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The Simple Guide to Colouring Grey Hair at Home


The results of a recent Daniel Field survey entitled "The Power of Colour" came to 3 main conclusions:

  • Grey Hair is "generally considered to be unflattering".
  • Grey hair can make a woman "look a great deal older and colder"
  • Grey hair can give a woman an "I don't care attitude towards her appearance"

It also revealed that, because women are likely to be undergoing significant physical and psychological changes at the same time as turning grey, the need to cover their grey hair prior to menopause was recognised as an "emotive issue".

The Grey Hair Clock

It is possible to start going grey at a relatively young age during your teenage years but, more usually first grey hairs may start to appear from your mid 20's. Certainly by your mid 30's you may feel the need to consider covering the grey and by your 40's you will, in all likelihood be doing just that. If you are contemplating colouring you hair to disguise the grey, then start as soon as possible before you are tempted to pull them out!

The Psychology of "Going Grey"

Psychological problems associated with going grey varies from woman to woman. Greying hair is associated with the onset of "old age" but in reality it is merely a natural process dependent upon your physical make up. All is by no means lost! Fortunately, most people start to go grey very slowly so you can do something positive and be in control from the word go!

Physical Changes in Hair Texture

Grey hair has a different texture to non-grey hairs. This makes colouring, and indeed styling, more difficult. As a rule, frizzy/grey hairs are harder to colour but it can be done successfully.

The Art of Disguise

If you wear your hair swept back off your face then any grey hairs at the temples will show. However by adapting a favourite style you can create a more flattering look. Never be afraid to experiment with styles just because you have always worn your hair off your face does not mean that you won't look great with a textured fringe or sides and this will disguise the grey far longer.

Beware of Traumatic Alopecia

NEVER be tempted to pull out even a single grey hair. Whilst it can be so tempting, if you succumb you can actually traumatise the roots by doing this and you will either encourage the hair to grow through thicker and coarser, or not at all! It is a myth that pulling out a grey hair will cause two to grow in its place but root trauma is not and baldness (traumatic alopecia) is very common!

So Remember

  • Going grey happens to almost everyone and is not an indicator of poor health or impending old age.
  • Adapt your style to camouflage grey hair growth at the temples.
  • The change in the texture of grey hairs is normal but this can be improved with better colouring formulæ.
  • Start colouring before is becomes noticeable and don't go darker than your natural colour if you want to avoid added re-growth problems.
  • At first try to colour just those more obvious greying areas as this is less hassle and saves you time.

Salon or Home?

Millions of women have enjoyed success in colouring their hair at home for many years! You may just want to match greying hair with your natural base colour. Alternatively you may want to use the greying strands to add coloured texture or naturally occurring low lights. If you know what is easy and what is not, you will be able to decide whether home hair colouring is for you, bearing in mind your budget and time constraints.

Home Hair Colouring ~ My 5 Golden Rules

1. If you really do not want to damage your hair at all, be aware that peroxide, whilst an effective hair lightener, is harmful. You may just need a permanent non-lightening colour which is effective on greying hair. "Water Colour" is the only non-peroxide, non-ammonia permanent colour for greying hair, This product is harmless! So, unless you do want to go lighter, never use any colorant which contains either ammonia or peroxide!

2. All peroxide based colorants claim their product has "special conditioners and benefits". In reality the cosmetic shine created by colorants is merely that, cosmetic! This false sheen lasts for up to 2 weeks and thereafter you are left with hair that is structurally damaged to some degree.

3. Your skin tone becomes paler as you age. Be aware of this if you choose a colour that is more than one shade darker than your natural colour.

4. Be subtle with colouring and keep it as close as possible to your natural base shade.

5. Remember that grey hair is rarely attractive unless you have the correct combination of skin tone and eye colouring! (You suit clothes in blues, lilacs, greys and pinks and have neutral skin tone and grey/blue eyes).

Budget & Lifestyle

Full head colouring has to be carried out more frequently the farther away you "go" from your natural colour. If your natural colour is now 100% grey then the darker you colour your hair the greater the contrast, thus the greater the re-growth. If you are still quite brown and you want to be lighter, even blond, a full head blonde tint is "high maintenance baby"! If you are on a budget, travel a lot or you are just a very busy person, stay as near to your natural colour as you can.

Understanding Home Colorant Levels

Level 0 ~ Temporary Colorants. These are temporary colour and water rinses lasting for 1-3 washes. These products are peroxide free and harmless to the hair's condition. The effect is usually subtle but they can enhance faded "coloured" hair quite well and often improve shine. They are normally acid based and are very useful in the sun when you want to prevent the sun from oxidising your tint ~ they act as an invisible parasol and are available in setting lotions, shampoos, conditioners and coloured mousses.

