Covering my grey in a healthy way
September 19, 2007 4:44 PM   Subscribe

The most natural way to cover my grey?

So, it's time to start dyeing my hair. I have naturally very dark hair (of the caucasian variety, in case this matters), but the grey's are starting to take over like weeds. I've never dyed my hair before because I've always loved the color and didn't want to ruin the texture. Because of this, I want to figure out the most natural way to cover grey that will do the least bit of damage, in both the short- and the long-term. I will be going to a salon most likely, because I'm lazy.

I want to look for a salon that carries the most natural products and uses the most natural process. Thing is, when I call to research a salon, I don't know what to ask for. Henna? Aveda products? Some other organic brand? Semi- or demi- or permanent? Let me know everything I should know to cover my grey but to keep my hair healthy--
posted by greta simone to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (30 answers total)
I have been told Just for Men is very simple. You simply brush it in, wait five minutes, shower, and the gray is gone.
posted by parmanparman at 4:47 PM on September 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

"Just for Men" is Just for Men. Greta, whose profile says "Gender: F", is not Just a Man.
posted by Aloysius Bear at 4:51 PM on September 19, 2007

"Just for Men" is Just for Men. Greta, whose profile says "Gender: F", is not Just a Man.

They don't do a junk-check when you buy it.

Just For Men should work just fine. It's also easy to apply and fairly inexpensive. It's worth a shot.
posted by bshort at 4:57 PM on September 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Right, the chemicals simply WILL NOT WORK on female hair, which is made of entirely different substances.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 4:57 PM on September 19, 2007

And Just for Men looks Just Like Crap - even on men. I suppose it might be helpful for you to define "natural" a little better. In my experience, the semi-permanent colors have less caustic chemicals (less peroxide?) and so I guess that's more "natural." But the more chemicals you use, the greater the coverage. Grey can be harder to cover so I go for the big guns, nature be damned.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 5:01 PM on September 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

(I don't have gray hair. I just help friends do their roots.)

The things in hair dye that make it cover your gray hairs are the things that make "organic" or "natural" products total nonsense. Marketing gimmicks, nothing more. Sure, Aveda may have organic essential oil of rosemary in it, but the stuff that's actually changing the color of your hair, that's from some chemical factory.

If you want to permanently cover your gray hair - as opposed to watching the color wash down the drain when you shower - you'll have to use a permanent dye. You can certainly do this at a salon instead of at home, but either way, you'll have to do it every 6 weeks, because new roots are constantly showing up, and gray roots against very dark-dyed hair looks really noticeable.

Dyeing your hair a dark color is unlikely to do terrible amounts of damage. I'm not saying it's healthy for your hair, but it's not the same as bleaching it.

I'm not sure about using henna to achieve a very dark color and full gray coverage. I'm not an expert, but I don't know how dark you can expect to go, just for starters. If you're absolutely opposed to chemical dyes, you could certainly try it, but: I think you have to wait a certain amount of time between using henna and using a chemical dye, henna sold to you at a salon is not necessarily real henna, or "natural", and it may simply not be feasible to expect full coverage for gray for a dark-haired person.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 5:03 PM on September 19, 2007

All you dudes suggesting that she use Just For Men would be served way better by using the color in the women's section. I don't know what it is that they put in the men's color but it's horrible and looks fake and flat and awful.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 5:03 PM on September 19, 2007

I wasn't saying it was good hair dye, but a great deal of gender-based marketing is complete bullshit.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 5:08 PM on September 19, 2007

Even permanent hair dyes are, IME, a lot less damaging than they used to be, and with a good-quality shampoo and conditioner (I like Bumble & Bumble and KMS), your hair can remain in good shape even if you dye it.

One thing to remember with gray hair is that, if you use a dye with any tint of red in it, there is no brown in the gray hairs to neutralize that red. Your gray hairs will come out a brighter red than the browns. Don't use henna on gray or graying hair unless you want streaks of bright flaming R-E-D.

A good hairdresser should be able to guide you to a non-damaging and natural-looking result. Book a consultation first before you take the plunge into the dye job.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 5:10 PM on September 19, 2007

Response by poster: Hi all. I am a female. I would really prefer to do this in the salon, over doing it at home, unless there is a home product that will work better.
I know that "completely natural" isn't really an option. I'm just looking for the *least* harmful and chemical-y. Just trying to figure out what to look and ask for in a salon so they don't fry my hair with serious toxic waste. My hair is soft and shiny, and I want it to stay that way when I dye it.
posted by greta simone at 5:12 PM on September 19, 2007

Hair is dead, and I seriously doubt it varies across gender. Just For Men is called that because manufacturers want men to buy haircolor, and a lot of them are too wussy to buy Feria. If it really works in five minutes it's probably not the kindest to your hair, either.

If I were you I'd worry less about "natural" (there's not really a standard definition of the term, and personally I'd trust a lab-derived and -tested product more), and more about the gentleness of the product if you're concerned about saving your hair's texture. Most permanent product will make your hair feel thicker, at least for a few days after you dye your hair, so you may see some change in texture, but I've found that most don't seem especially drying. Then again, going gray might itself change your texture, as I've been told that gray hair tends to be coarser.

