Understanding the natural pigmentation of hair and its relationship to hair color is crucial to a colorists’ success. Non-pigmented hair can complicate the hair coloring service and to cover it means understanding its complexity. According to Technical Director for Organic Salon Systems, Rebecca Gregory, understanding the different levels of gray hair can impact how you go about the coloring process and the result:
 
MS: How do you determine the gray level of a client?
RG: There is no such thing as gray hair but rather, white hair mixed with levels of naturally pigmented hair. A single hair either has pigment or not (white). The grayish look of hair is really an optical illusion created by the mixture of colored hair and white hair, giving us the appearance of “salt and pepper.”  To determine the true level, make sure you not only look at the pigmented hair, but calculate the percentage of non-pigmented hair as well. This will give you your true starting level in considering your formulation.
 
MS: Describe the look of each of the levels?
RG: In order to successfully formulate from this starting level, it is important for light to pass through the hair shaft to visualize the natural pigment and hair levels (1-10). Color formulations should always be based on the percentage of non-pigmented hair to the pigmented hair as well as its density. If the hair is more than 50 percent non-pigmented, formulate the hair color for that hair; if less than 50 percent, formulate for the level of pigmented hair.
 
MS: Is the process the same when coloring each of the different levels?
RG: Hair without pigment (white) has up to 24 thick layers of cuticle to penetrate and can be very difficult to achieve 100 percent coverage, where hair with pigment typically has less than 10 layers of cuticle and may be colored using a different approach. Regardless, the key is to open the cuticle sufficiently so the color can enter and allow for the color change.
            Due to the extreme nature of coloring non-pigmented hair, ample amounts of product should be liberally applied to the grayest zones. I always recommend that stylists apply the color to the grayest zones of the head first which is often around the hairline. This is certainly where they see the non-pigmented hair first and therefore important to begin your application. Another trick for application of non-pigmented hair is to reduce the amount of activator in your formulation by 25 percent.
 
MS: What should a gray client do to maintain their color?
RG: Because products that are high in alkalinity cause the hair to swell increasing its porosity, and shampoos that contain aggressive Sodium Lauryl Sulfates will cause hair color to be stripped out of the hair, it is important to suggest products for your clients that will help them maintain their new color. Be mindful of the care products you represent in your salon. Ensure that these home care products are acid balanced within a suitable pH range and that they protect from UV rays.
 
MS: Anything different than a regular color client? (Maintenance)
RG: Many types of non-pigmented hair types are extremely coarse and considered unruly. Keratin Smoothing Treatments with no formaldehyde can add sufficient amounts of protein and will make the hair feel soft and shiny. I recommend doing a Keratin treatment after a color service to lock in your new color and add the beneficial proteins that will ensure the color molecules have something to lock onto.