One in five Americans uses hair color, and most are hoping to cover gray hair. But, unless you know which products work best, and how to use them effectively, the gray can reappear sooner than you’d like.
Gray hair–especially hair that’s coarse, prematurely gray, or close to your temples–is different from other hair. Gray hair resists dyes, and rejects coloring sooner.
Here are a few strategies for success, no matter how much gray you have right now.
GIVE GRAY HAIRS A HEADSTART
Gray hair can take longer to absorb hair color. So, when coloring your hair, apply dye to the gray areas first. It can take up to 45 minutes for the color to penetrate gray hairs; with careful timing, you can achieve even coloring throughout your hair.
For example, many coloring products develop in 25 minutes. So, begin to color the gray areas ten or 20 minutes early. Then, apply the dye to the rest of your hair. When you rinse the hair color off, the results should be uniform.
PRE-SOFTEN YOUR GRAY AREAS
Some hairstylists recommend softening your gray hairs to accept color better.
To do this, use a 20% peroxide solution from any beauty supply shop. Apply the peroxide and comb it through the areas where you have gray hair. This may lighten surrounding hair coloring, too.
Wait five or ten minutes–no longer–and rinse it off. Blot your hair dry with a towel; wet hair dilutes hair color and you won’t get the best results later.
Finally, apply your regular hair coloring product as usual.
USE A SPECIALIZED PRODUCT
When people begin to turn gray, they often use temporary and semi-permanent products that are designed to cover only the gray.
Most of these temporary products won’t lighten your general hair color, but they can make your hair a little darker. For the most natural look, choose a shade that matches your own or is slightly lighter.
These dyes rinse out over a period of weeks. If you aren’t happy with the results, wash your hair more frequently. But, as the dye washes off, your gray will also return.
To keep your color longer, wash your hair less often. The color will still fade, but you may succeed in extending the gray coverage.
SPOT COLOR YOUR GRAY HAIRS
There are several products that cover only the areas that you want. One is a mascara-type product that uses a wand. This coats each hair with color and can affect it shine. For the most natural look, use this coloring only on gray hairs, avoiding nearby hair as much as you can.
These leave-in products are very temporary, and will rinse out with one or two shampoos.
Another new product is similar to regular hair dye but mixes in much smaller batches. The kit comes with a small brush so that you can paint color on the areas that need extra coverage.
It may take a few tries before you achieve a natural, even color with this product. But, it’s designed for home use. You can’t go too far wrong if you follow the package directions.
LEAVE THE PRODUCT ON LONGER
If you have a few gray hairs here and there, but none in a single area to pre-treat, you may need to leave the dye on longer. However, some chemicals can damage your hair. Other products are designed to stop working after 20 to 40 minutes.
Most hair coloring manufacturers offer free advice by phone; check the coloring instruction sheet for their toll-free number. Call them for product guidelines. Specialists may suggest other ways to cover gray with your favorite coloring products.
USE A STRONGER PRODUCT
Temporary hair colors usually rinse out completely with one or two shampooings. These products include the new “flash” colors, which can add highlights to your hair. You can use them to camouflage gray or brighten its color.
Semi-permanent colors are best when you have up to 20% gray hairs. Semi-permanent colors wash out in two to three weeks.
But, once you reach 50% or more grays, or if your hair is particularly coarse or curly, a permanent hair color may be the only answer. Permanent color is the only product that can guarantee to fully cover gray hair.
Choose a permanent color based on your original shade, the percentage of gray hairs that you have now, and your lifestyle.
Permanent hair colors come in a two-part package. One part is usually in a plastic squeeze bottle. This is peroxide–usually 6% dilution–in a cream or lotion base. To this, you add a cream, powder, or liquid that provides the actual color. Following package directions, combine these two ingredients and use the mixture immediately.
Since you are using peroxide, you can lighten your hair all over if you like. There are two big advantages to this when you have gray hair: First, there will be less general contrast, so when the gray hairs reappear, they won’t be so noticeable.
Second, when the roots grow out, they will look darker, not lighter. Light roots can be very aging; everyone can see that you’re trying to cover the gray. Dark roots can look like Jessica Simpson, Madonna, or anyone else who doesn’t recolor her hair immediately.
But, if you want the best possible coverage of your grays, a darker color may be a better choice. With more coverage to start with, gray hairs will be less obvious follow each coloring. But, you will need to color your hair regularly to avoid telltale roots.
Most women who want to match their natural hair color, do best by choosing a shade slightly darker than they want. Since gray hair accepts less color, the results will be closest to your natural shade.
KEEPING YOUR COLOR
After coloring your hair, be sure to choose shampoos and conditioners that are safe for colored hair. A few harsh products can strip some or all of the dye out of your hair, especially shades of auburn and red. Read each package label to be sure that the product is color-safe.
Hair color manufacturers are working on new technology that can restore gray to its original, youthful shade.
Recent medical research has suggested ways that scientists can apply pigment inside hair follicles. By treating the roots of your hair, your hair could grow in with a new color that you choose.
In other studies, a major beauty product manufacturer has made a breakthrough. Their scientists discovered that the components that color hair remain in our bodies even after our hair turns gray. By finding ways to reactivate those color components, men and women in the future may retain their youthful hair colors indefinitely.
For now, dyes and special coloring products can bring us close to our pre-gray shades. By treating gray hair differently from darker, less coarse hair, you can achieve natural-looking results at home and take years off your appearance.For now