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5 Tricks to Color Resistant Gray Hair That Works

It’s no secret that gray hair can be more resistant to color, which can be frustrating for anyone who is trying to cover their grays. The good news is that coloring resistant gray hair is possible if you do it right.

There’s nothing like looking in the mirror and seeing that first gray hair! Although some women embrace their grays right away, not all are ready to let them take over just as soon as they pop up.

You may have noticed that your gray hair not only has a different color but also a different texture. Sometimes, gray hair can be courser, curlier, or straighter than your pigmented hair. Truth is, gray hair reacts to everything differently, so you may feel like you are re-learning how to care for your hair.

In this article, we will discuss how to color resistant gray hair, as opposed to normal, pigmented hair. There are a few adjustments that need to be made when coloring gray hair, but with the suggestions from this article, you will be able to color those stubborn grays!

How to Color Resistant Gray Hair

Here are the suggestions for coloring resistant gray hair that we will be discussing in this article:

  1. Use a permanent hair color that is darker than the desired outcome in order to dye color resistant gray hair.
  2. Use the right developer to color resistant gray hair.
  3. Prepare your resistant gray hair for the coloring process.
  4. Apply hair color the right way to fully saturate resistant gray hair. 
  5. Let the color process for the proper amount of time to fully cover resistant gray hair. 

#1. Use a Permanent Hair Color that is Darker than the Desired Outcome in Order to Dye Resistant Gray Hair

use darker permanent dye to  color resistant gray hair

Using a darker color than what you’re aiming for may seem a bit scary and a little risky, but choosing a darker color is usually the best way to go about coloring gray hair.

Because gray hair is so resistant, it may not absorb the full pigment of the color that you are applying, so it may turn out a bit lighter than what you want. There’s nothing worse than “hot roots” or roots that are strangely lighter than the rest of the hair.

As you can see from the below picture, the section of hair right below the gray roots is lighter than the rest of the hair. It looks like the wrong color was used last time the gray roots were colored. A darker color would have blended much better with the rest of the hair.

The picture below depicts what hairstylists refer to as hair color “levels.” Each level is a basic measurement of darkness or depth in the color. In each level there can be countless variations of tones.

The level system goes from 1 to 10 from darkest to lightest, so level one would be the darkest black, and level ten would be the lightest blonde.

Let’s say that you want to color your grays to achieve a level six, in whatever tone (brown, red, gold, blonde, ash, etc.).

Instead of using a level six color, you would want to use a level five. Level five carries the same pigment, but it is one level darker than the six. When you apply a level five hair color to gray hair, the end result is closer to level six. Make sure that you are getting a permanent hair color, not demi-permanent, or semi-permanent.

Now, if your gray hair has been extra stubborn and resistant to color in the past, even with a color that is one level darker than your desired result, you may need to try going down two levels instead of one. It is not a ‘one size fits all’ equation, so you may need to make some adjustments.

After you have chosen the right tube of hair color, it is time to get your developer!

Another tip: Some hair color brands have specific color lines made for covering resistant, gray hair. These can be very helpful for covering those grays, but may not come in all the shades or variations that you want.

#2. Use Right Developer to Color Resistant Gray Hair

right  vol developer to color resistant gray hair

Choosing the right permanent hair color is only half of the battle. The developer that you use with the color is just as important.

But, not sure what is developer? Simply put, a hair color developer is a product that contains hydrogen peroxide. It basically opens up the cuticle, or outside barrier, of the hair and allows the color to penetrate into the core of the hair.

Without developer, you are simply coating the outside of the hair with a pigment that can be instantly washed away. That’s why it’s so important to remember to get a developer along with your color.

Many color lines also carry their own developers. It’s recommended that you use a color and developer from the same color line, although I have to say that stylists sometimes break this rule. Oops! I told one of our secrets.

When you are picking out a developer, you may notice different numbers on each of the bottles, like 10, 20, 30, and 40. On some bottles, the number may be followed by the term “vol.” or “volume.” These numbers represent the volume, or strength of a developer.

Developers with a 10 volume are mostly used for depositing color on non-resistant hair, and developers with a 30 or 40 volume are typically used for lightening hair. The sweet spot for gray hair is at 20 volume.

Using a 20 volume developer is ideal for allowing a permanent hair color to penetrate into stubborn, gray hair and deposit color, without causing unnecessary damage to the hair. So, when you are picking out the developer that will cover those grays, reach for the bottle with the big 20 on it!

Additional Tip: Make sure to read the directions on the color tube or box that specify the proper ratio of color to the developer. For instance, 1:1 would mean equal parts of color and developer, and 1:2 would mean that you should use one part color to two parts developer.

#3. Prepare Your Resistant Gray Hair for the Coloring Process

Prepare Your Resistant Gray Hair for the Coloring Process

Now that you have chosen the perfect color and the right developer, you may be eager to mix it up and slap it on. But, hold on a minute!

The first thing you want to do, before you even apply the hair color to your hair, is prepare your gray hair to undergo the coloring process. It is very simple! Just make sure that your hair is clean and dry before you apply the color.

