Privilege Blog

Do You Need Different Makeup For Gray Hair?

Gray hair on women often provokes controversy. Let’s move beyond the controversial to the practical, as Sturdy Gals will, and assume everyone’s capable of making their own choices one way or another. Let’s ask, if you go gray, will you need to make other changes in your style? In particular, will you need to change your makeup once you give up what we used to call, “hair dye?”

What you find out, absent the salon, is that gray isn’t really a color. I know, rocket science! At least it’s free. While gray hair may make a personal and political statement; it’s fairly quiet in on the visual front, and you might want to tune your look.

Your three throttles, if we continue with rockets for just a little longer, are:

  • A good background, AKA foundation. Even more important over-50, as the wayward skin behaviors increase. We’re prone to wrinkles, age spots, errant textures. More rocket science, and you’re very welcome.
  • Feature emphasis. Although most good makeup strategies emphasize eyes or lips, and not both, graying hair lends this choice more import.
  • And finally, as always but now in the context of your particular shade of gray, which colors?

These are the same throttles one revvs before graying, with somewhat more need of precision in the setting. OK. Done with rockets.

Let’s look at an example, (one that may have a side benefit of entertaining all of us, graying or not, with pretty pictures of makeup. No, I’m not going to slice up my lipsticks and artfully smear the pigment across a rock, but I thought about it.)

Here’s what I rounded up in preparation for doing my own wedding makeup next month.

Foundation, Concealer, Applicator

Best foundation for the over-50

All I know about foundation is:

  • Find a shade that matches the skin tint you do have, not the one you might want. My pretend self has porcelain, slightly pink skin. My real self is fairly olive for a WASP, high or not. As was reported to me after I spoke in front of a large-ish crowd in China, “She’s not very white, for a white woman.” OK then, Mr. Armani, hit me up with Luminous Silk #5. It’s a great formulation for slightly oily aging skin. Don’t ask me how I know.
  • Do not use too much of the stuff. And I am happy to report that these sponges perform as claimed, dispensing just the right amount, exactly where you want it.
  • At 50, if you’re wearing makeup at all (for it is not a requirement), you’re probably going to want some concealer. I’m sticking with Clé de Peau.

Lips Or Eyes For Gray Hair?

So, emphasis on eyes or lips? Either works, generally. One of the principles of Advanced Style seems to be the wearing of Very Red Lipstick, like Paloma Picasso, or Diana Vreeland. Showing life you’re tough, with a dark, forceful mouth. But I don’t feel tough about getting married, so I’m focusing on eyes.

I find that at 56 I’ve had to renounce eyeshadow. Whether it’s Dame Gray Hair, or her friend, Crepey Eyelids, who knows. However, I’m still a huge fan of lining the lash lid and applying mascara con brio. I thought I wanted copper eyeliner, but the nice Sephora lady talked me out of it easily. “Pinkeye,” she said. I chose soft brown eyeliner and very black waterproof mascara.

Mascara that makes your eyelashes grow

The news here is that I succumbed to an eyebrow product. I’ve never understood the eyebrow hubbub, but mine are turning gray. This pencil is powdery in the application, so it a) distributes well and more importantly b) dissipates easily. You can really work it through your eyebrows until you get the right subtle impact.

By the way, I imagine you all know the First Law Of Mascara?

  • Any new tube is better than any old one. Very short half-life indeed.

And for lip color? The gray hair has rendered my beloved Giorgio Armani Pink 500, a dark brownish pink too, well, brown. Too dark. In my quest to go lighter but keep the hue, I found myself at M.A.C., buying Cremesheen Creme In My Coffee, and matching lip pencil. Turns out that the lipstick is a known My Lips But Better candidate. Perfect. It’s pinker than it looks.

Lipstick for the over-50

I wanted to a little pink shimmer for the middle of the lips via Sheen Supreme Behave Yourself. Very sheer. I also asked for the product that got rid of what we shall politely call lip cross-hatching, but either it was out of stock or nobody’s invented it. Darn. After I complete Embrace Your Gray I plan to move on to Love Your Lip Lines. It’s the advanced course.

Of course, should you be disinclined to take on a full makeover, and not need to prepare for photo opportunities, your gray hair could get a heck of a boost out of fancy pink makeup sponges, good concealer, new black drugstore mascara, and the perfect shade of lip balm. Or a hike. Gray hair looks great on hikes. Onward, Sturdy Gals.

