Guest Blog: The Art and Intricacy of Successfully Covering Gray Hair

Coloring the hair of my wonderful clients, and teaching color throughout America continue to be my professional passions.  I like to encourage my attendees to ask all the questions they have.  And, for almost thirty years, one of the most frequently mentioned issues centers on gray coverage. 

Most often, colorists first believe this important issue centers around poor product performance.  As a color educator, part of my job is to learn how to successfully use ALL color brands, and to be able to share their unique qualities with my audience. 

What I experience is that when correctly formulated, applied and processed, most professional brands DO indeed perform correctly.


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Here, I’d like to share a few notes from BETH'S HAIRCOLOR BIBLE:  Best practices for delivering perfect gray coverage every time.  Let's face it, inability to cover gray leads to expensive "redo" appointments, loss of time and revenue, and, most importantly, a diminished level of client respect.  So, let’s "get real" and completely understand what colorists might consider when addressing gray coverage:

1.  CORRECT FORMULATION: With respect to the use of permanent hair color:  Color formulas from level one (black) to level 8 (light blonde) will cover gray.  Formulas of level 9, 10, 11 or 12 are generally labeled "high lift" or "ultra blonde" shades.  These shades were NOT developed as gray coverage colors. Their chief function is to lighten hair as much as possible in a single process, and to deliver beautiful, sheer blonde tone.  So, the pigment you need to perfectly cover gray is NOT present in a light blonde formula. 

Colorists must consider not only the percentage of gray, but also the level of the hair, which remains pigmented.  Let's suppose that a client is 50% level 3 (medium brown) and 50% white.  Experience teaches us that the closer we stay to the level of the pigmented hair (level 3) the more successful our efforts.  So, choosing a formula level 3, 4 or 5 will provide us with the MOST control and with assured perception of gray coverage. 

When I have tested numerous brands of color in the color labs managed by some of the top color companies in the world, we learned that correctly mixing TWENTY VOLUME DEVELOPER with a permanent color assures us of complete gray coverage.  And, I recommend that if a color brand includes a dedicated developer (peroxide), that you use that specific developer in order to succeed. 

Timing is important. For most brands, gray coverage is rather complete after processing the gray regrowth for 30 minutes at room temperature.  When hair is extremely coarse and thick, processing for 45 minutes almost always does the trick.  I promise!

2.  APPLICATION:  Precise application of color is so very critical.  Every hair which is not covered with the color formula... will not be covered.  Period.  When applying the color formula, colorists should take 1/8-inch sections, and take up to 15 minutes to apply the color formula.  While most beauty schools teach 1/4 inch, I can assure you that taking 1/8-inch sections "does the trick". I choose to use an applicator bottle.  My instructional DVD's show precisely how I apply.  If you choose to utilize a bowl and brush, please use a smaller brush, unless the regrowth is more than 1 inch long.  And, when application is complete, please "cross check" your work.  Take the brush and section against the direction in which you applied the formula.  You WILL see "holes" from time to time.  With the tip of the brush,' Tap" color onto that section.  This assures that every hair on the head is covered with that "magic" formula that covers gray perfectly. 

3.  PROCESSING: When a client is "in a hurry", please assure her that 30 - 45 minutes of color processing is necessary.  Permanent dye must be safely processed at room temperature.  This assures that both the "lift" and "deposit" offered by permanent color have taken place within the cortex of the hair.  Permanent color should NOT be processed under heat.  This is not safe.  And, heat accelerates "lift"... not "deposit".  When covering gray, DEPOSIT is what we are looking for.

So, there you have it.  I have been "behind the chair" most of my adult life.  And, as I say,  "The first twenty thousand heads are the toughest".  Like you, I need to satisfy clients.... and I DO.  Using the tips provided here might just give you the edge you need to become the most important color star... right where you are!  Fashion cannot exist without Foundation.  And, many times, that foundation consists of covering that gray. Have fun and prosper. More later, Beth Minardi

About: Beth Minardi has dedicated her professional life to the elevation of  salon haircolor to an art form.  For almost thirty years, she has worked both behind the chair as a star colorist, and has been instrumental in the development of several of the top color brands in use today.  Beth began her colorful career at Clairol, where she became director of education.  At Redken, she traveled, training thousands of color professionals, and penned the monthly Shades EQnewsletter. As an integral part of her current work at Joico, Beth created her own exclusive brand of professional Color:  Beth Minardi Signature Shades, a collection of 77 intermixable conditioning colors. With industry legend, Sam Brocato, she opened STUDIO B Hair, a salon oasis located on Manhattan's luxurious Upper East Side.  She continues to lecture and teach extensively.  Beth resides in New York City with her Poodle 'person,’ Mango.