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Let’s talk gray blending

“Gray blending” is a hot new term that gets tossed around a lot these days. At the base of it, it’s an application, product, or technique designed to “blend” incoming gray hair with previous color (natural or man made). Today I’m going to go over a few of the different results we can get behind the chair depending on what’s going to work best for you.

First and foremost, the easiest way to blend your grays in is to not color your hair to begin with. For some people this is just not an option for varying reasons and that’s ok. Here’s some options for you to consider instead.

Non permanent options:

There are a few options in the category of not permanent gray coverage.

Single use:

The least permanent options are often used at the roots between full root touch ups of color and are typically in a spray form. Pretty much all of those options are only going to last you until the next time you wash your hair. The brand Salon in a Bottle is a gray coverage spray that we carried when I worked at Hair Cuttery and gave pretty good coverage and minimal issues when exposed to moisture outside of the shower.

If you’re looking for something to cover all of your hair and not just your roots, but you still only want it in until you wash your hair next, you might have good luck with a rinse or a gel. They’re still typically designed for application mostly at the roots, but depending on the length of your hair and how bright or dark your gray is, you may be able to get away with a whole head application.

Semi/Demi Permanent color:

Another popular gray blending option is a nonpermament color. There’s a lot of drug store choices that I don’t really recommend for reasons I’ll get into in another post with more time to go into detail, but Just For Men is probably one of the first things to jump to your mind when this comes up. Behind the chair I (and pretty much all cosmetologists) like to use professional color options.

I’ve had really great results using the Color Camo line from Redken. If your hair tone has already gotten cooler this is a great option for you, as it has a cooler base across all levels. The advantage to something like Color Camo is that it’s usually less expensive of a service and it doesn’t take as long as a full color to process. The downside is that you’re a little more limited on customization of shades; but you’ll typically start off with almost full coverage that fades out gradually as you wash your hair and live your life.

Sticking with Redken (not because that’s the only option, not by a long shot, it’s just the one I’m personally the most knowledgeable with) and even getting into the Demi lines from other color lines, you can also achieve more customized results with the possibility of sacrificing coverage. Gray hair is notoriously resistant to coverage in general, and it’s extremely difficult to get coverage from a color that isn’t designed to penetrate the hair shaft. That being said you’ll usually see some results, and your color will continue to fade like the Camo option. This might be a good choice for someone who doesn’t have the time or budget to sit for a whole head application of foils because in many cases you can apply it like previous root touch ups. The downside is that the line of demarcation between previous permanent color and new growth doesn’t really get broken up at all.

Permanent options

The permanent options generally get broken up into two categories: highlights and lowlights. Application techniques vary from stylist to stylist and can be easily customized depending on where you want color to pop and/or lines to be softened.

In trying to figure out which of those options is going to be the best choice for you, you’re going to need to take your base level into account If your incoming gray is on the darker side, my first recommendation is usually to pick either your natural incoming hair or your previously colored hair to match, and then either bring the dark color down or the permanent color up using either a traditional foil highlight technique or a balayage technique. Usually to make that choice you just need to decide how quickly you want the gray to be more dominant. If you want to speed it along then bring the root color through the ends in pieces; if you want to spread it out or just extend the length of time between visits, bring the previous permanent color up in pieces.

On the other hand if most of your incoming gray is on the saltier side of salt and pepper, highlights might be the better option for you. It’s a great way to gradually go lighter all over in general, and won’t result in as stark of a contrast as your hair continues to grow. You’ve also got a large number of customizing options with the end result depending on toner. Don’t forget that lifting anything dark will almost always turn some shade of orange and if you’re lucky, yellow, so it’s very likely that we’ll want to use something to cancel out unwanted tones.

The pictures below are examples of using permanent color as a lowlight to blend out the line of demarcation between new growth and previous color.

This is the before and after on the very first appointment. A little bit more went into this very first one since there were other issues to address and correct, but the end result is what we were aiming for.

Before lockdown in March of 2020, she and I had regularly scheduled appointments to upkeep her color. She dabbled a bit in at home color as well, but really isn’t a person who likes having to sit still in the salon chair for a long appointment on a regular basis. Quarantine gave us a great opportunity to start working on growing out her grays, since she wasn’t able to get her hair colored by me and nobody was going anywhere anyway.

The first thing I had to do was to lift some of the previous color and get a more even canvas. This was mostly because she knew she wanted a lighter overall look than she had previously been doing.

From there we both agreed on a color we thought would look good on her and work with what was there, and instead of doing a more traditional root touch up with permanent color, I used that color inside of foils like a highlight application to give her a heavy lowlight that blended out the lines between her natural gray hair and her previous color.

These first two photos were taken 8 weeks apart, and the 3rd is the before from 8 weeks after that when she came in to touch up the initial color. You’ll notice that even 16 weeks later there’s still no harsh line of color, even if she’s looking more gray and dark overall.

Is a gray blending service right for you?

Really, you’re the only one who can make that decision. If you’re somebody who isn’t quite ready to embrace your new natural color scheme but really doesn’t want the maintenance of a consistent root touch up every 3-6 weeks, at least one of these choices might be the right one for you.

I am always more than happy to sit with you for a consultation to go over pros and cons specifically for you and your lifestyle.


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