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 Organic Salon Systems Technical Director 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: 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.” 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 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.

Due to the extreme nature of coloring non-pigmented hair, 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 clients see the non-pigmented hair first and therefore it’s the most important place to begin your application. Another tip 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, 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: Any special care maintenance?

RG: Many types of non-pigmented hair are extremely coarse and considered unruly. Keratin smoothing treatments with no formaldehyde can add protein leaving the hair soft and shiny. I recommend doing a keratin treatment after a color service to lock in the new color and add the beneficial proteins that will ensure the color molecules have something to lock onto.