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Gray Matters

Beth Minardi | May 29, 2014 | 8:27 AM
Beth Minardi

While it is always exciting to discuss trends, new shades and new color techniques,  the fact remains that, financially, the biggest color dollars in salons across the nation center around succesful coverage of gray.  While it might not seem "fun" to review all the important details  that esnure success when converting gray to another desired shade, this is the stuff that keeps those important clients coming back. Let's face it:  When a client decides that they choose NOT to appear gray, they can become extremely loyal, "booked in advance", and long term salon regulars.

As I teach haircolor across the country, colorists regularly complain about their inability to successfully and completely cover gray hair. Sadly, when conducting "hands on" classes, I have learned that all too often, the problem centers around improper application of the color formula.

Remember: Every tiny gray hair that is not completely enveloped in color formula will remain gray. Sectioning the hair into large or wide partings, unfortunately, leads to spotty or incomplete coverage.  

I prefer using an applicator bottle, but realize that many colorists prefer the bowl and brush approach. This is a matter of personal preference.  While using a large brush can tend to "speed things up",  I believe a smaller tint brush, and taking smaller, narrow sections, will assure you not only of better product penetration, but will also avoid "overlapping" of the regrowth color onto the previously colored hair lengths. And, when working on longer hair, I take vertical, rather than horizontal, partings in the hair. I prefer sectioning the hair into 1/8 inch, rather than 1/4 inch sections. And, when I complete the application, I use a tint brush to re-section the hair and "tap the root" with the brush making sure each and every hair is completely saturated with the color formula. Color does NOT penetrate through hair into the untouched hair around it... so the tinier the sectioning.. the more success you will enjoy.

Correct formulation is also important. Color should be mixed according to manufacturer's instructions.  And, if a color brand includes a dedicated developer,  it is always best to use that developer.  I believe the finest gray coverage takes place when color is mixed with 20 volume developer, in the proportion recommended. When using a new brand, it is imperative that you read the instructions regarding coverage of gray.  In almost every case,  a formula of level 8 or darker will cover gray.  Very pale blonde shades or "high lift" shades are NOT intended for gray coverage. 

Prior to application, correct color choice is important. Most brands today contain an "N", "NN" or, in the case of Beth Minardi Signature Shades, a BB (balanced brown or balanced blonde) series, which offer you guaranteed coverage of gray, when properly chosen and applied.  Keep in mind that these shades tend to be very saturated.. and may appear darker than the level described unless the hair is extremely coarse.... or at least 50% gray.  For example.  Traditional color theory tells us that a level 5 shade, permanent color, is formulated to transform white (gray) hair to a level 5.  Let's say that the "still pigmented" hair which has not yet turned gray is level 3 (medium brown).  The gray hair will transform to a level 5 and the level 3, brown hair, will transform to a level 4...  creating a gorgeous, completely covered blend of light and lightest brown hair.  Gorgeous.... and completely COVERED.

If the client demands a totally "matte", "one color" look (which in most cases looks very fake and "too harsh"), you should choose a shade the same level as the "still pigmented" hair.  

Correct development time MATTERS. When using permanent dye,  heat accelerates "lift" not deposit. Ammonia or ammonia substitute shades are NOT to be processed with heat when in contact with the scalp. Most brands state that gray can be completely covered in thirty minutes.  Traditionally, the maximum development for guaranteed, complete coverage of resistant gray hair is 45 minutes at room temperature.

You may also choose to blend or cover gray, using demi-permanent color. Good demi shades do an amazing job creating gorgeous shade-on-shade.. or very saturated... coverage of gray. Beth Minardi Demi Creme was formlulated to COVER gray completely when correctly formulated and when no lift of the "still pigmented" hair is desired.  Other liquid and creme demi brands also do this successfully. And, in my opinion,  this allows the advanced colorist to use gray as a soft.. or highly contrasting ... highlight.  Most demi-permanent shades can be processed at room temperature.. or with heat. Several, (including mine), cover gray very well when processed with heat for 20 minutes, and then for an additional 20 minutes, at room temperature.  

For the career colorist, covering gray can become a highly profitable, artistic. and even "fun" adventure. Taking great care with analysing percentage of gray, observation of the level of hair which is still "pigmented, product choice, formulation, application and processing  - all combine to make you the color star you are. So, enjoy those gray clients.. and beautify them with the gorgous salon-created color you offer.

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