by going blonde.
  • Add blonde streaks to mask the grey.
  • Cover the grey by dying darker.
  • Try to color by dying to match my current color.

However, I've found that there are some other options I hadn't thought of before:

  • Underlighting: highlights which are on the bottom layers rather than right on top, which can help hide the grey more naturally, especially for people with light hair.
  • Gradual lightening by using a product like Sun-In.
  • Using natural dyes like henna, coffee, or indigo.
  • Deciding to just embrace the grey and styling my hair in a sophisticated way.
Here is a  picture of me right before I did my root touch up using Sun-In.  I've been covering my grey using this product for over 6 years now. You can see my darker hair and some grey.  I use Sun-in once every 4 months.

Here is a picture of me right before I did my root touch up using Sun-In. I've been covering my grey using this product for over 6 years now. You can see my darker hair and some grey. I use Sun-in once every 4 months.

Ways to Color Grey Hair

Coloring MethodHow Expensive?AdvantagesDisadvantages

Dye at Salon

$$$$

Salon will give advice on color. Usually, they will do a re-dye if you don't like color. You can change colors. Can go lighter or darker.

Need to go in for regular dye or coloring roots. Usually salons use chemical dyes. Color may damage hair or not look natural.

Dye at Home

$$

You don't need an appointment. You can do as often as you like. Can go lighter or darker.

May not get a color you like. Most regular dyes are chemical based.

Henna

$$

Natural dye. Variety of colors depending on type of henna used. You can do it yourself.

Color is sometimes very bright at first. Takes time to dye. May not like results. Generally red tones.

Dye with Coffee

$

Natural dye. Variety of brown and black colors. Can do at home.

Need to learn how to do it. May not like results. Generally makes hair darker.

Sun-in

$

Easy to do a little bit at a time. Can help you go lighter rather than darker, but don't have to go blonde.

Does use a chemical. Might damage hair if used too much. Won't cover a lot of grey.

Underlighting or Highlights

$$

Good for blonde or light hair to cover grey. Can do at home or salon.

Uses chemicals. Need regular re-treatment. Doesn't cover all grey.

Don't Color, re-style

none unless you go to salon for cutting or restyling

Easiest to maintain. Sets a life statement. Natural.

May make you look older as you continue to grey. If you color later, there will be a more noticeable change in appearance.

How to Use Sun-In on Grey Hair

After fretting about my choices for a year, I finally decided to try using Sun-In to lighten up my hair to cover the 10% or so greyish hairs that were glaring at me from my dark roots every time I brushed it in the morning.

Sun-In isn't marketed as a coloring option for older people. When I was in high school, I lightened my hair using a product called Sun-In that I would spray on my hair before going out in the sun. I was a California teen in the 70s and Sun-In gave me natural-looking blonde streaks that matched my tan.

A few years ago, I found Sun-In again at my corner Walgreens. I wondered, "Could this work for me now?" My hair is darker than it was in high school, especially on the top. It is a medium brown, not a medium blonde. I was worried I'd do something I'd regret.

Finally, as I was getting more hairs I wanted to hide, I decided I needed to do something, so I bought a bottle. It still took me several months to get up the nerve to try it. I sprayed it on damp hair and combed it in before spending the day outside at my kid's school.

Before and After Using Sun-in

Before: My long hair has gotten darker and is now about 10% grey.

Before: My long hair has gotten darker and is now about 10% grey.

After using Sun-In to lighten my hair.  As I've used this longer, my hair has gradually lightened a bit more all over.

After using Sun-In to lighten my hair. As I've used this longer, my hair has gradually lightened a bit more all over.

2020: After over six years of using Sun-In, I'm finding it still works.  Sometimes I go lighter like the photo above.  At other times, I let the darker strands show through as in this photo.

2020: After over six years of using Sun-In, I'm finding it still works. Sometimes I go lighter like the photo above. At other times, I let the darker strands show through as in this photo.

Sun-In Worked for Me!

