Hair to dye for

Believe it or not, hair talks – “Back off. Stay away!”- and sometimes shouts: “I’m tough, stylish, sporty, outrageous…”

Everyone’s locks have something to say, at least about the person under them: Indigo dreads, platinum bouffants, carrotty ponytails, DayGlo spikes- more and more of us are making statements with our tresses, often in Technicolor. Let’s face it, artificial hair colour’s come a long way from blue rinse.

Start them young
Getting new hues may begin in grade school, with a defiant streak of blonde in a mouse-brown bob, or an all-out assault on parent-teacher sensibilities with a full “Dennis Rodman”- a multicoloured buzz cut or a neon Mohawk (though even that may be just a ripple of rebellion, not a permanent wave: The good folks at Kraft Foods’ 1-800 line field regular queries from kids asking how to colour their hair with Kool-Aid).

The way things are going, tinting one’s tresses will soon be a cradle-to-grave pursuit. U.S. statistics count eight out of 10 American women with a new hue at least once in their lives; Canadian women, says Robin Thornton, manager of Customer Relations and Education at Clairol Canada, are usg hair-colour products from their early teens to their retirement years.

Widening rainbow
Did we say women? Canadian sales of hair-colour products for men climbed from $6.9 million to $9 million in a recent two-year period, according to market-research firm A.C. Nielsen. As baby boomers age and struggle to banish their grey, those hair-colour sales will only increase.

Next page: The quest for youth

It’s all part of North American youth culture: Kids have found a new way to shock their parents, and parent – -who’re living longer and healthier and acting younger than their parents – desperately want to look younger, too. Hair colouring’s simply one more part of a package that may include diet, exercise, good dental work and a nip-and-tuck of cosmetic surgery, all of it neatly wrapped in age-resistant tailoring.

In a society governed in its tastes by the huge, wealthy glut of baby boomers and their well-heeled kids, youth is going to remain a prime directive of fashion, advertising and media culture.  Expect to find it increasingly hard to uncover a woman – or man – over 45 who doesn’t play with the shade of his or her hair.

Where to start
The safe route to a new hue, says John Beeson, regional colouring director for Vidal Sassoon Salons (East Coast), “is to have a skin compatibility test before starting.”

The so-called “patch test” involves dabbing a little dye on the skin and leaving it for 24 hours to see if there’s evidence of sensitivity, such as redness, rash or itching. The most common sensitizer (any agent that induces a reaction) is para-phenylenediamine, a primary component in permanent hair-colour products. It rarely causes more than a mild reaction, since today’s dyes are purer than previous generations of colouring agents, with  fewer contaminants to irritate sensitive skin. Better formulations also provide faster, more reliable product performance, which means chemicals are in contact with the scalp for less time (though it’s still easy for small amounts of dye to be absorbed through the skin barrier if the scalp is cut, irritated or inflamed).

Keep it simple
Hair-colour products range from temporary tints that rinse out, usually with a single
shampoo, to permanent colours that will stay in your hair until you cut it off. It’s not a bad  idea to do some research up front to figure out which is right for you, but, whatever you decide, keep it simple, warns Patti Coyne, co-owner of Delineation Salon and Beauty Supply in Toronto.

Next page: Colour can be a ball and chain

Permanent colour “can become a ball and chain,” Coyne says, “a three- to four-week regimen that you must follow up. Otherwise, it gets tired-looking.”

“We find a lot of new clients haven’t experimented before,” says Sassoon’s Beeson. “We start with a consultation. It’s very important to make them aware of upkeep, because a lot of these products grow out, they don’t wash out. There is maintenance involved. We want [clients] to be aware of the time factor and the expense.”

Set your goals
Start by asking what you want to achieve: Are you trying to hide grey hair? How much? Are you merely enhancing your own colour or looking for a big change? Do you want a natural look or something patently artificial? Let a salon-based colour expert advise you on what to expect from whatever agent or procedure you’re considering. And, if you’re planning a radical change or a complicated colouration, such as highlighting or lowlighting, don’t try it at home: Leave your transformation in experienced hands.

On the other hand, if you’re just planning a simple colour change, join the army of people who successfully colour their own hair with over-the-counter products. First, though, do a patch test, and a strand test, for which you can save hair from your hairbrush, rather than clipping a lock from your head (the scalp normally sheds 50 to 100 hairs each day). Then follow the product directions exactly.

Keep in mind that the further you want to go from your natural hair colour, the greater the potential for damage. Temporary colours that coat the hair shaft can leave hair dry, as can semi-permanent colours, which slightly open the cuticle of the shaft. With hydrogen peroxide and alkaline solutions in demi-permanent and permanent colours, there’s even more penetration of the cuticle, and hence more damage.

Toughest of all on hair is the double dip of going from dark to blonde. Before the dye can even be applied, the hair has to be stripped, or bleached, of its pigment, which leaves hair cuticles open and extremely porous, and easily damaged by sun, wind, hot rollers or harsh shampoos.

Next page: To grey or not to grey

Some women have such beautiful grey hair they’d be crazy to cover it. Far more often, though, grey hair makes women just look old-older than they need to appear. Tinting with added highlighting is a often a more flattering alternative. Lowlighting, where small sections of hair are covered with a darker tint, disguising grey hair without eradicating it, can also be extremely attractive on some people.

Men colour too
Including men.  David McDermott of David McDermott Hair Salon in London, Ont. thinks they look just fine with grey hair. A fabulous cut shows off the grey to advantage, and highlights in light-coloured hair can be fun, he says.

“Men are more accepting of colour than they were 25 years ago,” says John Beeson. For mature male clients, he often uses lowlighting. They like the natural appearance and the fact that it requires less of a commitment-just a re-application every three to four months.

Patti Coyne considers semi-permanent colour more flattering than permanent for men, not as artificial looking. Her male clients range in age from 19 to 75, but it’s during their 40s that they become concerned about the grey, she says. And – my, how times have changed – when their wives or girlfriends suggest trying a colour coverup, they’re only too happy to give it a shot.

Besides the grey, what have they got to lose?

Next page: Colour options: a quick summary

Colour your world

Want to flip your wig? When it comes to colour, you have a host of options. Here’s a quick summary:

  • Temporary colours deposit on the outside of the hair shaft, washing out in one to three shampoos.  They’re available in rinses, shampoos, conditioners and mousses; they may hide the silver if you’re only 10 per cent grey.  For an adventurous effect, try streaks of gold or wild colours with hair mascara.
  • Semi-permanent colours last for approximately six to 12 shampoos. They stain the cuticle slightly and hide up to 20 per cent of the grey
  • Demi-permanents last up to 24 shampoos. They contain peroxide, which allows the dye to penetrate to the cortex of the hair shaft to form temporary bonds with the natural pigment. They’ll cover 25 to 50 per cent of the grey.
  • Permanent colours cover all of the grey. Peroxide and ammonia (or other alkaline solutions) allow the dye to permeate the cortex, lift the natural colour and form a new colour.
  • Progressive colours react with the sulphur content in hair and also oxidize on the surface of the shaft.  They’re most frequently used by men who don’t want it known they colour their hair. They contain lead acetate, which may be absorbed through broken skin, so postpone your date with a new colour destiny if you have a scalp cut or rash.

Once you’ve re-hued, protect your coloured hair from the sun and sea- or chlorinated water. Use shampoos and conditioners for chemically-treated hair, and deep-condition regularly.

Avoid damaging your hair by colouring and perming – if at all possible, pick one or the other. For most people, henna is bad news, say hair experts. It may be derived from natural sources, but on hair it’s like varnish on a hardwood floor; it won’t wash out, and it interferes with other colours.