Finally, gray hair can be stunning. Maybe at least consider letting nature run its course?
posted by you're a kitty! at 5:14 PM on September 19, 2007

permanent hair dye has ammonia in it, which is what helps the dye "stick" to the hair. in general, it will stay in your hair until it grows out (which is why you get roots).

semipermanent has no ammonia, or very low ammonia. it's generally a really strong pigment, that gradually washes out after three or four weeks. i find that it starts out being much darker than it appears on the box for about the first two weeks, then fades out after the last two weeks. you may get some roots, but they won't be nearly as drastic.

as for what's healthier for your hair--even permanent dyes these days are really pretty gentle, all things considered. you will find your hair is a little dryer for a week or so, but a good conditioner should take care of it.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:16 PM on September 19, 2007

Any "henna" that turns your hair any colour but orange-red to warm brown has something mixed in with it. The stuff called "black henna" can actually cause severe allergic reactions. So if you have dark hair, don't go near anything called henna. At best, you're going to get pinky-grey streaks, which may not be what you want.

I'd suggest going to some place with a good reputation and getting your hair cut while having a good chat with the stylist. He/she will be handling your hair and can suggest whether a semi or demi permanent colour could work for you. If you have less than 50% grey right now, a semi-permanent colour may work fairly well. You won't get completely opaque coverage, but a somewhat translucent glaze on the grey that may look like a natural highlight.

(I've got some grey finally coming into my light/medium brown hair, and I love it too much to change a single hair of it, but YMMV, obviously.)
posted by maudlin at 5:20 PM on September 19, 2007

Best answer: It's smart that you're planning on going to a salon. Dyeing your hair just isn't great for it, no matter what you do (and I say this as a person who's colored her hair for 10 straight years). However, having someone who knows what they're doing can help you get the least damaging, most natural, and best looking results.

One thing you'll probably find is that rather than trying to make all your gray hairs match your dark hairs, a colorist will probably try to blend them in. My mom's hair was always just about as dark as caucasian hair gets, but once she started covering her gray, that just wasn't practical. This happens for two basic reasons. One, gray hair just doesn't take color as well as other hair. The texture is different, the natural color lighter, and it's just harder to get it to want to be dark. Also, since hair color fades, it tends to look very intense at first. With very dark dyes, my mom tended to look like Elvis for the first two weeks after a coloring. So if the grays don't want to be as dark, and if all over dark tends to look fake, many colorists will try to blend the gray with rather than straight out cover it with all over dark brown dye.

Anything other than permanent color may not do much to cover the grays, plus it washes out so fast, it would be awfully expensive to keep up with at a salon. Organic and whatnot don't make much difference in my experience. At a certain level, most all permanent hair color contains peroxide and ammonia, neither of which is great for your hair. Everything else is conditioner and fragrance. These things can be nice (and I do love the stuff they use at Aveda salons even if it costs an arm and a leg), but I don't think it's really "better" for your hair.

Coloring your hair is going to damage it some. It will make it drier, and it will change the texture to some degree. How much depends on what kinds of processes you have done and how well you take care of your hair. Gentle combing and toweling when its we, not brushing too much, not overdoing the heat styling, deep conditioning, and general TLC become even more important when you color your hair. It's good to go as long as possible between shampoos. I've also found that I can scrub my scalp with cheap conditioner (like Suave, one that doesn't contain any silicones that can build up on my hair) without using shampoo first for every other wash, and that keeps my color fresher and my hair healthier.

That said, go in for a consultation (or two, or three) with some qualified stylists. Don't let them pressure you to do anything more high maintenance than you're willing to keep up with. Don't feel like you have to have anything done that day.
posted by mostlymartha at 5:25 PM on September 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if Herbatint is henna based or not, but I used it while I was pregnant. It's supposed to be very innocuous as far as hair dye goes. It was a little awkward to use, but did cover my grey.
posted by jarnold at 5:58 PM on September 19, 2007

Response by poster: Fandango-- I too love grey hair. But I am 24 and I'm at the stage where I have lots of singled out wire-y hairs. I'm planning on covering them until I have some significant chunks of grey, which are way cooler than stray strands in my opinion. Right now it just looks kinda gross. Maybe when I hit thirty, if I have some awesome shocks of silver, I will let it shine.
posted by greta simone at 6:32 PM on September 19, 2007

Seconding: it's smart to do it through a salon if you can afford to (you won't end up giving yourself a purple tint that you don't notice for months). And, a salon with a good reputation will use the best dyes they can, and those are the ones that are least likely to fry your hair.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:34 PM on September 19, 2007

Another shout out in favor of grey ... Emmylou Harris?
posted by Rain Man at 6:57 PM on September 19, 2007

I have not tried it, but Elumen claims to be a way of easily dyeing one's hair that is much better for it than the normal permanent dyes. This may be a gimmick. I have been thinking of trying it out myself for a while now, but haven't decided whether or not it's worth it.
posted by Anonymous at 7:27 PM on September 19, 2007

