Gray hair is either a blessing or a curse depending on who you ask. Sometimes, it seems like grays can’t do anything right—either those pesky hairs show up too early or not soon enough (if you covet a salt-and-pepper look). In the market to hide those grays? You’re in for a different journey altogether!
You may already know that heading to the salon is your best bet for achieving saturated, uniform coverage, but have you ever wondered just how professional hair dyes work? The Redken Color Gels ranges are often stylist go-to's, but to adequately understand their benefits, you need to know your options and what makes gray hair different from its pigmented counterpart in the first place. We asked Redken brand ambassadors Sean Godard and Dominique DiBenedetto to help debunk the mysteries of gray hair coverage. Here’s what they had to say.
What makes gray hair unique?
Whether you have a whole head of grays or just a few strands, you’ve probably noticed that they seem different than the texture you’re used to. Gray hairs can feel wiry, stiff and curl in ways your other hair may not, but that’s only the half of it. Your hair professional faces an entirely different range of issues during color services.
“Gray hair presents unique challenges when it comes to coloring and covering compared to pigmented hair,” says DiBenedetto. “The primary reasons for these difficulties are related to the structural and physiological changes that occur in the hair follicles as we age.”
She explains each change a bit more in depth.
Lack of Pigmentation
Gray hair occurs due to a decrease in melanin production, the pigment responsible for hair color. The absence of melanin makes gray hair more translucent, allowing the underlying color of the hair to show through. This means it’s harder to achieve uniform coverage when attempting to dye or color gray hair.
A reduction in sebum (natural oils) production leads to drier hair. The coarse texture makes it more difficult for color molecules to penetrate the hair shaft evenly, resulting in patchy or uneven coverage.
Resistant Hair Cuticles
The outer layer of the hair strand (a.k.a. the cuticle), becomes more compact and resistant with age so that color molecules have a harder time entering the hair shaft. Gray hair often requires more processing time or stronger hair dye formulations to achieve satisfactory color coverage.
Color Fade and Brassiness
Gray hair is prone to color fading and developing brassy tones over time thanks to the hair's porous nature, increased exposure to environmental elements, and the natural progression of the aging process.
What’s the best way to cover gray hair?
First off, you should know that fully covering your grays with fresh color isn’t the only way to move forward. Many women embrace their new color or decide to gradually transition into gray hair, working on maintaining hair that looks visibly healthy rather than investing in color services.
On the other hand, if you choose to cover up your newfound grays, rest assured you have tons of options that work for every maintenance level. There are three permanent Redken Color Gels ranges that are ideal for gray coverage, along with a host of demi-permanent, color-refreshing glosses.
“Stylists can use all of the Redken Color Gels collection in various ways, and their gel consistencies are ideal for all types of applications,” explains DiBenedetto. “I use them for everything from traditional gray coverage to more modern techniques like shadow rooting, color melting, and dropping in dimension with lowlights or hair painting. Depending on your client's desired result, any one of these lines will deliver predictable results.”
There are slight variations between each of these lines, so let’s delve a bit further into each.
For All Services: Redken Color Gels Lacquers
While Godard works with all of Redken’s products, he recommends the Color Gel Lacquer line for the rich, saturated results it provides. The gel-like consistency allows colorists to color up to 100 percent of grays in 30 minutes when using 20 volume developer. Are you a color novice or have newfound grays? Godard recommends covering only the gray areas in a shade that matches your natural hue.
“This is a very low commitment and a great way to test the waters of coloring hair without doing the entire head,” he says. “You can truly turn every hair on the head the same super-saturated color with a reflective shine. It’s also a quicker application and processing time, so it’s a win for the guest and the stylist.”
For Quicker Appointments: Color Gels Lacquers 10 Minute
“Express services are on the rise as society is more pressed for time as we are behind the chair,” says DiBenedetto. “Color Gels Lacquers 10 Minute is an express permanent color with the same coverage, shine, and consistency in a fraction of the time.”
The stylist explains that the 10 Minute line features Smart Pause Technology combined with fast-kinetic dyes, allowing color to act faster than traditional hair color that uses one alkaline agent. The result? More pigment in half the time.
“These key differences help us as pros serve a wider range of guests that have different needs with the same amazing Redken result,” she concludes.
For Hair Rejuvenation: Redken Color Gels Oils
Redken Color Gels Oils is the latest addition to the Color Gels Family, which offers hair rejuvenation technology for shinier and more conditioned hair. It has ingredients like two percent apricot oil for smoother strands and is completely ammonia-free, making it suitable for those with skin sensitivity.
“This color line has all the amazing benefits of the traditional but has up to 100 percent gray coverage on every shade, whereas the others will need a color partner to get 100 percent coverage,” adds DiBenedetto. “As with the other gel lines, it can be used with the traditional Redken developer collection and on all hair types.”
For Low-Commitment Color: Redken Shades EQ Gloss
You can also consider a hair color application that’s more about blending the grays into the rest of your hair than covering them up entirely. Demi-permanent glosses like Redken Shades EQ Hair Gloss are perfect for this. These formulas contain direct and oxidative dyes to glaze, refresh, and correct your current color, naturally blending grays in with the rest of your mane. Plus, demi-permanant color fades gradually, so there will be no harsh line of demarcation when your strands grow out.
“Most important is upkeep and desired end result,” Godard says. “Redken Shades EQ Gloss can blend grays away for a more low commitment coverage, whereas Color Gel can completely cover every gray hair, but it will require retouching as the hair grows out in four to six weeks."
Not sure which way to go? Your stylist is the best person to determine the color choice that fits your schedule and budget. Be honest with them about how much time you want to spend in the salon; they can provide customized recommendations.
How much upkeep does gray hair coverage require?
Establishing a regular touch-up schedule is essential. Both stylists agree that the frequency of your appointments will depend on your hair length and how dramatically different your color is from your natural shade.
“Some clients with shorter hair come every two to three weeks—the average is four to six weeks,” Godard explains. “Sometimes waiting longer than six weeks can turn it into more of a correction [service] because the hair responds differently to hair color when it grows past where the heat naturally radiates off the head.”
How do you care for gray hair at home?
Whether you’re a total salon newbie or a color service veteran, the at-home routine is the same. DiBenedetto recommends picking up a salon-quality shampoo and conditioner system to preserve your hair’s health and strength from the inside out, such as Redken’s Acidic Bonding Concentrate Shampoo and Conditioner. She loves that this line allows you to customize your ideal hair routine by swapping in the Lightweight Liquid Conditioner if you have finer hair or adding in the Intensive Treatment or Leave-In Treatment when your locks need some extra TLC.
“[Acidic Bonding Concentrate] truly checks all the boxes for my guests,” DiBenedetto says. “The technology and science that pours into these products make using them the absolute best.”
If you need more hair care advice, ask your stylist for their suggestions—and enjoy all that fabulous gray coverage!