Thursday, 17 October 2013


Grey hair was once deemed purely a sign of aging.  However, silver has today become a fashion statement in its own right, with celebrities from Robbie Williams to Jamie Lee Curtis deciding to embrace or enhance their natural grey. 

Surprisingly, for those who not naturally grey – the path to achieving the shade is perhaps the hardest feat a colourist has to contend with. Natural grey and silver hair is formed by the interspersing of pure white hair amongst the original (natural) shade.  Initially observed as ‘salt and pepper’, the more the previous pigmented hair turns white, the stronger the silver shade becomes – as those white hairs increase in number on the head.   It’s actually the interspersion and mixing of the individual white hairs amongst the original base which creates a grey look, therefore achieving an artificial grey can be intricate.   

Creating artificial grey hair

When hair is lightened it will take on a pale yellow shade which needs to be toned with a violet pigment to achieve white.  In many instances (where an artificial grey shade is desired) the hair will end up looking blonde as opposed to silver.   Whilst it’s more simplistic to obtain a block silver - via lightening the whole head to platinum and using higher amounts of silver toners - when a natural grey is sought the application method has to be more delicate, introducing very fine bleach highlights which are subsequently toned to silver, whilst leaving the surrounding natural hair intact to create the salt and pepper effect.   Applying any peroxide based colourant or lightener onto the surrounding (non highlighted) natural hair, will cause a warm hue to be displayed effectively reducing the overall silver effect down to blonde.  It must be understood, warm tones cannot co-exist with silver tones – the two shades will battle it out for supremacy and at best you will find the hair becomes a natural ash blonde.     

If you are wishing to achieve a natural silver grey (at home) on a previously dark base, the best approach is to use a highlighting cap, pull a scattering of hair through this cap and then apply a bleach or lightener before developing the hair to pale yellow.    The bleach or lightener must then be rinsed off the hair (with the cap still on) and dried (again with the cap still).  You then have to check the hair and be 100% certain it appears as a pale yellow, if the shade looks deep yellow or copper it will not tone to silver.  In this instance, re-apply the lightener (to the hair still pulled through the cap) and lift the shade up to the required level.  If you remove the cap - when the hair is still very warm toned - this warmth will intermix with your natural base and be impossible to retrieve for re-lightening.   Once you are satisfied the hair is a pale yellow, apply (again with the cap still on) your platinum toner.  This toning stage will turn the lightened hair to white. At the point you notice the hair clearly toning and the warmth vanishing, you can remove the cap.   Once this process is complete, you should find your (overall) hair appears to have cold highlights running throughout.  However, moving forward you must only cleanse with blue and violet based shampoos and alternate your toning conditioner between a platinum and a product such as Cool Restore Cool Ash – which has a silver base.  This specific hair care regime will continually keep introducing more platinum and silver tones into the lightened hair, very soon the tone levels will exceed a pure white and begin appearing silver.     When achieving this method via a salon, the toning stage can be made easier as a specific permanent colourant exists that compromise of two cool tones, when this specific permanent colour is applied (to newly lightened hair) it produces a metallic white that requires no subsequent re-toning.  Sadly – this particular shade is not featured in any of the current retail colourant brands available in the UK.


Creating a transitional grey shade (for those who have natural grey hair and want to stop colouring)


For those who are naturally grey but have spent many years covering the silver with permanent dark colour, the long term options for you to sport a flattering grey are ultimately more simplistic.  However, (and with most) it’s the initial hurdle of transitioning from a permanent darker shade to their natural silver that terrifies them.   Whilst grey hair is fashionable and acceptable – grey roots are not!  Many women recognise that transitioning to their natural grey is going to require months (if not a year or more) to achieve.  During this time they feel horrified at the prospect of walking around with inches of grey roots against artificially coloured ends.     In addition, whilst I myself have become known for home hair colour removal I have to explain why hair colour removers will not reveal natural grey. 

I would love to be able to assure all you grey haired people (longing to stop the colouring process) that simply applying a hair colour remover will reveal your underlying grey – but it just won’t.   When grey hair is coloured with a peroxide based shade, two points occur.  Firstly, the peroxide in the colourant (developer) causes the white (grey) hairs to take on a yellow tone.  Secondly, many of the colourants on sale in today’s retail market will also lift the natural (non grey) hair - exposing underlying warmth.  Therefore, when you remove the artificial colour you will not see your natural grey, but instead a warm blonde.  In fact, the process to transition to a natural grey shade has to be undertaken similarly to the creation of silver in non grey natural bases (and as outlined previously).