My hair lightened up on top to match the color at the ends of my hair. The lighter color hides the greying top. My older self hasn't gone away to create an all-new me, and I didn't expect it would, but it is not as noticeable and tends to look more like blonde hairs in my now lighter brown hair.

The Change Is Subtle: My family didn't make comments about it until later. They had noticed I'd done something but weren't sure what it was. When I told my husband I had lightened my hair he said he liked that. Then he asked if I thought it would work on his hair!

After that, I did another treatment of Sun-In to lighten up just a little more and that was just about right. Since then I've done a treatment about every 4 months or so. I spray it on after a shower, spray again when that is dry and then leave it on until I take another shower. Although the instructions say you need heat to make the treatment work (going in the sun or using a hairdryer), I've found that it isn't really necessary.

Sun-in Is Cheap: A bottle of Sun-In is under $10.00. The process of spraying in and combing is less than 15 minutes. So using Sun-In is probably the fastest, cheapest, and easiest way to do my hair. I only do a treatment about every 4 months, which uses about 1 bottle a year.

Sun-In Is Not for Everyone

Looking at online reviews, I can see that not everyone has good success with this product. People who use heat frequently on their hair, have very dark hair, or have damaged hair should probably not use it. Sun-In seems to work best on medium to light hair which is healthy. My hair may be on the darker end of the spectrum, but it is very healthy and I only did two moderate treatments. I do not blow dry my hair, use a curling iron, or straightener, so my hair is healthy and in good condition. I don't use any other coloring products on it either.

Tips for Coloring Long Hair

Of course, if you want to color gray hair you can go to a salon, or try one of the many home hair coloring products. If you do use a dye here are some tips for long hair:

  1. Trim off the last inch or two before you color to make sure all of your hair is as healthy as possible.
  2. The hair closest your head takes longer to absorb color so put coloring on roots and darkest hairs first.
  3. While your roots are coloring, put an oil hair moisturizer on the longer parts of your hair.
  4. Then, when your coloring is about half-way through, put the color on the parts you moisturized. That will help the color absorb evenly.

My Solution

This close-up shows the grey hairs that are coming in as old hairs fall out.

This close-up shows the grey hairs that are coming in as old hairs fall out.

Lightened long hair.  This photo shows my hair after two applications of Sun-In.  My dark hair at the top lightened to the same shade as my longer hair which looks natural and hides the grey.

Lightened long hair. This photo shows my hair after two applications of Sun-In. My dark hair at the top lightened to the same shade as my longer hair which looks natural and hides the grey.

Natural Dyes

I've investigated a variety of other products, since I'm not sure Sun-In will work for me when I get a lot more grey. I'm especially interested in the variety of natural dyes that you can use. If you don't want to use chemicals to dye your hair, you can try using natural products like:

  • Coffee: makes hair darker and adds shine.
  • Henna: gives red highlights and can be used on a variety of hair types and colors.
  • Indigo: can be added to henna to have a darker tint.

How to Dye Long Hair with Henna

I've always wanted to have auburn hair like my great-grandmother, who was a feisty redhead from Kentucky. So I may surprise my family by trying henna! After looking through a variety of websites telling how to do this type of dying on long hair, I've developed the following instructions.

Materials:

  • bowl and spoon
  • 50 to 100 grams of henna
  • lemon juice or other acidic liquid
  • plastic wrap
  • gloves
  1. Mix good quality henna with an acid like lemon juice (or other citrus juice) until it is about the consistency of mashed potatoes. You will need about 50 grams (1/2 cup) to 100 grams (1 cup) of henna for medium length long hair.
  2. Let the mixture sit at room temperature overnight to release the dye.
  3. Add more lemon juice until the mixture is thinner, like yogurt.
  4. Use gloves so henna doesn't stain your hair. Doing a section at a time, apply the henna on your hair. Put a thick coating over all your hair, especially being careful to get all the ends. Wipe off henna that gets on your ears or nape of the neck. Don't worry if you get a little stain because it will wear off in a couple of days.
  5. When you are done, wrap your hair in plastic wrap and leave it for 2-4 hours.
  6. Unwrap your hair and rinse out the henna. Wash out the last of it with shampoo.
  7. The coloring may seem very red at first but will darken in the next couple of days.

