Gray Hair Repels Color

Tools for hair coloring
Photo: Rob Bouwman/Shutterstock
Q: How come my gray and white hair repels color? I can put a brown color on it and then it turns blond.
A: One thing most people are unaware of is that as the hair “turns gray”, losing its pigmentation, another common effect is that the cuticle layer tightens up significantly. This means that the hair becomes resistant and doesn’t as easily allow moisture to pass through the cuticle layer.
This can affect the ability to condition the hair if the hair was always dry and somewhat damaged before, although many of today’s conditioning shampoos and formulas are designed to penetrate the hair very easily.
It can also affect the results of chemical services like, permanent waves, coloring, and chemical straightening. Since the moisture doesn’t pass as easily through the cuticle, less of the chemical substances that are used to change the color or alter the wave pattern penetrate either and the result is perms that fall out quickly, or hair color that doesn’t take at all or ends up a pale version of the intended color.
This latter is generally because when using a color to cover gray the formulas are typically somewhat translucent and only become darker as more and more of the color gets deposited into the hair shaft. If only a small percentage of the color penetrates and deposits, the results will be much lighter than desired. I’ve personally had clients for whom coloring their gray wouldn’t work at all.
This can be overcome (usually) with a “pre-softening” treatment. Basically, you take 10-volume peroxide developer and apply it all over the gray hair. Allow it to sit on the hair for 20 minutes and then rinse it away fully, followed by a gentle shampoo. (Do not condition the hair afterward, you might undo what benefit you gain from pre-softening.)
Once the hair has been presoftened, dry it and then attempt to color the hair as desired. You can also find products in your beauty supply shops that are designed to help hair color penetrate into gray hair. One such product is called “Gray Magic” and comes as a small ampoule that you simply add to your hair color mixture. Certain hair color brands also make special formulas designed for use on gray hair as well.
Between pre-softening, special formulas and additives, you should be able to get your hair to accept color even better.
See also:
How to dye hair
How to cover gray hair with hair color
The changing hair of the older woman
What are the steps in pre-softening the hair before covering gray hair?