Before we discuss the best products for gray hair (or grey hair, for the Brits reading), it’s worth knowing why you need to treat gray hair differently. You’re already acquainted with the basics: as we age, men’s hair follicles stop producing melanin, and turn somewhere between white and gray. Science has some solid ideas about why your hair turns gray, and at least one widely-accepted theory about the implications for your mop: gray hair hasn’t just changed color—it’s also more rigid, and more difficult to keep hydrated. That, in turn, makes gray hair susceptible to discoloration and dullness, caused by (we’re sorry to say) almost everything: sun exposure, hard water, hair products, and pollution. (Relatedly, if you’re looking to make the most of your thinning hair, you’ll want to look over here instead.)
So yeah, if you’ve got gray (or graying) hair, it’s worth revisiting your hair care regimen to ensure you stay more George Clooney than Albert Einstein. Update your shampoos, conditioners, and styling products the right way, and you’ll keep those grays as brilliantly silver as possible, plus compensate for the lack of natural nourishment and cooperation when styling. (Even if you battle back with some hair dye, you’ve still gotta treat those stiffer, drier follicles right.)
Read on for the best gray hair products for all hair types across your entire hair care regimen—from washing and conditioning to treating and styling—to achieve the silver fox status you rightfully deserve.
The Best Products for Gray Hair
A New Shampoo (or Two)
We recommend having three different shampoos (not including a fourth for dandruff, if that’s needed). First-up, you’ll need a daily driver shampoo built for smoothing thick hair that you’ll use regularly for every-other-day washes. It’s the shampoo that’ll get the most mileage. This one’s built to nourish the strands without taking away all the moisture. Look for words like “smoothing” and “hydrating,” which are code for “this relaxes thick, coarse hair.”
The other two shampoos in your hair cleaning arsenal largely won’t get used as often (which means they’ll last longer). You’ll need a purple toning shampoo, which does exactly what it says. Not to get all Color Theory 101 on you, but a little purple pigment balances out the yellow tones or brassy tones that gray hair can get from, well, almost everything: hard water, sun exposure, pollution, your other hair products. With it, your hair stays bright and silvery instead of dull and discolored. Purple shampoo is a once-weekly application for most men with gray hair, though you can adjust as needed. When you use it, let the shampoo sit for a minute or two so the pigment can soak in—though keep an eye on the clock. If you’ve seen sweet older women with delightfully lavender-tinged hair, you’ve witnessed the power of purple shampoo.
The third shampoo on your shelf is a clarifying shampoo, and you’ll use it the least frequently—maybe just once or twice a month. A clarifying shampoo is to your regular shampoo as a power washer is to a hose: it’s intended for a deeper clean, when your scalp needs a scrubbing and your hair needs to be freed of grime and accumulated gunk. Since a clarifying shampoo really strips your hair, it’s really meant only as a periodic “reset.” And as we’ll get to in a moment, it should be immediately followed with not only a conditioner (which should be used after every shampoo session), but also ideally a hair mask, to replace the nutrients and moisture the clarifying shampoo stole.
Both the purple shampoo and clarifying shampoo should sub in for the smoothing shampoo. (As in: no double-shampooing). Just slot them into your every-other-day or every-third-day wash routine.
A Smoothing Conditioner
The best conditioner for gray hair is one that promises to smooth out rigid hairs, with bonus points for any conditioner that dials up the silvery color a notch and gives your grays some light-catching brilliance. Follow the instructions on the bottle, but in general, you’ll let the conditioner set for a couple minutes before rinsing it out, allowing all those nutrients to get absorbed into your thirsty strands. It’s worth noting that a great smoothing conditioner for gray hair also works great as a co-wash to give your shampoo a break.
A Moisturizing Mask
About once a week—probably on a weekend—dial up your bathroom sing-along playlist and give yourself 10-15 minutes of bonus haircare time for a deep-moisturizing treatment. Look for a hair mask that promises extra moisture and softening. And make sure you follow the instructions: some masks are applied after shampooing (and would replace conditioner on that given day); other masks go on before shampoo, then get rinsed and followed by a proper conditioner.
The Best Styling Products for Gray Hair
An Argan-Rich Hair Oil
There’s a reason that argan oil is a popular hair care ingredient: it’s supremely nourishing and penetrates the hair easily to deliver tons of Vitamin E for softness and brightness. Meanwhile, antioxidants fortify strands protect against the dulling, discoloring effects of pollution and UV rays. You can get your argan oil fix all sorts of ways: apply raw argan oil, or find an oil blend where it’s the key ingredient. Also an option: go DIY, and mix some raw argan oil into your favorite hair styler, or finish off your styling session with a drop or two for a little extra sheen and softening.
An UV and Heat Defense
Some people just can’t quit blow dryers and other hair-torching tools, despite the fact that they dial up discoloration and frizz. We get it! Who’s got the time to wait for flowing locks to air dry? If you’re breaking out a hair dryer or any other kind of hot tool, prep your gray follicles with a designated oil, cream, or spray that prevents excess moisture loss. The best of these heat defense products also stiff-arms UV rays, basically acting as SPF for your dry hair.
Whatever your hair color, we recommend a hair dryer that dries through the use of ionic air, or uses ceramic or tourmaline elements, all which dry the hair more evenly. (Read more about our favorite hair dryers here.)
A Conditioning Styler
The good news is that plenty of stylers are perfect for gray hair—that just means you’ll need to find the one (or two, or three) you like best based on your hair’s texture, density, and length, paired with the look you’re going for. Don’t be so quick to break out a high-hold styling product if you’ve got stubborn hair. Remember, even though gray hair is usually coarse, a gray-hair styling regimen should focus on softening the strands at every step of the way, as opposed to gluing your hair in place. Even if you personally prefer an immovable ‘do, your chosen styler should still be packed with conditioning ingredients to keep your gray hair soft and manageable. If you’re in doubt, it never hurts to ask your hairstylist or barber for advice on the styling product front.
Finally, there’s no need to stick to products that are just for men. Roam all the aisles of the drug store. Gels and pomades and styling creams don’t know gender. Experiment!