Water rinses are more popular with older ladies as a roller set, lasting a week means the colour lasts a week too. They are of limited use if you are a modern "shampooer" or if you get wet in the rain...yes they can run out over you!

As Level 0 is a thin primary tone, if you are very light and want to go more than 2 shades darker, they can make your colour look unnatural. Level 0 is better at fine tuning fairer hair tones than covering grey hairs on a darker base shade.

Level 1 ~ Semi Permanent colorants. True "semis" last up to 6/8 washes. They are harmless and do not contain peroxide. Semis are available in coloured mousses, coloured conditioners and liquid gel formats. They can enhance your colour and enrich it, but as they do not contain peroxide, they cannot lighten the hair. If you wish to enhance faded tinted hair in between colouring applications or use the "parasol" protection of a semi-colour in the sun, then semis are ideal. Some formulæ achieve reasonable grey coverage, albeit even more temporary (approx 3 washes) although Clairol Loving Care lasts the full 6/8 washes! The conditioning effects of the "conditioner" versions are usually superb. The colour molecules can form a highly reflective and shiny "cocoon" over the cuticle layers.

Level 2 ~ New Generation "Longer Lasting" Semis. These semis owe their chemistry more to permanent tints than "true 6 wash semis". The ammonia in a permanent tint has been replaced with another alkaline chemical called MEA. The peroxide is simply lower in strength. There are two very similar types of formulations generally found in chemists both classed as Level 2 and are called "Tone on Tone" and "Demi Colorants".

Tone on Tone ~ These contain a very low peroxide strength of around 3%. Grey coverage is quite weak and the shades are often very bright and aimed at younger "non-greying" customers. These are used mainly by those wishing to seriously enhance or enrich a duller natural base colour before turning really grey! The colour fades over time. The product is usually left on the hair for 10-20 minutes and you can expect it to fade out between 10-12 washes. If you do not want any hair damage at all, the brighter shades of "Water Colour" may suit your needs better!

Demi Colorants ~ These products have an increased peroxide strength of around 4.6%. The shades are generally formulated more as natural shades, rather than the brighter Tone on Tone shades. Whilst these products have been formulated to cover grey hair, generally coverage is not that good. As peroxide levels are slightly higher there is an increase in the lightening effect on the natural colour and this is noticeable as the dye itself fades (10/20 washes). Demi colorants are left on for 30 minutes plus and you can expect 35% grey hair coverage at best! Repeated use of Demi colorants containing peroxide will leave the hair structurally damaged

The structure of the hair and its condition is impaired with both the Tone on Tone and the Demi Colorant formulations, when compared with "true 6 wash semis" which are not harmful at all.

Level 3 ~ Permanent Colorants. Until recently, most people wishing to achieve 100% coverage of grey hair have used Level 3 colorants. As you have already learnt, the amount of "lightening" achieved directly relates to the strength of the peroxide and the shade of dye included in the product formulation. All Level 3 colours contain both peroxide and ammonia. Ammonia is very alkaline and when mixed with peroxide it damages the hair.

Standard permanent colorants start at 6% peroxide raising to 12% for higher lifting. 6% has, up to now, been the lowest strength of peroxide necessary to achieve really good grey hair coverage. Depending on the depth of your natural colour, even at this level, the peroxide content will lighten your natural hair colour by approximately 1-2 shades. The alkaline ammonia is there to swell the hair thus allowing the colour molecules to lodge inside the hair shaft. All peroxide based colorants work in this way.

If you choose a shade close to your natural shade the hair will still be "lightened" by the peroxide but the dye re-colours this lightened effect back to a similar colour to the one lost during the process. If you actually want to stay a lighter shade then choose the product which is already a shade lighter than your natural colour. If you want to go more than 2 shades lighter then the formula should contain a higher percentage of peroxide. Unfortunately this causes the most damage to the hair and is the worst for re-growth problems!

However, if all you wish to do is colour your grey to blend in with your existing natural colour, giving a more textured and natural look with less re-growth hassles, you don't need to use peroxide based colorants at all! (See Water Colour Leaflet).

If you wish to go darker than your original natural shade and colour all the grey hairs away, you no longer need a peroxide based colorant either! (See Water Colour Leaflet). When to use Level 3 peroxide based colorants for grey hair:
  • If you want to colour the grey hair and want your original colour to become lighter.
  • If you want your grey hairs to completely match your natural colour without going darker. (This usually looks flat and rather unnatural).

When to choose Water Colour for grey hair coverage:

  • If you want to colour your grey hair effectively but don?t need to lighten your natural colour. (Textured and believable).
  • If you want to go darker as well as covering your natural colour.