Products Recommended For Makeup With Gray Hair

In 2016, some products have been retired, others have won awards. Here’s an updated set of recommendations.

And also, this lipstick is great for translucent, moisturizing, highly pigmented color. You’ll need to reapply, but that’s not a hardship.

57 Responses

  1. This is exactly the talk I was having with myself over the weekend. The fading color and invisibility factor has increased my need to up my eye makeup. I understand the whole red lip thing, its chicness and power, but I have more “texture” around my lips than eyes, so would rather draw attention there. Eyebrow product has been in my arsenal for several years. It’s invaluable.

    1. @Jennifer, Eyebrows frame the face and welcome the ‘eye’ accent. I am accenting my eye area, brows, lids and lashes. I use soft black or a combo of purple and violet liner and mascara. I like to highlight the cheek bone to lift the facial features.

  2. Yeah, I do find myself wearing more….still struggling with the lipstick thing….Gray looks fab with a strong lip, but I have always been a smoky eye/nuse lip gal, but my toned-down version of that look doesn’t pack as much of a punch now that I am not 100% brunette any more, so I am finding solace in a rosy, Bobbi Brown type look for day, then using my old standby, the smoky eye and nude lip for going out, where I can amp it up a bit. Still not comfortable with the red lip for longer nights out, because it is so high-maintenance.

  3. I shy away from red lips and have been embracing the heathery pinks…
    the grey is coming in around my temples and there are sparkles of tinsel elsewhere. I do love a good chat with the make up folks at Sephora they seems to know so much more than I could ever know about make up.

    I did have a melting experience in the car the other day when my foundation Bobbi Brown…literally rolled down my cheeks! It was so hot you could have fried an egg on the bonnet of my Volvo!

    Will you do your own wedding make up?

  4. Yay! I did it right! Brown/black mascara, brown pencil eyeliner and MAC crèmesheen, although my color is peach blossom.

  5. Ok, I’ve been dealng with this for a long time. One thing I’d add is Guerain Four Seasons bronzer. I use it on my cheekbnes, around my forhead. It adds structure, I’d watch Hot and Flashy on youtube. She has makeup videos for those over fifty. While at youtube go to Lisa Eldridge and look at her aging videos. Lots of great tips from both ladies. Lisa’s went viral. Check these out. Nothng outrageous, jut great tips.

  6. Very nice. I am mostly a drugstore make-up girl, but that foundation is worth every penny. I believe it’s mostly sold on-line.

  7. A transparent wax lipliner pencil eliminates lipstick “bleed.” Several companies make them; you can get one at Sephora or Ulta.

  8. Don’t know if it’s true because it’s hard to be objective in the face of the mirror, but the Laura Mercier artist got me into the darkest navy blue eyeliner. Supposedly makes the white of the eye look whiter. Anything helps.

  9. When I suddenly and purposely went grey (silver?) I switched to a purple eyeliner and a pinky coral frosted lipstick. My eyes are light brown or maybe olive. I have a lot of brick colored lipstick on hand but that color seems too dark to me now. Anyway, the result is lots of people have told me I look younger, which definitely seems counterintuitive to me.

  10. What a well timed post, as I go into the makeup room and start cleaning out old and non flattering colors now that I am silver. I too agree, the eyeshadow has gone away. I use Jane Iredale (not as toxic) concealer under eyes and on lid, then pencil liner in dark brown in lashline only, Jane Iredale eyebrow kit, and Brett (also Jane Iredale) lipstick,(sheer red) There is a very cool compant called 100 percent pure making night creams, moisturizers from very natural ingredients. Thats it!! Look better now than ever!

  11. I’m 59, just starting to go gray. So far, I’m happy with continuing with Stila tinted moisturizer in Light, which provides plenty of coverage when layered and has SPF 20. My eyelashes and eyebrows have been graying for a few years longer and I’ve just been letting them. I haven’t found a mascara at any price that doesn’t irritate my eyes or a brow color that looks right with the very dark brown eyebrows paired with dirty blond hair that nature gave me. I do use a brow gel by Anastasia of Beverly Hills to keep my brows in line. It’s all covered up by the my blended trifocals anyway. For fun, I bought a makeup palette by Tarte to take to Paris. I love their Aqualillies blush, bronzer, highlighter and all of the eye shadows. They all look very natural looking with my skin tone (even the bronzer!) and the soft, moisterizing texture doesn’t sink into my creases. This isn’t exactly makeup but I did treat myself to new eyeglasses this year when I saw that big frames were back in style. I don’t wear lipstick, just Laura Mercier lip gloss in Black Orchid and Paula’s Choice anti-feathering lip liner. I hear great things about the Luminous Silk foundation. Tempting…

  12. I actually seem to be finding that with my grey hair I need a slightly stronger and pinker lipstick to prevent everything fading into obscurity. the paler pinky brown I used to use no longer cuts the mustard.

