5 things to know about coloring gray hair

What we perceive to be gray, silver or white is actually hair that no longer has pigment. If you're considering covering or coloring your gray, here are options and advice from Angie's List members and highly rated hair stylists:

Nonpermanent options

“For locks that are about 20 to 25 percent gray, use a demi- or semi-permanent hair color that's closest to your natural tone to blend away the grays with minimal damage,” recommends Bab May, owner of Bab & Company Hairdesigners of Carmel, Ind. “Both types deposit color into your hair without ammonia; however, the demi-permanent color uses a stronger concentration of hydrogen peroxide to open up the hair cuticle and inject more color. As a result, demi-permanent color lasts almost twice as long as semi-permanent. Semi-permanent color delivers a rich, shiny color, but fades out in six to 12 shampoos.”

Nonpermanent products can be a good way to get started with coloring gray, agrees Ceilon Aspensen, owner and manager of Salon Simpatico in Bozeman, Mont. “Semi-permanent color will not completely color gray, but can stain it enough to make it look like a highlight against the darker color,” she says. “After the color has disappeared at the end of six to eight weeks, the client will have a better idea of the possibilities available to them in professional hair color.”

Permanent color

“There are some clients whose gray is covered very well by demi-permanent color, but it gets to the point where they get more gray and it doesn’t cover,” May says. “Most permanent colors contain ammonia, which opens the hair cuticle to allow color to penetrate much deeper than without it.”

Angie’s List member Carol Libutti of Lake Worth, Fla., began coloring her gray by having her stylist apply semi-permanent dye, but eventually switched. “I’ve been happier with permanent hair color because I spend a lot of time outside, and permanent color doesn't fade as much,” she says.

An online poll of Angie’s List members who color their gray hair found that 71 percent use permanent color, while 29 percent use nonpermanent.

Highlights and lowlights

“If hair is long enough, you can try a 'light' highlight, a small concentration of highlights around the problem area,” May says. “Usually gray is noticed most around the area of the part. You can add a few highlights along the part to break up the gray.”

Highlights or lowlights can also keep hair from being monochromatic, causing it to appear fuller, May says. “By choosing colors that flatter your natural hair color, the end result is that your hair will appear to have more dimension. It will create the illusion of lift and movement.”

Libutti disliked all-over color when she first began to have her gray colored. “I thought I looked older,” she says. “My new stylist recommended using highlights. I was very happy with the results and got a lot of compliments.”

When it’s time to reassess

Angie’s List member Kira Stark of Colusa, Calif., says the emergence of significant amounts of gray is a good time to review past coloring habits. “Be honest with yourself. Do you need to be a blonde in your mid-40s or would a more subtle color, closer to your natural color, better suit? Ask your stylist to be honest, too. ‘Is this a good color and look for me?’ ‘What would you recommend?’”

Be aware of how color treatment can affect hair. "Any time you apply a chemical to the hair there will be some damage,” May says. “But if your colorist uses hair color properly, there should be minimal damage to the hair.”

Understand the time commitment

The process of having hair-color mixed, applied, heat-treated and shampooed can add an hour or more to a cut-and-style appointment. And because hair grows a half-inch a month, re-colorings or touchups are required as soon as four weeks.

“If you get permanent color, you’re going to have regrowth in four to six weeks that will distract you, and you'll want to get it touched up,” Aspensen says. “If you have semi-permanent color, your color will mostly shampoo out in about six to eight weeks and you won't have a regrowth line. Demi-permanent color will also shampoo out — mostly, but not as much as semi-permanent color — in about six to eight weeks, but you will have a faint and indistinct regrowth line.”

Next: The cost of coloring.

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Deborah Foster, a stylist at highly rated Bab and Company in Carmel, peruses her supplies before custom-mixing a client's color. (Photo by Katie Jacewicz)
Deborah Foster, a stylist at highly rated Bab and Company in Carmel, peruses her supplies before custom-mixing a client's color. (Photo by Katie Jacewicz)

A recent online poll of more than 500 Angie’s List members found that 53 percent use salon services for coloring their hair. Consider these factors before you decide whether to go pro or try DIY.


I lived here for 10 years, then relocated to South Florida. I am now back in this are. I am 58 with about 90% grey. I was fortunate to have a great stylist/color professional in Fl. that owned a simple salon, yet totally upscale results. I also bout Alopecia Aureota which most stylist aren't familiar with. It can also be very embarrassing. Thank you in advance.

How do I color gray hair without it turning red, is there a good commercial product

I want to change my hair color ( its dark brown to black) but not sure how to do it. My roots are gray on top of head, but I would like to go to a reddish brown but afraid the roots would Be a different color. What is the right way to color my hair, myself?

The roots grow grey don't. Know permanent. Hair colour. Black

What product and color shade do you Recommend for high light n low light color for gray hair. I want to partially color and Desire to use semi or Demi color product. what is the top product(s) which meet my requests/demands?

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