Coloring Grey Hair

Essential Tips for Success!

The process of coloring grey hair can be challenging. And as the ratio of grey/natural hair shifts to a majority of grey hair, the challenge increases… or so it seems.

In reality, there are just new factors to consider when choosing and applying your hair color.

This page details the critical elements for getting great results.

Considerations for Coloring Grey Hair

Loss of Pigment
As we mature, pigment diminishes from both our hair and skin. This affects hair coloring in two ways. First, because there is little or no pigment remaining in the hair, the color you choose must contain some degree of gold (or warm) pigment. Not so much that the color is brassy, but definitely avoid ash tones.

Because the skin also loses pigment, choose a hair color that is lighter than your previous natural color. A very dark shade on paler skin can appear harsh. Darker shades also show re-growth sooner and the contrast between hair and scalp can make hair appear thinner.

Tenacity/Change of Hair Texture
You’ve likely noticed that grey hair is of a coarser texture than your original strands. And the tenacious quality not only affects the way your hair behaves (or doesn’t), but also the way it takes color.

The outside (cuticle) layer of rebellious greys is tightly sealed and not at all receptive to the invasion of artificial pigments. If when coloring grey hair, you find it particularly stubborn, treat it before coloring with straight 20 volume peroxide for 5-10 minutes. This is called pre-softening. It will open the cuticle layer and prep the hair to receive pigment. It’s not something I ever personally bother with. I find that so long as I have the right amount of warmth (gold) in my formula and leave the color on long enough, I have no trouble covering my clients’ grey hair.

Choosing A Hair Color

It’s critical that you use a permanent color for adequate coverage when coloring grey hair. Semi-permanent haircolor, or even permanent color with any less than 20 volume peroxide will merely blend grey. Which is fine if that’s all you want to achieve.

Naturally pigmented hair already contains some degree of each primary color, and those variables must be considered for good results. Coloring grey hair, on the other hand, is like adding pigment to a blank canvas. With the exception of steely toned dark grey hair (details below).

Think of adding a pure, bright red pigment to a white sheet of paper. What do you get? Yup. That’s right… pink. Or perhaps violet, indigo or a vibrant plum? Safe to say that most folks coloring white hair are not in pursuit of such a hue.

On white hair – start with a warm base. Gold tones are a must for getting proper coverage on white hair. That doesn’t mean you have to walk around with golden hair if you’re wanting more of an ash tone. You’ll have to experiment with ratios of gold to neutral to get a good balance for your hair where you’re getting the coverage and the right tone. Start with half and half and adjust from there based on results.

On silver hair – neutral tones make a great base to provide coverage. Silver hair (the ‘pepper’ in salt and pepper) can have some amount of underlying pigment left in it. So if you’re dealing with mostly silver hair, start with a neutral tone, then add a red or gold tone with that to achieve a color with depth and dimension.

Application

Divide the hair in quarters by creating a center parting all the way down to the nape and another across from ear to ear. Apply the color in the area with the most grey first. Work in small (half inch) sections. Go over the entire front hairline with any remaining color after you’ve applied it everywhere else.

Processing

When coloring grey hair, I generally exceed the recommended processing time. You can’t go wrong by leaving it on a touch longer.

Extra tenacious hair can be bagged up and hit with a blowdryer and diffuser to add heat to the process. At the very least, avoid processing in a cool or drafty room when coloring grey hair.

Maintenance

Use a shampoo and conditioner formulated for color treated hair. To retain the richness and depth when coloring grey hair, use a pigmented conditioner between processes. Aveda has a great line of pigment depositing shampoos and conditioners in a range of shades.

Alternatives

Discover the glory — and the very modern allure — of gray hair for women of all races, all hair types, and every shade of gray.

Related Pages

Hair color article index
Detailed information on the chemistry of hair coloring

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