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How to Cover Gray

Depends on Whether or Not You Want to Look Like Roy Orbison


Dear Ask a Stylist, I used to be a natural brunette, and now I have a lot of gray. I’m having a hard finding a way to cover my gray and still have my hair look nice. Any tips? — Marcy

Dear Marcy,

This question is near and dear to my heart, or rather, my hair! My two beautiful sisters are older than me by a few years. I cannot tell you how much older, as revealing their exact age might mean risking my life. But it’s safe to say at this point they both should be seeing more than a few grays on their heads by now. However, my oldest sister just recently lamented that she now has seven gray hairs! And we have yet to find any on my middle sister. All the while, I’ve lived with the dirty secret that I’ve been graying since my early twenties. Now that I’m not in my early twenties (or early thirties) my gray is out of control! That being said, I have experimented with many different ways to cover my gray and below are some options.

Crescent LoMonaco

There are many things to consider when choosing the proper color for your hair. My number one piece of advice as a person becomes gray is: DO NOT USE JUST A SINGLE PROCESS COLOR. A single process color is one color that is applied to the whole head. The results are typically drab and lifeless. It does a great job covering gray, but doesn’t add any interest, dimension, or softness to your hair. I once used a too-dark, brunette single process color to cover my short, gray hair. It looked a little like “shoe polish” and I was fondly referred to as Roy Orbison until I changed my hair color. Not so much of a “Pretty Woman”!

Those of you that won’t heed my word and want a single process color anyway should use only a semi-permanent color. A truly semi-permanent color won’t cover your gray completely, but instead will camouflage it. You won’t get full gray coverage, but at least the look isn’t quite as severe as a permanent color.

If you don’t mind seeing some gray in your hair, and don’t want to maintain it more than every 6-8 weeks, consider having highlights and/or lowlights put into your hair. Highlights add lighter color (than your natural) and lowlights add darker color back into your hair. A consultation with your stylist will help you determine which color(s) are right for you. Confer with your stylist ahead of time as to the placement of the highlights and lowlights, noting which color should be placed at the hair line surrounding your face. Do you look better with the darker color next to your skin, or with the lighter color next to your skin?

If (like me) you are still in denial that you have gone gray, and don’t want to see any gray at all, then the best choice for you is a single process color applied to your base, followed by highlights. The highlights need only be applied about every third visit, but the base color must be touched up approximately every three to six weeks, depending on how fast your hair grows and how much gray you can stand seeing.

Think through your options carefully, but before purchasing a box of single process color, ask yourself, “Do I really want to look like Roy?”

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