Turn Gray Hair into Highlights

Oil for hair care
Photo: MsMaria/Shutterstock
Q: I am 52, Caucasian, and have long hair reaching beyond my waist. I get regular trims, but I do not wish to cut it. I am now about 50% gray, but without a significant line because I have had some gray for 20+ years. I also have some naturally sun lighted hair.
My natural hair color is dark brown. My daughter said that if I used a honey toned semi permanent color (10-20 shampoos to remove) it would not change my brown but would make my long grays look like awesome highlights. My daughter likes hair colors barely found in nature, so I am unsure if I should take her advice.
I regularly soak the bottom 8 inches of my hair in olive or coconut oil with great results, but the longest hair is still the oldest and can be fragile. Should I try her idea for a temporary new look?

A: This is a difficult question to answer, because no one’s hair reacts the same to a chemical process. In theory, only your gray hair should be colored by a semi-permanent hair color, but this is not always the case. Also, it takes some kinds of hair much longer to wash clean of the semi-permanent color, and some hair doesn’t ever wash completely clean of the color.
A true semi-permanent color is mixed with 10 volume peroxide. In theory, 10 volume peroxide should only deposit the color, and should not lift the natural color at all. The 10 volume is designed to only open the cuticles to the extent that the color pigment can be deposited on the hair shaft.
These color particles are not firmly attached to the inner layer/cortex of the hair, as the 10 volume peroxide isn’t strong enough to open the hair to this level, meaning that the color pigments can only be attached to mostly the outer layer of the hair. Thus, the color is not “permanent”, and will wash out within 10-20 shampoos.
This is how it should work in theory, but sometimes it doesn’t. Very fine or thin hair tends to be affected very strongly by peroxide, thus the hair shaft opens exceptionally easily, and the color stains the cortex of the hair quite effectively. This is why stylists always choose a color that is one level lighter than the hair color that her/his client with thin hair actually wants, because they know that the color will be deposited darker than depicted on the color swatch.
Thus, if your hair is quite fine or thin, you may end up with quite darker hair than what you intentioned. It will only be a level darker, but still, this might come as an initial shock and traumatic experience for someone who has always kept their hair the same color and length.
Maybe you should rather order some color-shampoo. This is a shampoo or treatment that contains only color particles and no peroxide, thus it does virtually no harm to your hair, but it only lasts for a few washes.
Since you like natural solutions so much though, I would suggest that you try coloring your hair with tea. Boil equal parts chamomile tea and sage for 30 minutes and let the tea cool down until it is only warm. Apply the tea to your hair, (you should use an applicator brush and comb for best results) and leave the tea on your hair for more than an hour. You’ll have to experiment how long to leave it on for your own hair, but many people go to bed with the mixture on their hair, and then rinse it in the morning.
The tea should do nothing to your dark hair, but will stain the gray/white hair to a natural highlighted blonde color. Some people report that this keeps the gray away for up to four weeks. You’ll have to repeat the process when the gray comes through again.
See also:
How to color hair
Cover gray hair with hair color