CHAPTER 10Color Me Carefully
Color used to be a sort of flat "mask" used by women who wanted to have more fun as a blonde or thought they were cheating age by covering gray. In short, it was seen as a kind of cure for self-image problems.
This is--thank heavens!--changing. Now coloring is much more likely to be used strategically for its visual textural appeal--to enhance a cut by lending volume and body and perhaps emphasizing some aspect of it, to highlight the face and eyes (and "lift" skin tone), and to give interest and movement to the hair itself. It is also used because it's fun--makeup for the hair--that brings a welcome lightheartedness to the business of getting your hair looking terrific and keeping it that way.
We have the new technologies to thank for this flexibility. All kinds of temporary color--cellophanes, rinses, hennas, hair mascara, spray-on color--have made hair coloring a more inviting adventure. Even one-step permanent coloring has supplanted the two-step process of stripping the hair and then coloring it.
What people don't understand is that with today's technology a colorist is able to give you almost anything you want--pink, green, stripes...anything. As a client, therefore, you must be more thoughtful about the effect you want--and work closely with your colorist--so that within the nearly limitless range of possibilities you get exactly the effect you are looking for. Some of the new rinses (semipermanent color--see below for definitions) can be very useful for goof-proof experimentation that will come out after a couple of washings.
It is also important to consider the grow-out period before you take the plunge. Do you want to continue coloring, or are you looking for a "one shot" that will grow out gracefully? People who have colored their hair for years often continue to do so simply because they can't deal with the grow-out...or are afraid to find out how much gray they actually have. This seems a poor reason to go on doing something that can damage your hair.
We also have new techniques for doing the actual coloring; I think it would be fair to say it's much more an art than it ever was, with a great range of choice about what to do and how to do it. We can highlight, henna, warm, or brighten natural color. We can blend shades (sometimes as many as six) and layer--or grade--color for a much more natural look...or a special effect. We can cover just the gray or change the natural color completely. All this said, I still must reiterate that there is nothing more magnetic or enhancing than a beautifully cut and styled head of natural--yes, especially that gray/white/salt-and-pepper--hair that is clean, fresh-smelling, and lively.
I encourage people to show the gray. First of all, even if you do want to color it away, it is important to know just where it is, and most people color the whole head rather than just the hair that needs it. Not only does this spot approach make maintenance easier, but you avoid color buildup (which damages the hair and makes it look dull and gummy) because you are isolating the areas to be treated and lengthening the time between coloring. Also think in terms of lightening and brightening your own hair color instead of covering the gray; you can use semipermanent hair color without peroxide that makes the nongray hair very shiny and makes the gray "read" as highlights.
Never pull out your gray hair. You're not going to stop the natural signs of aging, but you are potentially damaging the hair follicles, and the older you get, the more you're going to need every hair you've got...whatever its color.
So many coloring terms are tossed around that sometimes it's hard to know what someone is suggesting. Here are some explanations that should help you decide what to do with your hair.
HAIR MASCARA OR HAIR MAKEUP:
The fundamental difference between a permanent and semipermanent color (or rinse) is that permanent color contains peroxide and ammonia, so it changes the structure of the hair (by removing its outer coating) to prepare it to take the final color. Permanent color will give 100 percent coverage to graying hair and can be used to lighten hair, too (which cannot be done with any but permanent color).
Semipermanent color (rinse) coats rather than penetrates the hair shaft, but because it does not lighten hair, it doesn't fade like peroxide color. It is, however, a bit more permanent than is usually represented, lasting about two months; so be careful.
Rinses are easy on the hair and great to use for all kinds of relatively temporary needs: trying out a new color (I almost always recommend them over permanent color for a first-timer); covering gray (they will cover about 20 percent of gray hair); or doing an interim coloring job while a problem grows out.
So you want a change. What are your options? Blonds almost always want to go lighter and brighter. Brunettes may think they want lighter hair or streaks; what they usually need is warmer highlights--ambers, russets, or even a tortoiseshell blend of lighter and darker. Women with gray hair most often simply want it gone...and may do much more than is necessary to get rid of it. (You presumably want to get rid of the problem, not necessarily change your hair color entirely.)
In each case the issue is not only what color to use and how much of it, but the placement of that color for maximum effect and least overall processing. The trend now is to keep color somewhat away from the scalp (I feel that this "double-tone" effect gives a depth to the hair) and to vary it, either in shade or intensity or placement.
Do be aware that coloring will change the feel of your hair. The nice way of describing this alteration is that it gives more volume and body; the less appealing way is to say that the hair feels "heavy." Permanent hair coloring actually swells the hair shaft as it penetrates (except with the lightest and darkest colors, which tend to make the hair limp), literally making the hair thicker. You may find, therefore, that coloring your hair will make it more manageable. The trick here is to avoid color buildup: less is more.
It's virtually impossible to comment on complete color changes, except to note that they are hard on your hair, hard to achieve (with any semblance of naturalness), and hard to keep up. Much more practical and versatile are the subtler kinds of coloring that enhance your hair's (and your skin's) natural color.
Following are suggestions and recipes for color enhancements (and recommendations for dealing with gray) for every shade of hair--both at home and in the salon. If you are color treating, by the way, keeping your hair shiny is difficult. That's why I'm beginning with an all-purpose hair gentler for color-treated hair that you can use in conjunction with the rest of the remedies (where directed). It will leave your hair wonderfully clean and shiny even after a couple of shampoos.
LIGHT BLOND HAIR
LIGHT BROWN HAIR
DARK BROWN/BLACK HAIR
Once again, even if you are using something other than permanent color, these are chemicals, and chemicals can cause trouble. There is always at least a little damage when you color your hair, and you need to think about this when you take care of that hair as well as when you get the color redone.
Color--even permanent color--will fade just from washing; if you get out into the sun, you will see changes from oxidation much more quickly (your hair may lighten up to two whole shades--which is never a good idea unless you have one of the few reds that actually improve in the sun). Ordinarily, you want to avoid coloring more than once every six months... and it can take a year for real damage to grow out.
It is, of course, much easier to keep tabs on the condition of your hair--and to control the recoloring schedule--if you don't succumb to coloring your whole head. Rely instead on spot coloring to keep your hair looking good, and you will be rewarded with more natural-looking hair as well as painless grow-out. (People seem much less worried about roots showing these days, perhaps because we have grown used to the multicolored effects.)
Here is a special conditioner you may want for your hair if you use color: