10 Tips for Covering Gray Hair

Mike Petrizzi, artistic director for Zotos AGEbeautiful, is well-versed in the oft-daunting task of gray coverage.

“When I began my professional styling career almost 15 years ago (not counting those teen years coloring friends’ hair in the bathroom), I found that the key to a successful day at the salon was preparation and absorbing as much information as possible,” Petrizzi says.

AGEBeautiful is a vitamin E-infused color line that’s designed to cover grays while it fights five signs of aging hair, and as you might imagine, it’s Petrizzi’s preferred line. No matter your client’s age, Petrizzi has some valuable wisdom for gray coverage.


  1. Double the power. 
    “The most effective way to apply color is to begin with an applicator bottle, then cross through with a brush,” Petrizzi says. “This will give you heavy, yet precise, gray coverage.”
  2. Defeat stubborn grays. 
    Grays can be tough! “Make sure the gray ‘submits’ and lays smooth with the rest of the hair,” Petrizzi says. “If a strand is corkscrewing out, it’s not going to get covered. Then, if your formula doesn’t cover the gray completely, increase the neutral shade or switch to a double-neutral family for even more coverage. You can also add a touch more color versus developer to pump up the pigment power.”
  3. Soften the blow. 
    Highlights around the face and part line distract from grays when new growth starts to show. “This trick diffuses the solid base color and hides obvious lines of demarcation,” Petrizzi says.
  4. Tailor accordingly. 
    “Grays rarely show up evenly throughout the head,” Petrizzi says, noting that they usually pop up at the temples and hairline first. “Try slightly lightening (a half to a full level) and warming your formula in these areas, as they will grab cooler and darker than the pigmented hair.”
  5. Understand hair zones. 
    “The most important thing anyone trying to understand hair color can learn is that there are three different zones on the hair shaft. The base area (the first ¾ to inch of hair off the scalp) will always take hair color strong and vibrant, the mid-lengths less so, and the last two inches—the ends—will always grab cool and dark.” Lighten and warm your formula as you move down the shaft to ensure even color from base to ends.
  6. Blend those first grays. 
    Demi-permanent color works great on initial grays. “The absence of ammonia ensures no lift (read: no unwanted brassy tones) while still effectively blending away gray.” Petrizzi says. “Use a level or two lighter than the natural color and process under heat for 20 minutes, then another 20 to cool.”
  7. Create contrast. 
    Create some shadow from base to mid-lengths and ends, and you could knock 10 years off your client’s look. “I love covering the gray at a level 6 and then adding really pale, level-9 highlights on an older woman. This depth will not only make her look younger but will also create the illusion of thicker, more voluminous hair.”
  8. Don't just paint the hair. 
    “We’ve all seen inky, muddy, obviously colored hair,” Petrizzi says. “While it doesn’t have a gray in sight, it looks artificial rather than naturally youthful. AGEbeautiful Permanent is perfect to fight other signs of aging hair besides graying: thinning, wiry gray, dryness and dullness. To create truly ageless color, you have to address those factors as well.”
  9. Think beyond the retouch. 
    To keep your clients from coloring at home, offer something they could never replicate. “I very rarely apply one single-process retouch all over the head,” Petrizzi says. “This is an excellent opportunity to keep the front lighter while adding depth beneath the crown and nape area. Simply add darker color and equal parts developer to your formula as you progress toward the back of the head.”
  10. Refresh previously colored midlengths properly. 
    “Never, ever pull ammoniated permanent hair color through already colored hair,” Petrizzi says. “This damages the hair and will fade color even faster.” Instead, use a non-ammonia, demi-permanent color to gloss dull lengths of hair for shine.

For more color tips, tutorials, and techniques, visit modernsalon.com/process.

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