Why is this so important? Well, gray hair is already resistant, so you want to eliminate any other barriers that may interfere with the hair color reaching the core of your hair. These barriers can include natural oils, flakes of skin, dirt, or just day-to-day pollutants from the air.

Before you color your hair, be sure to cleanse it thoroughly with a clarifying shampoo. Most clarifying shampoos contain sulfates, which I would only use on an occasional basis, but there are also more natural clarifying shampoos that contain apple cider vinegar or charcoal.

No matter what you use, you want to make sure that you shampoo your hair more than once to build up a good lather and thoroughly cleanse your hair.

After you shampoo your hair, you can apply a light conditioner, but only for the purpose of detangling. Don’t let it soak into your hair for too long. You can apply a deep conditioning treatment to your hair after you color it.

Usually, I would say to rinse out a conditioner with cool water, but if you are about to color your hair, rinse the conditioner out with warm/hot water.

By rinsing with hot water, you are leaving the cuticle, or outside barrier of the hair, unsealed, which will allow the color to penetrate deeper into the hair.

After you have deeply cleansed and lightly conditioned your hair, squeeze the excess water out of your hair and blot it with a towel. At this point, you can blow dry your hair or let it air dry.

Either way, your hair needs to be completely dry before you add color. When there is water in your hair, your hair is not able to absorb as much color as it would when it is completely dry.

Also, it is important that you don’t apply any product to your hair before you color it. You want the hair color to be the first thing that touches your hair after it has dried.

#4. Apply Hair Color the Correct Way to Fully Saturate Resistant Gray Hair

Apply Dye to Fully Saturate Resistant Gray Hair

After you have cleansed, lightly conditioned, and dried your hair, it’s time to apply your carefully mixed color!

Of course, you don’t want to just slap it on and call it good. Because gray hair is especially resistant to color, you will need to apply the color in such a way that it thoroughly saturates each strand of gray hair.

Depending on the specific color you use, you will either need a color mixing bowl or a bottle applicator. Either way, you will need a color brush to apply the color thoroughly to your hair.

With a thicker, cream hair color, you will use a mixing bowl, and simply dip the color brush into the bowl before brushing the color onto your hair.

With a thinner, more liquid-based color, you can apply the color directly onto your hair with a bottle applicator and brush the color into the desired section of hair with the color brush.

Here is the step-by-step process you should follow when coloring your resistant gray hair:

  1. Section your hair into four sections (two at the front of your head and two at the back). You can clip or tie these sections in place.
  2. Apply the color to the perimeter of your hairline, and then to the perimeter of each of the four sections.
  3. Start applying the color at the back of your head, and working your way to the front. Make sure to apply the color to very small sections of hair. After you have applied the color onto a section of hair with your applicator bottle and/or color brush, use your fingers (with gloves of course) to squish and rub the color into your hair, fully saturating it with color.
  4. Use a medium-toothed comb to comb the color through the hair.
  5. After you have finished applying the color, put on a plastic cap. This will prevent the product from drying while it is processing. It will also contain the heat from your head, which can aid in the color processing.
  6. Start your timer!

In the next section, we will discuss how long you should allow the color to process on your gray hair.

#5. Let the Color Process for the Proper Amount of Time to Fully Cover Resistant Gray Hair

After you have finished applying the color, it’s time to start the timer. (Don’t start the timer when you start applying the color.) Of course, it is best to consult the directions for the specific color that you are using, but there is usually room for adjustment in the processing time.

But, if the directions specifically state that the color should not be left on for over a certain amount of time, listen to those directions.

For a typical permanent coloring process on pigmented hair, I will usually leave the color on for 30 to 35 minutes.

However, we know that gray hair is a bit more stubborn than pigmented hair and therefore needs more time to process. For this reason, I will leave permanent hair color on gray hair for about 45 minutes.

Typically, a permanent hair color (not a lightener or bleach) will stop processing after about 40 to 45 minutes when you use a 10 or 20-volume developer. So for coloring those grays, I say, leave the color on for the maximum amount of time.

Additional Tip: When your color is done processing, wash it out with a gentle shampoo and cool water. Apply a deep moisturizing treatment, let it sit for at least 10 minutes, and then rinse it out with cool water. Using cool water will help your hair to seal in the color. Hot water will rinse more color out of your hair. 

In Summary

Gray hair can be stubborn, but it is not undefeatable! If you are planning on coloring your gray hair, know that it can be done and that the results can be absolutely gorgeous if you follow the suggestions in this article. You will be rocking your silver-free head of hair with confidence!

Key Things to Know:

  • Use a permanent hair color that is one level darker than the desired results.
  • Use a 20-volume developer with a permanent color to maximize your results.
  • Prepare your gray hair to be colored by cleansing and drying it thoroughly.
  • Apply the color to your grays so that it fully saturates each strand of hair.
  • Let your color process for 45 minutes (or the maximum time allowed in the directions) to thoroughly cover the grays.