Fashion & Beauty

One-Step ‘Highlighting’ for Gray Hair?

April 17, 2016




I FIRST HEARD THIS IDEA decades ago from a famous colorist, and have come across it regularly ever since: a great option for women with some gray sprinkled through their hair is to use an all-over semi- or demi-permanent color, one or two shades lighter than their natural. Because these products don’t lighten hair, the color won’t show on the darker hair, only on the gray. So apply, say, dark blond to mostly-brownish hair and—presto, instant highlights that last for weeks and weeks. Back then, tired of shelling out hundreds for highlights, I longed for the day I’d develop some grays. Ha.

If “covers just the gray” color works for you, God bless. But despite ubiquitous no-lift claims, i.e., that they will not bleach hair, my disappointing experience trying highlight-color demi-permanents has been that they don’t lighten much—just enough to create a mild root line and a little brass. Worse, the gray hairs remain blithely resistant, taking up little if any color, and losing any that did stick almost immediately. Wha hoppen? Well, true semi-permanent color sits in the surface layer and washes out quickly. But demi-permanent color (which includes many, maybe even most, products labeled as semi-permanent—yes, confusing) opens up the hair shaft, generally with peroxide, so color can penetrate somewhat deeper, lasting weeks. I’ve read repeatedly that the small amount of peroxide is not enough to lift color. Uh-huh.

Grousing recently about this to master colorist Krista Depeyrot of Salon Bisoux, I was absurdly thrilled when she told me about a relatively new product that approximates the desired effect: DiaLight. “It’s an acid-balanced color that L’Oreal Professional reformulated to give no lift but vinyl-like shine,” explains Krista. “It lays on the surface of the hair shaft and sort of tints the gray hair. It won’t look exactly like highlighting, but it’s a bit lighter than the base color, and blends the gray hair in.” Meant for salon use it is, of course, available for direct purchase by those brave or foolhardy enough to self-experiment (which will probably be me at some point). Worst case: It will fade out gradually over four to six weeks anyway. It may not be my holy grail of self-haircolor—I’ll probably be all gray before I discover that—but no lightening, a little color on the gray, a lot of shine all over: it sounds about as close as I can come for now.

— Catherine Clifford
Catherine Clifford is a frequent contributor to MyLittleBird.
Read her last post on The Best Blonding Yet?


4 thoughts on “One-Step ‘Highlighting’ for Gray Hair?

  1. Nancy McKeon says:

    Catherine offered these thoughts as well:
    I haven’t done much looking into it, but I know there are many, many yellow-fighting shampoos and conditioners for gray hair, typically labeled “Silver,” though their actual tint is blue or purplish. Overindulgence in those is where the image of little old blue-haired ladies comes from, so rotate with regular products. Home remedy sites suggest a paste of baking soda or a rinse with vinegar to dislodge built-up product or water-borne minerals that may show as yellowy. Some recommend a paste of baking soda and hydrogen peroxide, or plain hydrogen peroxide, which I suppose can’t hurt much if hair is devoid of pigment anyway, but I am (see above) generally leery, and since you say your hair isn’t all gray, I’d steer clear.

  2. Pat Street says:

    Catherine, is there a product that will de-yellow gray hair? I have long hair, mostly gray/white, and towards the ends, the gray is quite yellow.

  3. Nancy Gold says:

    Cannot believe you have this blog today! Earlier today I googled “graying gracefully.” Swear I did. I’m about ready to let it go at this point, since I need to do my roots basically every two weeks. I actually thought about temporary color as the solution. There has to be a way.

  4. There are a few products out there that just deposit color – no peroxide involved. Clairol’s Beautiful is one. If you are still mainly some color or other, they have numerous shades that will stain the grey hairs blondish or brownish or reddish, leaving behind nice highlights. As long as you’re not overzealous with the washing (like no more than twice a week), and use a gentle shampoo and conditioner, you can get two-three weeks out of half a bottle (I have below shoulder length hair and that’s all it takes). They have colors formulated specifically for hard to color grey hair, that are supposed to be much longer lasting, unfortunately the color range is… peculiar.

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