  13. Still holding onto my blonde but my SIL who was always brunette has been silver for a while and never adjusted her make up. Those browns and golds look slightly “off” now…I think the blondes adjust easier as the pinks we naturally look good in also look good with silver. For brunettes who may have tended towards golds and browns, more adjusting is required. At least IMHO.

  14. Really topical! Glad you wrote about this. I’m beginning to gray and am determined to go natural (a shocker for Asians).

    Agree that skin is key. I’m using L’Oreal’s Youth Code BB Cream after trying more expensive brands. It leaves a bit of dewiness without looking too shiny.

    My t-zone still challenges after all these years. Instead of powder which I find looks cakey after a while, I’m using a discontinued solid gel mattifier from Victoria’s Secret.

    Eye shadow has long bitten the dust. Asians are obsessed with bigger eyes, so it’s been an interesting transition in accepting a barer eye. These days it’s Laura Mercier’s cream eyeliner in Mahogany applied with a wet brush, plus a bit of mascara, and a stronger brow.

    I’m using cream blush to compensate for color. Tarte’s cheek stain in Blissful is good on olive skin. Having said that, I’m fully expecting my skin tone to change to a cooler one.

  15. I love this post even though, at 55, I am still only in the land of silver highlights. Although my hair is somewhat dark and my skin pale (I use luminous silk foundation several shades lighter than yours) I can’t pull off red lipstick. I need a pink or a wine.

    I am intrigued to see if, when I go gray, I no longer need eyeshadow. What I wear is already very pale and subtle, because I need to lighten and brighten the eye area while adding depth. I’ve had to move to an eyeshadow primer due to the crepey eyelids and I’ve never been able to pull off a smokey eye unless I pull my hair back. If I forgo eyeshadows I look like someone punched me. Perhaps gray hair will not cast such deep shadows? Anyway, I’ve needed eyebrow color for years and I used a blend of powders in the ash blonde mixed with light grays which can still look too dark on my face if I don’t take time to blend well.

  16. Ah yes. Sadly I too have had to give up eyeshadow! Because it does creep into one’s eyelid wrinkles. Besides, too much “stuff” on an older faces and ya start looking like a drag queen (I’m guessing that’s not a desirable look for a wedding).

  17. Not ready to do the grey thing yet, but I have been re-evaluating makeup lately. I’ve been trying to dial down the foundation makeup to BB or below, going bare skin (at least, nothing that shows — SPF, daycream always worn) as much as possible during the summer. A bit of neutral eyeshadow and mascara and a bit of gloss. Fall will call for a re-evaluation, stronger lip treatment at the very least, but I’m trying to put my effort into facials and to accepting the reality of 60-year-old skin, age spots and all . . . we’ll see how that goes.

  18. I am getting more and more gray (from medium-brown) and my main adjustment has been to always wear something. My skin has held up well enough to use only a tinted moisturizer, but I started to fill in my brows and use a lash curler before mascara. No lip bleeding yet, but will keep that liner in mind once that happens. I always use a little blush (I am so pale) and a lipstick that is about a shade or two darker than my natural lips.

    1. Oh grief. Fathoming the zillion vessels of facial product from target zone-to-target zone, store-to-store, shelf-to-shelf is [to me] way tougher than a hike.

  19. I’ve alway been quite happy even when my hair was prematurely gray- but I wasn’t as thrilled when the eyebrows started to match- hence I dye them myself. Of course the instructions on the box say NOT to, but that is to excuse them from liability. I feel that I can be even more cautious than any salon would be and I have been very successful. Needless to say this is NOT something that you experiment with prior to a wedding, however you might think about it afterward. Of course it is contingent on you having enough eyebrow to dye. I notice that many of my friends have either over plucked or had too much hair loss to consider dyeing. If you do try it, start out slowly, perhaps a lighter shade and leaving the dye on for a shorter time. Just for Men, (for sideburns) has worked just great for me. I am sure that you will look lovely.

