By the age of 30 most Caucasian women will have a few grey hairs and by 50 at least half their head will be grey. The fairer you are, the slower you seem to grey because there is less of a natural contrast. Grey hair can, of course, look fabulous – often more sophisticated, assured and downright sexy than hair that’s carefully tinted to hide it. Think of Marie Seznec, the muse of designer Christian Lacroix and Evangeline Blahnik, ultrachic sister of shoe designer Manolo. But it does depend on how your hair greys. There’s a world of difference between gunmetal and salt and pepper. If you’re glad to be grey, enhance it. If you’re not quite ready to “come out” and this often takes courage – there are many successful ways to hide it.
CHOOSING Your color
If you’ve decided to color your hair avoid trying to recreate your natural, youthful hair color. Like hair, skin becomes paler with age, and the deep, lustrous hair color you had in your 20s and 30s may be too much of a contrast with your 40-year-old skin. Beware also going – or staying – blonder, which can contribute to an overall, washed-out impression. For best results choose a color within your natural color range that is warm in tone, such as a mid-brown or a rich chestnut that reflect light well and enliven skin tone. Supplement with well-placed highlights to accent and brighten your look.
HAIR COLORANTS ARE AVAILABLE In the following basic forms:
PERMANENT COLOR: This covers grey completely, in whatever shade you choose, and lasts until it grows out. In permanent color formulas, an alkaline agent, usually ammonia swells the hair and opens the cuticle to enable pigment molecules to enter the hair shaft. An oxidizing agent, such as hydrogen peroxide, releases oxygen on contact with ammonia. This lightens hair’s natural pigment and causes the pigment molecules to produce the larger molecules that create the hair’s new color. A final “neutralizing” stage removes excess color, closes the cuticle and locks in the new pigment.
TONE-ON-TONE TINTS: These cover up to 60 per cent grey and last up to 20 washes. They color the hair to the same depth, or deeper than permanent color. However, the ammonia-free, low alkaline and oxidizing formula means that tone-on-tones cannot lighten hair. They are excellent for reviving your natural hair color.
SEMI-PERMANENT TINTS: These tints cover up to 40 per cent grey, enrich and deepen but won’t lighten your hair. Most last up to eight shampoos. In semi-permanent tints color molecules penetrate the hair cuticle and lodge in the outer layer of the hair cortex. Water swells the cuticle, so each shampoo releases pigment until your hair is back to its natural color.
HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS: Highlights merge effectively with grey, camouflaging rather than covering. Highlights and lowlights that combine two or three permanent tints can be used to mimic natural hair highlights and lowlights. They are complicated and time-consuming to create. The tinter takes fine sections of hair all over the head, applying color to each and wrapping the individual color sections in foil. When the colors have “taken”, the foils are removed to reveal subtly woven threads of color, which last until they grow out. Re-touching the roots can be done selectively, wherever the lack of highlights is most revealing. If you tire of highlights, you can always blend them down with a tone-on-tone tint while you grow them out.
COLORING Your own hair
Home-color formulas have improved considerably over the past two or three years. Most are shampoo-in gel or cream formulas that are easy to apply and control. Permanent tints give fairly predictable results because they’re designed to oxidize deep into the hair. If problems occur it is generally due to human error, not the formula. A common mistake is to create too dense a build-up by layering new tint over old. Avoid this by copying the professionals: re-touch your roots first, leave to develop, then comb the tint through to the ends five minutes before you rinse it off.
Do not use tints – especially permanent ones – over henna or color-restoring lotions that claim to banish grey. There could be unpredictable chemical reactions to the metallic compounds in these substances your hair could literally turn green. Never try to tint your own eyebrows.
FOLLOW THESE STEP-BY-STEP GUIDELINES FOR COLORING YOUR OWN HAIR:
- Do a sensitivity test
To check for allergic reaction, clean a 1-cm (1/2-in) circle of skin behind one ear with surgical spirit. Dab on a little of the tint with a cotton bud. Reapply two to three times, allowing the tint to dry between each dab. Leave for 48 hours.
If there’s any redness or itching, do not use the product.
- Do a strand test
You need to gauge the result, especially if your hair is already tinted or permed. Snip off a tiny section of hair close to the roots. Tape it at one end. Apply the color mixture with a cotton swab and leave for the full developing time.
Rinse, leave to dry and assess the color.
- Preparing for tinting
Wait at least 48 hours to color after a perm. Stroke Vaseline around the hairline to prevent staining. Always protect your hands from staining by wearing gloves. If a pair is not provided in the pack, buy surgical gloves from a pharmacy.
Mix up the formula and use in one session. Throw leftovers away unless the instructions say you can save them. Use a plastic, never a metal, mixing tool.
Make sure your hair is free of styling product build-up, grime and grease. Check the packet for whether to apply the tint on wet or dry hair.
CARING FOR Colored hair
Even the gentlest, low-level peroxide formulas remove protein and moisture from the hair shaft, and because cuticles are ruffled in the process, hair loses softness and natura] gloss. While fine, flyyaway hair may actually feel thicker and easier to control, coarse hair can easily become brittle and devitalized with constant coloring. Compensate by treating hair with color-maintenance shampoo and conditioning formulas, which help preserve the tint and the hair’s moisture quota.
Leave-in conditioners are excellent as between-shampoo moisturizers that keep hair supple and easier to style. Massage them into dry hair, especially at the tips. Intensive hair packs help re-moisturize excessively dehydrated, frizzy hair. Hot oil treatments build shine. As a pre-shampoo glossing treatment, warm two tablespoons of olive oil to a bearable temperature in a bowl within a saucepan of boiling water. Comb through dry hair and wrap your head in hot towels. Leave for 15 minutes, then shampoo and condition as usual.
Sunlight, salt water and chlorine in swimming pools can all oxidize color, cause it to fade or turn a strange shade. Use a protective, sun screening oil or gel when swimming and sunbathing, and a neutralizing, anti-chlorine shampoo after swimming.