Gray Coverage Challenges

By Lauren Salapatek | 01/05/2012 11:17:00 AM


Understanding the natural pigmentation of hair and its relationship to hair color is crucial to a colorists’ success. Non-pigmented hair can complicate the hair coloring service and to cover it means understanding its complexity. According to Technical Director for Organic Salon Systems, Rebecca Gregory, understanding the different levels of gray hair can impact how you go about the coloring process and the result:
MS: How do you determine the gray level of a client?
RG: There is no such thing as gray hair but rather, white hair mixed with levels of naturally pigmented hair. A single hair either has pigment or not (white). The grayish look of hair is really an optical illusion created by the mixture of colored hair and white hair, giving us the appearance of “salt and pepper.”  To determine the true level, make sure you not only look at the pigmented hair, but calculate the percentage of non-pigmented hair as well. This will give you your true starting level in considering your formulation.
MS: Describe the look of each of the levels?
RG: In order to successfully formulate from this starting level, it is important for light to pass through the hair shaft to visualize the natural pigment and hair levels (1-10). Color formulations should always be based on the percentage of non-pigmented hair to the pigmented hair as well as its density. If the hair is more than 50 percent non-pigmented, formulate the hair color for that hair; if less than 50 percent, formulate for the level of pigmented hair.
MS: Is the process the same when coloring each of the different levels?
RG: Hair without pigment (white) has up to 24 thick layers of cuticle to penetrate and can be very difficult to achieve 100 percent coverage, where hair with pigment typically has less than 10 layers of cuticle and may be colored using a different approach. Regardless, the key is to open the cuticle sufficiently so the color can enter and allow for the color change.
            Due to the extreme nature of coloring non-pigmented hair, ample amounts of product should be liberally applied to the grayest zones. I always recommend that stylists apply the color to the grayest zones of the head first which is often around the hairline. This is certainly where they see the non-pigmented hair first and therefore important to begin your application. Another trick for application of non-pigmented hair is to reduce the amount of activator in your formulation by 25 percent.
MS: What should a gray client do to maintain their color?
RG: Because products that are high in alkalinity cause the hair to swell increasing its porosity, and shampoos that contain aggressive Sodium Lauryl Sulfates will cause hair color to be stripped out of the hair, it is important to suggest products for your clients that will help them maintain their new color. Be mindful of the care products you represent in your salon. Ensure that these home care products are acid balanced within a suitable pH range and that they protect from UV rays.
MS: Anything different than a regular color client? (Maintenance)
RG: Many types of non-pigmented hair types are extremely coarse and considered unruly. Keratin Smoothing Treatments with no formaldehyde can add sufficient amounts of protein and will make the hair feel soft and shiny. I recommend doing a Keratin treatment after a color service to lock in your new color and add the beneficial proteins that will ensure the color molecules have something to lock onto.




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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lauren Salapatek

Lauren Salapatek Lauren Salapatek, Web Editor for Modern Salon | Salon Today | First Chair.

(Previous positions: Associate Editor/E-Newsletter Content Production Manager)

Since January 2010, Lauren has worked for Modern Salon Media covering salon style, product and beauty trends, and business editorial for both print and online content. As of October 2013, Lauren’s role changed to Web Editor—now she manages all online editorial content for, and As part of her responsibilities, she creates, edits, organizes and curates content for all Modern Salon Media’s websites; manages the creation and production of all Salon e-newsletters; promotes Modern Salon Media’s digital content via several social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest); and maintains an editorial calendar to keep all Modern Salon Media’s websites timely and current.

You can find Lauren on Google+ or e-mail her at


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January, 05, 2012 at 12:09 PM

Do you recommend a specific keratin treatment? It has been difficult to find one that truly has no formaldehyde.

January, 05, 2012 at 03:49 PM

I use CHI Enviro from Farouk Systems. No toxins and works amazing. Also very affordable

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Brooklyn NY 11235  |  January, 05, 2012 at 12:57 PM

I want you recommend the best keratin treament whith aut formandehide in the markert. i love yours magazine!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Rebecca Gregory    
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Palm Harbor, FL  |  January, 05, 2012 at 10:32 PM

Katie, I definitely recommend Keragreen which is is sold to salon professionals only at . It is formaldehyde free, contains certified organic ingredients, and performs incredibly well. Please email me directly if you would like additional information on it at Thanks! Rebecca

Heather Dill    
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January, 06, 2012 at 12:44 AM

Rebecca, Ever since I've been turned on to the Keragreen treatment, I am in love. My clients don't hear me stop talking about it. There's no smell, Its safe enough to put it on with your bare hands, and it actually revitalizes the hair, while smoothing it. My hair lovessss it as well!! :) I highly recommend it. It's the best one on the market, hands down!

Jenny Miles    
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New York, NY  |  January, 19, 2012 at 11:01 PM

I have been using Organic Color Systems for almost 4 years now and it has literally saved my career. Before discovering this amazing color line, I was unable to work due to persistent breathing problems and severe eczema of my hands. Now, I constantly turn business away from new clients seeking a healthier alternative to chemical hair color. Thank you for this fantastic article, it was very insightful but I have really found that covering gray (even resistent gray hair) is very easy with OCS. Jenny