  20. So many folks giving up eye shadow! I’m sure it’s possible – I did my 60+ year old Ma’s make up for special events and I used matte neutral eyeshadows in taupe, cream and soft brown. I wouldn’t go for anything with sparkle or that was too bright or dark, but natural colours helped to emphasise and define her eyes. She got lots of compliments so it seemed to work. :)

  21. My hair is turning white (as opposed to gray) , but is taking its time getting there. At this time, I have my nonwhite hair highlighted to blend with the hair turning white. When I first have the color done, I look quite blond. I’ve found (and this surprised me) that less makeup with an even lighter touch than usual looks best when my hair is very light. I have started using eye shadow (and even my husband says he likes the look) with light and neutral colors (bobby brown powdered eye shadow). I think part of the reason for using eye shadow has to do with uneven skin color in the area from eyelids to brow. The definition also helps as I have very nondescript eyes that don’t show up much.

    Like Lisa, I have long hair (cut with some face framing layers) and have been told by almost everyone I ask (from hairdresser to friends to husband) that I should keep my hair long.

  22. I was ready to go naturally gray/white until my kids convinced me to color it for a few more years. Although I don’t like the root upkeep, I like being able to play with different hues, within reason. A photographer recommended Josie Maran’s concealer for his Clients, so I tried it and fell in love, also blending it into the deeper creases between my eyebrows and the laughlines on the sides of my mouth. Takes a few years off very nicely, and covers the eyelid crepe smoothly. For your mouth wrinkles, stop drinking from water bottles or straws, and use a beauty gadget with galvanic every other day. Took a few weeks, now mine are gone. I was amazed the first time I touched up my eyebrows, just how important they are in framing your lovely face. I love your happy shade of the lighter pink lipstick!

  23. With you on the eyeshadow issue. Always looking for a matte (no shimmer!) neutral shadow just to even out the skin tone of my eyelids, which are very dark. I color and highlight my hair, but in my mid-50’s, I have found that my skin tone has changed and frankly, my lips have narrowed and have those horrible lines going off them. I can no longer find a lipstick color that works. Very depressing!

    1. Duchesse,

      I have not. But will certainly take a look the next time I am near Sephora. Thanks!

  24. I wore Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk #4 to my wedding, although I was originally matched as #5! (The skin on my forehead is slightly darker than that of my lower face and neck, unsurprisingly). And as you know, I look nothing like you and do not have grey hair! I did hours of research and it consistently came out top for wedding foundation, and I can testify it is amazing stuff (although of course you can check for yoursef in our photos). I used my standard MAC concealer around the nose (I have never managed to get on with below-eye concealer, unfortunately), a brown MAC eyebrow pencil which I already owned and I think is slightly orangey, as a lot of brown shadows and pencils sadly are (looking at our photos I think one eyebrow is darker than the other, so don’t do this), Shu Uemura eye shadows in an unshiny gold/wheat and a soft brown, and black liquid eyeliner, although I usually use a brown MAC pencil (Coffee) for day. Also a very pink Shu lipstick, Laura Mercier blusher (Orange Blossom – very similar to Nars Orgasm, which is fab) and Maybelline Volum’ Express One by One mascara, which is my daily favourite. Oddly, I prefer old mascara (which is very unhygienic) as a I find the slightly dryer consistency goes on less gloopily, allowing you to build better coverage (I usually use at least three coats). I have thought about taking the lid off new tubes for a day or so before use to let them dry out in a less germ-friendly fashion, but am always too disorganised. On the day I found that I’d forgotten my eyelash curlers (the horror!! I have not used mascara without them for seventeen years) but the One by One did a good enough job that I didn’t actually miss them.

    Are you going to use a primer?

    1. “I wore Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk #4 to my wedding, although I was originally matched as #5!”

      Because of where I live, getting to a shopping mecca and back = a 5 hour commitment, 2 1/2 of which is spent behind the wheel. Going for a bottle of Luminious Silk isn’t enough of a draw to dislodge me from my personal desktop shopping mall, but I WANT that Luminous Silk. Right now!

      Question. Is it possible to make a skin match from my desktop. I have located this pic from inside the internet. So, given what you know, how reliable do you find this shade chart?

      And by the way, I would NEVER have guessed that you, LPC, have olive skin undertones.

