How to colour and highlight grey hair

Updated April 17, 2017

Grey hair tends to be more resistant to colour than other types of hair. Because of this it can be tricky to get the shade and intensity of colour that you desire. If you plan on colouring or highlighting grey hair on your own, is important to choose the correct types of dye and also to make sure you are choosing the proper shade to get the results you want.

Colour grey hair

Select the type of dye. Most cosmetics counters will have a special section of dyes for grey hair. Look at the package to make sure you are selecting a dye meant for this kind of coverage.

Pay close attention to the shades on the package. Most will have a colour guide showing you how a shade will look on grey hair. You may need to select a few shades lighter or darker than originally planned to get the look you want.

Put on gloves and prepare the area around you. Some hair dyes can permanently stain surfaces, so use caution and cover anything you are worried about staining.

Follow the instructions that came with the dye for how to prepare it. Some dyes will mix with a powder, others as a cream. Most will mix all the ingredients together at once, but some will have multiple steps.

Follow the instructions on the dye package for how to apply it. If you have experience with foiling hair, you may wish to do that for extra coverage. Foils can be hard to apply on your own, so it's best to do it this way only if you have someone to help. Having a disposable shower cap is also useful to keep all the dye in place.

Check the instructions on the dye package for processing times. For grey hair, it is best to use the maximum processing time recommended to allow for maximum absorption.

Set the timer for the recommended processing time. If you choose not to wear a shower cap, use extra caution to avoid getting dye on other surfaces and in your eyes.

Rinse hair thoroughly after the timer has gone off. Rinsing with cool water helps colour last longer.

Condition as necessary after rinsing. If the colour still did not penetrate, it may be necessary to repeat the process, but never do this without checking to see if it is safe first. Certain dyes can be very damaging to hair if used too frequently.

Highlight gray hair

Determine highlight colours that will be complimentary to your hair colour. If you want to stay grey, stick with silver tones. If you are doing a colour and highlight, many dyes are sold in kits with complementary highlight colours. Generally, warm colours stay with warm and cool stays with cool.

Colour your hair as outlined in section one if you are doing a colour and highlight. Colouring the hair first will help the highlights process better.

Follow the instructions that came with the highlighting kit for how to prepare the chemicals.

Apply the mixture as directed. Highlights can be hard to get even by yourself, so it's best to do this with someone to help you.

Set the timer for the amount indicated. Some highlights can take very quickly, even on grey hair, so you may want to test a single strand first to see how your hair responds. Rinse thoroughly once process time has ended.


Be sure to check whether your dye is permanent or temporary. If you are experimenting with colours it may be best to start with temporary dyes. Many professional stylists will offer tips on the colours that work best for you. If possible, buy dyes from a salon supply shop. These tend to be better and safer.


Never leave dye in longer than the recommended processing time. This can cause severe damage to hair. Keep in mind that most hair colours contain chemicals. Avoid getting it on the skin as much as possible and keep it out of the eyes.

Things You'll Need

  • Hair dye
  • Highlighter
  • Gloves
  • Hair Foils (optional)
  • Shower cap (optional)
  • Timer
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