Go Lighter with Highlights

Older woman with highlighted hair
Photo: Mimagephotography/Shutterstock
Q: I am a stylist and have been coloring a client's dark brown hair every 4 weeks a level 3. She is a natural level 3 and is really getting a lot more gray-white hair that is difficult to cover.
She wants to gradually go lighter with highlights, but I feel it is too stark of a contrast. Usually you cannot get past an orange stage with just a few levels of lift on a natural Level 3, and going too far will end up too light and the gray will not cover anyway at that level. What do you recommend I do?

A: Well, it is usually a good idea for a client to go lighter with their hair color as they get older. Doing so helps to lessen the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, giving a softer, younger appearance.
As for the use of highlights, this is always a plus in trying to make a gradual color change. However, since her base color is a dark (level 3) brown you want to keep the highlights fairly dark as well (around level 5-6). This will allow you to gradually bring the hair color up to a lighter shade as you re-highlight the hair on a schedule, or you can maintain the current base color and lighten according to the client’s wishes.
The client’s hard-to-color gray is a separate issue. You may find that you need to “pre-soften” the gray hair before coloring it. Use a clarifying shampoo, followed by application of 10-volume peroxide for 10-15 minutes, rinse thoroughly, then color as desired.
Or you can contact your beauty supply shop/company and ask about a product called “Gray Magic” which is an additive you put into your hair color mixture before applying it to gray hair to help the color penetrate hard-to-color gray. I have used this with much success.
And if you have any “orange” results in lightening the hair for the highlighting process, you can always use a toner with a blue color base to neutralize the orange tones. For best results, use a color at least 2-3 levels lighter than the color you are toning and one which has a blue base color. If you know that the highlight color is likely to cause orange results, use a blue-based color from the start.
See also:
How to color hair
Color resistant gray hair
How to choose natural-looking highlights
Hairstyles to camouflage lines, wrinkles and signs of aging