How to banish those gray hairs

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Roughly one in five Americans uses hair dye to enhance their looks or hide gray hair. But concerns about gray hair and looking older are not exclusive to the United States.

The trouble with gray hair – and especially hair close to the temples – is that such hair tends to be more coarse and more resistant to absorbing hair color than other hair. It can be difficult to cover the gray hairs, and then once it is dyed, gray hair may end up showing prematurely.

Gray hair results from the hair cortex, or the middle layer of the hair, losing both the yellow and red pigments that are normally present in the strands. In order to successfully cover grays, these pigments need to be replaced using dyes that have red, yellow and blue bases. Shades characterized as “neutral” are usually the best bets. Avoid ash colors, which tend to have a blue, green or violet base. The hair shaft will pick up the underlying color but not absorb the intended color.

Resistant grays may need the color solution to remain on much longer than is normal or recommended. Sometimes it can take up to 45 minutes for resistant grays to absorb dye. Certain manufacturers make dyes that are designed specifically for gray hair and allow for better penetration. Sometimes gray hair may need to be presoftened with peroxide prior to color application. The peroxide will raise the hair shaft and enable the color to penetrate better.

Coloring hair at home is possible but may not produce the most desirable results, and there is a greater chance of user error with drug store coloring products. When making drastic changes to hair color, it may be best to consult with a professional stylist and discuss color preferences. The stylist can then create a custom color and apply it evenly to ensure complete coverage. He or she will also have the timing down pat so gray hair is covered completely and effectively.