How to Dye Long Hair with Henna

60 Here I Come!

how-to-cover-grey-in-long-hair

Heading Toward 60

I'm going to turn 60 this year and I'm still using Sun-In with good results. I did have one of my daughter's friends comment "Your hair is so much lighter now!" when looking at some older photos.

I didn't skip a beat and answered, "Your hair could be lighter too!"

I do cut and inch or two off of my hair 2-3 times a year, but I don't think using Sun-In has made my hair any more brittle. What has been very interesting is that even though I have more grey on top, I don't have any grey in the bottom portion of my hair. I'll keep using this technique as long as I can!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Comments

Cassidy Best on August 23, 2016:

Very informational and very cost efficacious. Maybe I will let my grandma know about these tips!

KiwiSanet on January 02, 2015:

Like the coffee colour idea. Never coloured my hair but will have to start thinking about it! :-(

Rayne123 on October 11, 2013:

HI Virginia, for some reason I thought your name was Victoria, sorry

Anyway you have a lot of good ideas for coloring grey hair

However I also tried "sun in" long ago and it turned my hair orange and very dry, mind you that was years ago I tried it.

I will have to try the coffee one now though. I have not listened to the "how to" yet but sure will.

I tried Henna and it also dried out my hair, I was not a big fan of it.

My hair is long but very very fine now. May have to do with age along with stress not sure.

Thanks for the great hub

Blessings

Laurie

Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on September 20, 2013:

I may end up trying tea or coffee in the future when the lightening won't cover the grey enough. I was so glad to find out in researching this Hub that there were alternatives to dye. The henna approach is interesting too, but I'm just not sure what color I'd end up with!

Joanie Ruppel from Texas on September 19, 2013:

I may get brave and try the coffee rinse! Thanks!

Barbara Badder from USA on September 19, 2013:

I've thought about using tea on my dark hair. It stains tea cups, so why not? It seems like it would take a long time to work though.

I have been using dye, but I have damaged hair and now I'm afraid to do it again. I'm not sure if the hair coloring caused it or something else. I might try the coffee.

Crystal Tatum from Georgia on September 19, 2013:

I take after my father's side of the family; they all gray early. It's getting to the point where I'm going to have to do something. I'm sure I'll be coming back to this hub to reference in the future. Voting up and useful and sharing!

Victoria Ette on September 01, 2013:

I had no idea there are so many different ways to color your hair. I'm sure that my mom would love this article. She uses a product that allows her to just brush in the dye to cover her grey hair on top. I appreciate that this post gave several different options and warnings about dying your hair. In fact, it makes me curious if I could dye my hair using one of these methods.

Alex Ryan on August 28, 2013:

I don't have grey hair yet but my mom does and I am going to share this with her because she is always looking for ways to hide the grey. I think the underlighting may work on my moms hair.

MSGolden51 on August 14, 2013:

I cut my long hair a year ago last September 8, 2012. And I also dyed my hair at that time, a year latter it has grown about one-half of the length it was before I cut and dyed. Now I have noticed I have a few gray, I think I will leave the grey in for now. I will use my home dyes since I have a lot in my linen closet. Thanks for the read. very interesting.

JR Krishna from India on July 15, 2013:

I find this hub very useful as I am starting to get grey hairs now.

I am not sure whether Sun In products are available in India

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on July 05, 2013:

You have this process down pat, Virginia. Thanks for sharing. Bet some will find it helpful; I'm one who loves my gray.

Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on July 02, 2013:

I'd love to hear what dye you use! I definitely think I'll have to do something more as I get more grey, so the more possibilities the better!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 01, 2013:

You have a lot of good ideas for making this change. I use a dye at home that does not have peroxide. I keep thinking I will stop doing everything at some point, but I am not ready yet. Your hair looks great.

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