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Easing Your Clients into Covering Their Gray

by Victoria Wurdinger on Friday, September 4, 2009

grey hair

You can customize your clients’ services to address their gray hair needs.

With more clients embracing their natural curl, the first sign of gray presents a predicament. Suddenly, the client who learned to love what’s natural is forced to consider a synthetic fix. Statistics show the woman most likely to color only because she has to is a brunette. And brunettes dominate the naturally curly world.

Gray strays and scattered patches will show up first. Eric Fisher, owner of two Eric Fisher salons and Eric Fisher Academy in Wichita, KS, says “The thing about a little gray in curl is that it pops, so you see it more; you’re dealing with shapes, as opposed to straight lines.”

If there are just a few gray strays, pluck them out, says Fisher. When styling, you can also grab an area, hold the section and push it to the roots. This camouflages the gray. But it won’t be long before such techniques aren’t enough. Since most new-to-gray clients won’t want or need a full-coverage solution, try these non-committal “Gray-Aways” instead.

Singled Out

At Salvatore Minardi in Madison, NJ, salon owner Minardi takes a hands-on approach. “For those clients with very dark hair who have only a few silver pieces, I mix a close-to-natural formula with or without ammonia, depending on the porosity of the hair,” says Minardi. “Then I apply the color with my glove-covered fingers, putting on just the silver strands.”

Fisher takes a similar approach, focusing on artistic spot-control. “For the client who is concerned with becoming a slave to haircolor, I use a very small, professional paint brush,” he says. “First, get the curls to stand up by completely fluffing up the hair. Then paint the color on the grays only. Use permanent color in the same level and tone as the client’s.” (The reason for his permanent choice: A semi-permanent product might not take if the hair is resistant, and if it’s porous because of the curl, the color could get cloudy over time or fail to provide the desired coverage.)

Tooling Around

Often, pesky gray strands will pop-up at the part line, hairline or in a single patch, but nowhere else. In Santa Monica, CA, Jet of Jet Rhys salon says what’s worse: “On curly hair, these babies are wiry.” She banishes them one of two ways.

  • “First, spray them away,” says Rhys. “I use Bumble and bumble’s Hair Powder, which comes in glorious shades. My trick is to spray a soft toothbrush with the powder and brush those grays away.” Natch, you can retail the powder.
  • Another option: Use a semi- or demi-color, and sponge away grays. Semi-permanent color is best for transforming grays into subtle highlights on blondes, light redheads or brunettes, while demi shades provide better coverage for gray blending. Rhys dampens curl (the better to see those grays) and uses a fresh, damp sponge. “Dip it in color and squeeze it to eliminate most of the product,” she says. “Then apply it to the grays. All the nooks and crannies of the sponge soak up just enough color. Best of all, the sponge keeps the product contained. As you swipe it down the hair, no color will drip down. Leave it on for 20 minutes, then shampoo and condition.”

Managed Care

For clients who fear color changes—and dreaded the line of demarcation—choose semi-permanent products that are the same level as the natural color or one level lighter. This reduces the contrast between the gray and the natural color and avoids a dramatic color change.

“These color glosses will stain the gray and take the edge off whiteness,” says Redken color consultant and salon colorist David Stanko. “They won’t lift, lighten or redden the natural color. After all, color-shy clients want to hide it, not flaunt it. I like Redken Shades EQ. For the dark-haired client with some gray, O3N Espresso; the medium brunette is likely to love O5N Walnut.”

  • For curly hair, killer apps count. Be more diligent with the application and more aware of product saturation, says Stanko. “Curl creates the illusion of color repelling off. Continue to smooth the gray section with the product; don’t necessarily add more product. Heat and friction cause the color to process.”
  • You can also do a fast app for gray blending. This is especially good for men seeing gray, who want to look younger. Use a demi-permanent product at the sink, and leave it on for just 3 to 5 minutes. The guys will look like they are barely starting to go gray, and they won’t see roots. (Only right if the gray is under 50%.)
  • Minardi always suggests two or three, non-committal techniques, not necessarily for coverage but to blend and enrich the client’s curly haired look. Sometimes, a few highlights can do the trick. “I may advise a few tiny threaded foils, with or without ammonia, so as to brighten or tone some hair,” he says. “This distracts the client from noticing the frizzy gray strands. Another option is for clients with curly, naturally blond hair, and this technique implements very small percentage of ammonia that will brighten, enhance and soften the frizzy gray.” (In general, highlighting or lowlighting won’t cover gray completely, because of its scattered placement.)
  • Men and color-shy clients will appreciate a retail solution. Sometimes, a pigment-packed conditioner, left on for 5 minutes with heat does the job. Salons can also retail Color Mark’s Gray Gone, a true temporary that can be applied at home, and stays until it is shampooed out. It comes with a sponge-tip applicator that’s just right for those hairline pop-ups that always seem to appear between retouches.

Gray’s Anatomy

  • Generally speaking, graying or “salt and pepper” hair can be spot-colored, blended or treated with a semi- or demi-permanent color product, which makes outgrowth less obvious. Always choose a formula at or within two levels of the natural color. For a low-maintenance approach, you can also foil in a smattering of highlights through the heaviest gray areas, and then apply a semi- or demi-permanent color between the foils. This is particularly effective around the front hairline.
  • While most colorists move to a permanent product for hair that’s more than 50% gray, the natural level is the most important and overlooked factor. The darker it is, the more problems you can have avoiding orange or brass. For the true, dark brunette, go demi, regardless of the percentage of gray, advise several colorists.
  • Finally, if curly, gray strays are wiry and super-resistant, apply unmixed developer directly to grays to help expand the cuticle and pre-soften the hair. Then apply your chosen formula right over the top.
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Begin having frequent staff meetings and collaborate on business building techniques used by others that you work with. Every salon has success right inside. Get the top booker to explain how they do it. Pair the weakest with the strongest and let them work next to each other. They can learn from what they hear and see. Do the same with retail sales. Share the ways that the top stay on top.

With cross marketing other services, know who the salon leaders are and copy them. Your staff becomes a resource to each other and by sharing dialouge that works, we all win.

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