Caring for Your Curly Gray Hair: Essential Tips

May 24, 2023


Verna Meachum

Learn the science of going gray and how to take care of your curly gray hair.

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What’s the most effective way to take care of curly gray hair? The answer is different for everyone. Some people want to cover it up, while others welcome their natural gray hair and want to get it into top condition. But what does science say about how we should be caring for our silver-gray hair? And what should we avoid doing?

Gray hair has a chemical makeup that requires a special care regimen for easy styling and manageability. This hair type needs moderately moisturizing, sulfate-free cleansers, and deep, yet not excessive, conditioning. Products and salon treatments can brighten grays that have become dull and yellow.

Whether you’ve embraced the natural graying process, including the beauty of white hair, to eliminate regular touch-ups, follow a trend, or simply because it looks gorgeous, know that you’re part of a growing movement celebrating the beauty of natural hair.

With the help of my hair scientist friend, who holds a PhD in Chemistry, we’ll share the essential tips for everyone embracing life as it develops – gray hair and all, promoting healthy hair at every stage.

The Science of Looking after Curly Gray Hair

You might already know curly hair is more likely to get dry and damaged. But did you know that gray hair also has a higher risk of becoming frazzled? So, curly gray hair has double the damage risk.

Let’s zoom in on gray hair for a moment.

Science has revealed secrets about gray hair’s properties and behavior that help us understand its needs.

Gray Hair Has Special Needs

Gray hair looks different from black or pigmented hair, but science says the differences go much deeper.

Gray strands have a unique chemical makeup that makes it more likely to dry out, dull, frizz, and break.

Here’s a summary of what research has uncovered about the specific appearance, hair texture, and structure of gray hair, and how this affects how your hair looks and feels:

Research FindingsWhat This Means
With age, hair loses density and pigment. The oil glands in the scalp also make less sebum, leading to a reduction in the production of natural oils.
Gray hair is less shiny, more fragile, and more sensitive to the sun’s rays.
Gray hairs can get damaged easily by high-energy radiation, as they show higher levels of cystic acid following irradiation.Gray hair is more porous and hydrophilic, meaning it has a greater capacity to absorb moisture and is thus more vulnerable to changes in humidity of the surrounding environment (and tends to puff and frizz).
Gray hair is also more likely to oxidize. Gray hairs have almost the same levels of proteins, and amino acids, with the only observed difference being the concentration level of cysteine.
Gray hairs show higher amounts of cystine oxidation, producing more cystic acid.
Gray hair is also more likely to look yellow and tarnished.
Gray hair reacts differently to chemical agents. For example, gray hair generally has higher dye uptake (semi-permanent or permanent) during hair coloring treatments.
This hair type also responds strongly during chemical and texturizing treatments (reduction during thioglycolates).
This is potentially due to the higher porosity and surface roughness, facilitating the penetration of active chemicals.
Gray hair risks becoming overprocessed and damaged during chemical treatments.
Gray hairs have less melanin (almost no melanin present). Melanin is a large aromatic polymer that colors hair fibers and protects against solar radiation. Melanin protects hair fibers from undesired chemical changes.Gray hair lacks the natural protection mechanism provided by melanin grains. This leaves the hair exposed to radiation, which causes the oxidation of hair proteins. The result is damage to hair’s quality, style, and sheen.
Hair that lacks melanin is also drier and coarser. This means it is rough and experiences more friction when combed wet or dry.

To recap, gray hair’s specific chemical makeup gives it rough cuticles (explaining why the hair shaft is often wiry and sticks up stubbornly). It also makes hair drier, weaker, more porous, and damage-prone.

Now that we understand gray hair’s characteristics, we can care for it properly. Let’s jump into how to cleanse, condition, and style gray hair to help it look its best.


“They are not gray hairs, they are all-natural, non-chemical highlights!”

How to Cleanse Curly Gray Hair

Here’s what to look for in cleansing hair products:

  • Moderately conditioned formulations work best on gray hair’s textural and surface properties. However, if you find shampoo strips too much moisture from your hair, switch to a co-wash or cleansing conditioner. These deeply moisturizing cleansers prevent dry hair and keep it hydrated.
  • Sulfate-free shampoos (sulfates contribute to gray hair’s damage sequence, and hair can eventually break).
  • Shampoos containing mild and natural surfactants.
  • Hydrating, antioxidant-packed shampoos (to keep those grays looking bright and fresh).

How to Condition Curly Gray Hair

Conditioning is essential for curly gray hair – but avoid using too much product.

Gray hair sucks up conditioner. The hair has more space at the cuticles, allowing conditioner molecules to penetrate quickly and in higher amounts. This can result in product build-up and limp, dull-looking hair. So, less is always more.

Damaged hairs share this problem and get product build-up quickly.

How to Style Curly Gray Hair

Once you’ve embraced going gray, the textural changes can make styling your hair trickier.

If you are air drying, it won’t make a huge difference, but if you want to smooth the hair down, it will need more moisture.

A hair care routine for curly gray hair should focus on deep moisturization from roots to ends. This keeps the hair strand soft and shiny.

Since curly grey hair tends to be a bit drier, adding moisture to your haircare routine through a deep conditioner, moisturizing shampoo, leave-in conditioner, or styling products is necessary.

Suppose you have finer hair that you want to keep looking bouncy. In this case, stay away from ultra-thick or thick serums and creams because they can make your hair look flat and weigh it down.

Instead, the best products to try are a light anti-frizz shine spray or light hair oil (think jojoba oil, or grapeseed oil, instead of coconut oils) to keep things locked down and smooth yet weightless. (Of course, richer products are perfect if you’re going for a sleek, slicked-back look.)

It’s a good idea for individuals with gray curly hair to limit the use of hot tools. Gray hair tends to be more susceptible to dryness and damage, and excessive heat can exacerbate these issues. Embracing air-drying and using heat-protective products when necessary is a great way to maintain the health and texture of gray curly hair.

How to Color Manage Your Curly Gray Hair

Without attention and care, gray hair easily becomes yellow and dull. If you love your silver-gray hair, keep it looking bright and healthy.

You could have a brightening clear gloss treatment every three to four months to add sparkle and keep unwanted tones at bay. Talk with a professional colorist about this natural color option.

A purple shampoo can also help to cancel out any yellow tones, keeping your gray curls on the cool/white side.

Here are a few purple shampoo products to try:

Eva NYC Tone It Down Blonde Shampoo, 1 L
$24.99 ($0.74 / Fl Oz)
Grab it Here
12/04/2023 12:29 am GMT

Moroccanoil Blonde Perfecting Purple Shampoo
$26.00 ($3.88 / Fl Oz)
Grab it Here
12/03/2023 12:59 pm GMT

Suppose you choose to cover your silver curls instead of enhancing them, then permanent coloring is usually the preferred choice. Bleaching treatment highlights are another option to cover or mask gray hair.

After coloring, gray hair requires specially formulated color-protection products to improve color vibrancy and retention, such as the above suggestions.

What Causes Gray Hair Anyway?

Image showing the process of graying hair.

Simply put, graying is caused by less concentration of melanin, a natural pigment in our skin and hair that gives them their color.

Melanin comes in two forms (eumelanin and pheomelanin), and each form imparts a different hue. Melanin synthesis occurs in specialized cells called melanocytes via a complex organic chemical reaction catalyzed by enzymes. The concentration of melanin grains, their location, and the activity of melanocytes define the actual hair color, and this is where graying begins.

Gray hair is found in every age segment, including people in their 20s. Genetics plays a significant part in when and how much your hair will gray. Additional factors that can cause hair to gray early include health conditions such as thyroid disease, viruses, and smoking.

The Process Of Going Gray

How exactly we go gray isn’t clearly understood.

In some studies, hair follicles have been observed to lack the essential tyrosinase enzyme for vital melanocyte activity, which slows down melanin synthesis. In other words, there is less concentration of melanin produced by melanocytes.

However, what leads to a decrease in follicular activity is not clear. Certain studies have reported that even gray unpigmented hairs have some level of active, alive melanocytes present, yet hairs are gray.

It is believed that graying might be due to multiple factors, such as a drop in melanin level, a decreased production of essential enzymes impacting melanogenesis activity, or a combination of both.

Gray Hair and Hair Loss

Hair loss is not necessarily caused by having gray curly hair. However, factors such as aging, hormonal imbalance, genetics, and overall health can contribute to hair loss in individuals with any natural hair color or texture, including gray curly hair.


Curly gray hair comes with special needs. Its chemical makeup leaves it vulnerable to dryness, damage, yellowing, overprocessing, and frizz. But give gray hair a little extra attention and care (and the right products and styling practices), and it will reward you by looking bright, fresh, lush, and healthy. Then you can confidently rock a color that’s all yours!

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