For anyone who has a high percentage of natural grey and wants to transition out of using artificial colour - without simply growing it out and suffering the obvious root strap – I would suggest you undertake the exercise via a salon.  In general, you will need to accommodate around three salon appointments over a period of several months.  The key is to introduce silver threads into the hair gradually as your old colour grows out; these silver threads (when built up in the hair), will break up the grey root strap, intermix with your previous dark and eventually take over the overall shade.   Whilst many salons (today) will only work with foils for highlighting, I would still recommend (on occasions of transitioning grey) a salon uses a highlighting cap.   My reasoning for this suggestion is exactly the same as outlined for the creation of artificial grey – you need to be able to segregate the lightened threads and check they have lifted sufficiently.  With foils, it’s very difficult to weave out the same hair again if the lightener did not lift this hair to pale yellow upon the first application.  However, if your salon uses a highlighting cap – they can lift the hair, check it has taken to a pale blonde and if they feel the hair (pulled through the cap) is demonstrating too much depth or warmth, re-lighten.   In addition, once the bleach is rinsed off and if the hair pulled through the cap is pale yellow, the colourist can emulsify a silver based tone on tone colourant directly into the segregated hair and it will immediately produce a grey tone.  The cap can then be removed and the new silver threads intermix within the previous dark base.  As I previously stated, UK salons (generally) do not like using highlighting caps, however it’s crucial the threads being lighted are segregated during this process, so subsequent lightening and toning can be applied to this regionalised hair without risk of it effecting the surrounding dark base (which is needed to produce the final grey effect).   

                I would then suggest every 6 to 8 weeks the above exercise is repeated in the salon, introducing more silver threads into the hair via the cap and tone method.   Overtime, the hair will slowly begin to turn silver or grey and you will eventually be able to stop having the grey highlights added and just allow your natural silver shade to take over.

A word of caution!

Sadly not every person- who allows their grey hair to grow in - discovers a shimmering head of bright silver.  Most of us tend to go grey (initially) around the front hairline.  Therefore, the misconception with many people is they have turned fully white (throughout) – because they only observe the grey roots at the front of their head when looking in the mirror.  However, some of us are unfortunate enough to go (what I refer to as) ‘badger grey’.  Here you experience clumps of grey hair throughout an otherwise dark base, usually with the front sections very grey, but the top and the sides remaining dark.  Intermixed with this (overall) dark base you find thick wiry white hairs that are not particularly slightly.   In the past, I’ve had several clients who asked me to help them to transition to grey (believing their whole head was white).  However, as the months went on I began to observe more and more dark in the new hair growing through.  In these instances you have two options.  Option A: - you can begin the highlighting method (as outlined above) whereby you continually keep adding bleach threads which are then toned to silver.  The negative to this method can be found if you only have grey at the front areas – because you then flip the issue of the white roots and begin discovering very dark roots start appearing in other areas of the head. Option B: - is to work with what you have.  Therefore, if the hair at the front of the head is grey – you allow this to grow through (with the outlined highlight method), but ‘dab out’ the white patches in the other areas of your head with a dark permanent colour.  Via this method, you will achieve a rather dramatic and effective Mallon Streak.  You will actually find the upkeep of the patchy white hair fairly minimal but you will still achieve the silver effect via the front (hairline) sections. 


Should anyone not go grey?

Yes – there is one category who should really avoid allowing themselves to grey.  A deep true redhead will never achieve a silver shade naturally.  When the white hairs begin to appear, the redhead will have too much warmth (in the remaining surrounding hair) to showcase a silver.  Instead, the hair initially becomes a quite flattering golden blonde, but will eventually start to turn nicotine yellow (as more white hair appears).   In addition, natural redheads have a very warm skin tone that tends to clash with silver and grey hair – causing the individual to appear washed out.    Therefore, if they are able to artificially achieve silver or grey hair – it will look quite harsh on this specific skin tone.   As a general rule, redheads (as they age) should allow the hair to become a softer (lighter) warm blonde, introducing gold toned highlights.  Lulu is an excellent example of this particular colour approach. 

And maintaining grey?

Sometimes women (who artificially colour) yearn for the simplicity of natural grey, believing absolutely no upkeep is required.  This isn’t strictly true.  A negative to true grey hair can be its tendency to turn either a steely or yellowy tone due to the purity of those white hairs.  Styling products, pollutants and general day to day life will often dull pure white hair and cause it to lose some of its natural brightness.  Therefore, if you are considering going grey – you should remember that a specific range of hair care products will be needed for you to keep the shade at its optimum level.   Grey and silver hair needs shampoos, conditioners and styling products that contain a violet tone to brighten as they work.  The White Hot Hair range is an excellent selection of products for this purpose.  Designed exclusively for grey and white hair, the items not only clean and condition but enhance silver shades and prevent the hair becoming dull or yellow toned. 

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