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You Asked! Expert A's to Your Beauty Q's: DIY Color for Gray Hair

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Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

WebMD Magazine - Feature

Are you starting to go gray and thinking of coloring your hair at home? If so, you have lots of options. Here's advice from Las Vegas celebrity stylist Michael Boychuck and cosmetics chemist Ni'Kita Wilson.

Michael Boychuck says:

Gray hair is especially vulnerable to the drying effects of chemicals in dye. That's why I suggest ammonia-free formulas. There is quite a selection out there, and most won't damage hair. I like the new Umberto Beverly Hills U Color and Revlon ColorSilk. Herbatint Permanent Herbal Haircolour Gel is another good option.

Another reason to avoid ammonia: color fade. Ammonia penetrates the outer cuticle layer to deposit color in the inner cortex of the hair, and often the cuticle can't recover completely. That means the color can leach out over time -- especially during a shampoo. When you wash, use a gentle, moisturizing shampoo to help limit the fading. I like Aveeno Active Naturals Nourish + Moisturize Shampoo.

A leave-in conditioner is crucial. It's very important to shield your hair from the rays of the sun, styling damage, and dehydration to preserve the color. L'Oreal EverPure Moisture Leave-in Conditioner is a good option because it contains lightweight yet nourishing conditioners.

Boychuck owns the Amp Salon at Palms Casino and Resort in Las Vegas.

Ni'Kita Wilson says:

Do the strand test! It might sound tedious, but this gives you a window into how your hair will process the dye.

We're talking about semi- or demi-permanent dye. The two main chemicals in hair color, ammonia and hydrogen peroxide, can be harsh on hair. Ammonia lifts the outer layer of the hair, the cuticle, so color can penetrate each strand. Leaving the cuticle lifted too long can prevent it from being able to close properly, leading to dryness, dullness, and frizz. Peroxide bleaches the melanin or pigment cells in the hair by destroying sulfur -- the chemical that gives hair structure.

I like Clairol Natural Instincts and L'Oreal Excellence Crème hair color because they come with conditioning treatments to help offset the damage of the coloring process.

The other big problem with color, especially on gray, is getting it to last. Water can be your biggest enemy because it swells the hair, which opens the cuticle and allows dye molecules to seep out. The solution: Wash less often. A powder shampoo such as Klorane Extra-Gentle Dry Shampoo With Oat Milk can help extend the time between shampoos by absorbing dirt and oil to refresh hair. And an in-shower glaze such as John Frieda Luminous Color Glaze deposits sheer pigment to refresh fading color.

Wilson is the vice president of Cosmetech Laboratories in Fairfield, N.J.

How to Select the Right Hair Color

Intimidated by the idea of finding the right shade to cover your gray hair? Michael Boychuck offers these tips for selecting a color:

  • Always look for warmer colors with golden or red tones. Gray hair has blue and ashy base tones, which can appear dull and make your skin seem sallow.
  • The box tells the truth. Trust the pictures that show how the color will develop. The description of the shade -- not the name of it -- gives you information on how it will turn out. For example, "light red brown" tells you more than "cinnamon."
  • Never go too light or too dark, especially with gray hair. Stick to a color within three shades of your own strands to ensure a natural result and minimize the appearance of your roots growing out.

The opinions expressed in this section are the opinions of the experts and are not the opinions of WebMD. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment.

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