You now know that all Level 3 peroxide based colorants are described as "permanent". The dye in these colorants can fade out quite quickly. The darker the colour, the longer it appears to last but some colour is lost by the bleaching effect of the sun. Blondes become brassy, rich copper tones and reds lose their vibrancy and even black can turn an unwanted red in the bright summer sun!

Expertly does it - The Basic Rules plus avoiding pitfalls at

Practical considerations:

1. Make time to do a "skin patch test" as per the manufacturers instructions. This is essential when using a new product. A number of people can become allergic to hair dye (PPD), Allow 48 hours before checking.
2. Plan to colour your hair at home in the kitchen or bathroom when you know you will be uninterrupted.
3. Choose a time that is not too near to that important occasion. (If you do not like the result you will have more time to have it rectified properly)!
4. Wear protective gloves, an old shirt and use old towels secured with a clip. Most colorants will stain material but, should this happen by accident, a blast of hairspray will stop the processing instantly!
5. Protect your kitchen or bathroom floor with an old sheet or lots of newspaper. Tiled or non-porous stone floors are ideal but take care with carpet, natural fibres and grout that will colour instantly!
6. Protect your hairline with a carefully applied and very thin wipe of conditioner or Vaseline. Don't let this touch the hair at all as it will definitely stop the grey from covering.
7. For stubborn skin stains use milk as a stain remover.
8. Try to find a friend to play "hairdressers" with you. It's far easier to get someone else to put your colour on properly and evenly for you!
9. For best results for grey coverage, apply the product to bone dry hair. Avoid shampooing and then colouring on the same day.

Many people prefer to do a Strand Test before using a new shade of colorant. Once mixed, peroxide based colorants must be used straight away and won't "keep". Only use a dot of the colour and an equal sized dot of the peroxide developer. Today many ranges won't allow you to do this. Many bottles just have two separate compartments. You can't gain access to the contents without mixing them together first! If you want to do a strand test, choose the grey strand and the natural base shade to compare the results. You will be amazed by how much the two strands differ but it is hard to imagine this effect on the whole head!

Maintaining your new colour

Always protect coloured and lightened hair when going in the sun and swimming. Work 12 drops of Daniel Field's Smooth & Shine Serum, 3 at a time, through the hair before swimming or sunbathing. This will really protect the hair from chlorination and damage.

The sun will affect all hair colours but peroxide-based coloured hair is affected the most. If wearing a hat is not an option, a 6 wash semi-permanent colour on top of your colour acts as an invisible parasol! Refresh every 4 washes using a shade lighter than the colour you are. This will protect the hair from the lightening effects of the sun's UV rays.

Choosing the right shades

Eye colourBest shades to choose
GreenChoose light or bright coppers or light and bright golden shades
AVIOD Palest blondes
HazelChoose soft mid-golden copper or soft golden shades.
AVIOD Palest blondes, burgundy and too 'bright and light' shades.
BrownChoose dark 'red' browns to add mistery. For a pale skin make the brown warmer; for high tone skin make the brown more prominant.
AVOID Blond.
BlueChoose violet tones such as mahogany, burgundy and blonde.
AVOIDGolden shades.
RedGolden lights

Frequently asked questions

Q: I want to colour my greying hair without any harmful chemicals at all. Is it still possible whilst properly colouring my grey hair like a peroxide based permanent tint does? Can I also keep the natural colour variation I've had all my life?
A: The only non-peroxide permanent colour that colours up to 100% grey hair is "Water Colour". This colour is absolutely harmless to the structure of the hair and is considered by the thousands of its devotees as "The best reconditioning treatment I have ever used". Water Colour comes in 26 shades and is available this website.

Q: What can I do to make my grey hair look less coarse and much more healthy?
A: Water Colour is an excellent softener for coarse grey hairs. The camouflaged colouring effect will disguise the frizzy textured hairs quite well and will leave the hair in a shiny, manageable condition.

What are my Colour Options?

If your natural colour isSo you'd like to go blondeBrownsReds
BlackNever!Glossy blackNever!
Dark to Light BrownGolden/auburn lightsBlack, dark chocolate, auburn or dark honeyAuburn to fiery copper
Dark to Light BlondeGolden/apricot, golden honey, real blond with lighter eye coloursMilky brown, copper, honey, dark chestnutWarm shades from chestnut to apricot
Blonde to greyPale softer neutral tones of blonde, oyster beige and silversPale ash brown, copper brown, beige or milk chocolateNever!
RedGolden lightsChestnut, deep auburn brownRusset, copper, chilli or plum