If you do it yourself Preference or the other one by L'Oreal are best for covering grey. And definitely look for the ash tones - any reddish tint looks pure red on white hair. My hair is very dark brown and I leave Medium Ash Brown on for 20 minutes longer that the directions call for best results.
Yes, it would be lovely to look as glamorous as Emmylou Harris....
I started going grey in my twenties and began dyeing when I got tired of hearing references to my grandchildren (after having my youngest after my hair was mostly grey).
posted by readery at 7:45 PM on September 19, 2007

If cost becomes a factor (100/a visit every 6 weeks or so is going to start adding up) I'd recommend DIY. I've been what my hair guy calls a "kitchen sink colorist" for 15 years now - and unless you want some high maintenance highlights - hair dying at home is easy and cheap. Feria at the drug store gives great results - especially if you only have a little gray to cover. Semi permanent or no-lift dyes are also great - especially when you're first getting the hang of it at home. Too dark? No problem - just wash your hair a lot. Fading happens fast. The only time I've ever damaged my hair was when I decided my naturally almost black hair should be blond. This is not something I'd reccomend...
posted by Wolfie at 8:44 PM on September 19, 2007

I used to use Light Mountain henna to auburn-up my otherwise boring brown hair, but it's been years now... in part because I've gone rather grey on the sides. I thought that the instructions advised against using their product on grey hair, since it might turn unexpected colors. A spot of googling, however, reveals that they're now marketing henna mixtures specifically for covering up grey hair. See this chart for details.

The nice thing about henna is that you can easily do it yourself at home, and it's actually good for your hair. Just make sure to coat your forehead, neckline and ears with petroleum jelly before applying it, lest there be some leakage from 'neath the showercap (and there will be), which can stain your skin as well.
posted by mumkin at 8:44 PM on September 19, 2007

Greta, see if the hair salon likes Colora brand henna cream. I needed to dye my hair recently, and people recommended this to me. It's not like the henna of 20 years ago. It did a great job on the grey, didn't ruin the shine and looks fairly natural in the end result. I touch it up by painting it on with an old toothbrush. It lasts quite well for me, but I don't wash hair daily.
posted by Listener at 10:20 PM on September 19, 2007

mumkin: Just make sure to coat your forehead, neckline and ears with petroleum jelly before applying it, lest there be some leakage from 'neath the showercap (and there will be), which can stain your skin as well.

Or, if you're like me, cover your entire body, your whole apartment AND your cats in it unless you're going for a polka-dot look everywhere. (It seems I am.)
posted by loiseau at 10:50 PM on September 19, 2007

The most important thing is not the brand of color but the skill of your colorist. Get recommendations, and talk to the colorist beforehand to make sure you are comfortable with his or her skill level and that they really understand what you are looking for.
posted by happyturtle at 1:39 AM on September 20, 2007

A hat.
posted by electroboy at 6:10 AM on September 20, 2007

As has been mentioned before, henna is a wonderful natural/harmless product for dyeing your hair. I would heartily recommend as a place to start learning about using henna on hair if you are interested. Henna (lawsonia inermis) will produce a red color but it is a translucent dye. The color you end up with hinges on the color you start with. Henna/indigo mixed will produce a really nice brunette--you can see on HennaforHair the varied colors/mixes devised by people. You can also get a lovely pure black color with just indigo.

I use plain/pure henna on my hair every three/four weeks or so to cover my gray and roots. I've been doing this about 3 years now and my hair is extraordinarily healthy/bouncy/shiny--much more so than my pre-henna days. I love henna.

Just make sure to coat your forehead, neckline and ears with petroleum jelly before applying it, lest there be some leakage from 'neath the showercap (and there will be), which can stain your skin as well.

If you find yourself with a stained forehead you can gently exfoliate and it will disappear. If you stain your hands, however, prepare for that to linger. Latex gloves are de rigueur.
posted by hecho de la basura at 6:38 AM on September 20, 2007

You might try highlights and lowlights instead of an all over dye job. That's what I did when I decided I wanted to go ahead and let the gray grow in (btw, that lasted 7 months before I said fuck it and went back to my natural color, which is fuchsia.) But anyway, it lasted a lot longer than a whole dye job and made the gray way less noticeable as the roots came in. It is, alas, more expensive and takes an incredibly long time.
posted by mygothlaundry at 7:31 AM on September 20, 2007

Oddly enough I overheard a conversation along these lines last night. One woman just had her hair done, the other wanted to take care of gray and worried about the wiry gray texture. The first, whose sister-in-law is her hair dresser (are you lost yet?), asserted that done right, the coloring also conditions out the wire.

So, yes, salon. Express your desire to optimize for being gentle on your hair and trust their expertise.
posted by plinth at 1:48 PM on September 20, 2007

highlights and lowlights looks great. Second that. If you're hair is very short, you can minimize damage by letting it grow out every couple of touch ups so that you're not re-dying already colored hair.

I love the way grey looks on young people. Plus I've noticed that people who go grey early go grey GREAT. Let it go! it'll probably be gorgeous.
posted by nax at 7:15 PM on September 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

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