    2. Flo,

      Not very. And every browser displays colour differently. Considering how expensive the foundation is, I wouldn’t risk it.

      The Armani counter squeezed some of their foundation into a tiny pot for me to carry on trying at home, their version of pre-made up samples. Maybe you could make a shortlist and delegate someone to bring you back some samples next time they are going into town, if they will do that at your local counter?



    3. Thank you, Philippa. My Sensible Self was yelling the correct answer, but it took you to make me hear!

    4. Flo, if you want to match foundations online, a very good website is

      You put in matches you currently own (the best matches you have of course, nothing that was “off”) then it gives you matches in other brands and formulas. Of course the more matches you put in, the better your results will be.

      The most off I have found is about one shade and that’s understandable due to slight variations since the results are based on user inputs. Over time the results have become more and more refined.

      Lisa, I am surprised that you use this shade a few shades darker than me! It is a lovely foundation and quite versatile. Seems to work for all ages and in all seasons and gives the best finish ever; my mother and sisters kept complimenting it after I tried it on the first time. Of course after a week of compliments wearing it every time (good size samples are wonderful) I had to buy it.

      Regarding the lip lines, have you tried Elizabeth Arden Lip Fix? There are many lip primers out there that help with smoothing the surface of the lips. Really anything waxy (even waxy lip balms) should do the job. Guerlain and Urban Decay also do them, along with many others.

      I hope everything goes well.

    5. Thank you Eli, a most interesting site. I had high hopes going in, but my input must have automatically eliminated certain brands, so that by the end the Armani brand had been completely eliminated from my field of remaining match choices. That, or I’m being profiled as one who can’t afford Armani, funny!!

  25. (Oh and PS by cross-hatching do you mean feathering? There are plenty of anti-feathering lip pencils out there. I haven’t tried any myself but have heard good things about some of them).


  26. Do you need different makeup for gray hair ?
    Yes. Without anything, you look faded.
    I´d concentrate on one, two things.

    First, the eyebrows. They need to be visible in the right way.
    Second, I´d pick a glorious red lipstick and see to it, that it does not get smeared.
    Great skin is a special bonus.
    Eye glasses / sun glasses will take care of the eye makeup.

  27. Any makeup artist will tell you that a dark lip makes the lips look smaller and the woman look older.

    Rose-pinks, peach-pinks, light coral or peach – depending on your coloring, makes a woman look younger.

  28. I should start wearing makeup again one of these days. After having so much fun with it in my teens and twenties, I stopped wearing any. But now, in this bizarre transition from having near-black hair & eyebrows to being silver-white, it is such a difference to my entire look that I don’t really know what to do with myself when I’ve lost what was always such a strong color contrast with my very pale white skin. Honestly I love it, but I also have to be honest with myself about perhaps how faded I might look.

    My eyebrows (which never needed any color or penciling) are going gray steadily and for years I could get by just tweezing out the few white hairs, but now that would leave me with not enough eyebrows so I have to consider dying or coloring them, but don’t know if I should just restore them to black or consider a lighter color like some kind of charcoal?? I really wish there were lots more pictures available of graying haired women and the variety of things they might do…

  29. Your ‘pink eye’ comment made me smile. Once when I was working on a magazine, a colleague complemented me on my lovely pink eyeshadow – I wasn’t wearing any.

    1. Out to lunch with my two sisters-in-law a couple of months ago, later that day SIL #1 emailed me that SIL #2 asked per privately if the reason my eyes were so pink & blue was that I’d had cosmetic surgery recently. SIL #1 being quick on her feet, said No but she does look incredibly young doesn’t she. Pink AND blue eye.

  30. “I also asked for the product that got rid of what we shall politely call lip cross-hatching, but either it was out of stock or nobody’s invented it.”

    Well, they did, but several have been discontinued – DuWop’s, Poppy King’s. Your best bet, unless you enlist a pro artist, may be from:
    Too Faced:
    or MakeUp ForEver:

  31. I am completely in the dark on how to proceed in the total beauty conversion required due to my new gray tresses. Seems to me this “going natural” is slightly more difficult to manage than first expected! Here goes…the journey of foundation selection and new color choices in lips, cheeks and WHAT?…Clothes too? Oh my

    1. @Elizabeth, You can take it one step at a time:). Most of what you do already will still work. Just fade the lipstick and add eyebrow pencils as a first step!

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