Q As I reach well into my 50s the gray (OK, white) hairs are beginning to overwhelm the red. Is there a way to dye them enough to look younger but not obviously fake? And/or is there a change in the color of clothing I should be wearing with my whiter hair?
A Yes, men’s hair-coloring absolutely can produce a natural and believable look. There are quite a few different brands and products available for you to use. While some complicated formulas require a professional’s level of skill to restore your original color, others are simple 5-minute processes to use on your own. The do-it-yourself options range from shampoo-in tints to more complex and more long-lasting comb-in or brush-in dyes.
Before you begin, keep in mind that hair dyes fall into two main categories:
• Semi-permanent hair dyes
• Permanent hair dyes
Most men want a subtle, blended look, rather than full saturation. Permanent hair dye offers the most coverage, but it won’t ever wash out. The color lasts until your hair grows out, leaving a line of demarcation that makes it clear that you have colored your hair. Semi-permanent hair dyes last less long (they start fading with the first shampoo and eventually wash out). These non-permanent dyes are best for gray blending – when you want to minimize gray, but not cover it completely. It is the most believable look. My professional hair stylist tells me that men should not use permanent color.
Permanent hair colors that last until your hair grows out work in two stages. First they use a bleaching chemical so your hair becomes lighter. Second, they add other chemical pigments that make your hair a different color. Some semi-permanent hair dyes, (such as Just For Men Easy Comb-In Color, Clairol’s Loving Care and L’Oreal Natural Match) do not use this two-stage bleaching process. Instead, they use a single-stage process that does not lighten your hair; it only adds dye on top of your existing natural hair color. If you have a mixture of gray hairs and dark hairs, the gray hairs will pick up the new color but the dark hairs won’t. That’s why some brands can say that they only work on gray hair.
Here is a useful trick that women have used for years: color your hair on the same day as you have it cut. That way, what people notice is a “refreshed” look that they can’t quite put their finger on, not a “change”; and no one is the wiser. Color first, then cut, because dye should be applied to dry hair that has not been shampooed or had any styling products applied for a few days.
Popular men’s hair dye products come with varying quality, prices and customer reviews. Some brands are foolproof; they stop developing after 10 minutes so hair can’t get too dark. Some are easier to work with than others because they don’t require any mixing. Also, coloring isn’t only about hiding silvers and grays; it can also be about introducing new colors and/or a return to your previous natural color.
No matter which type you choose, if you are planning to dye at home, be sure to follow all the instructions mentioned on the package. Do a patch test first (which means applying the hair dye on a small patch of your hair to see what the outcome is likely to be). Use gloves when you are coloring your hair, and be sure to apply Vaseline around your hairline so that any skin-staining can be avoided. You need to follow each step exactly to get your hair dyed correctly.
The essential rule for your first hair dyeing attempt: always go lighter, rather than darker. Choose a subtle hair dye color, or better yet, go to and take suggestions from a professional hair coloring expert who can help guide you toward the color that will work best for you. Then if you are planning to do it at home, after choosing the appropriate dye, select the right tools; often the hair-dyeing brush or comb does not come with the package. Take your time; follow every step precisely. Avoid dunking all your hair in hair dye as it can harm your scalp. Apply the dye evenly with a brush or comb to prevent an artificial look. After the prescribed waiting time, start rinsing your hair very carefully — either in a large sink or a bathtub — so color splashes will not stain your clothes. Always wear old clothes when you are dyeing your hair.
To play it safe and especially if you’re dyeing your hair for the very first time, I strongly suggest you choose semi-permanent hair color. To be even safer, and to prevent any disasters, it’s best to visit a salon and hire the best hairdresser you can afford. A professional will help you know what to expect when you later work on your own.
As to whether or not to change the colors in your wardrobe, since your natural coloring (your complexion and eye color) will remain the same, you can stay with the lifelong flattering color preferences that redheads enjoy wearing: especially tan, brown, gold, khaki, olive and other shades of green. Good luck.
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